Portia, PNP vice-presidents focused on rebuilding as Blythe, Hanna defeated
The four victorious PNP vice-presidents after yesterday’s election results were announced, (from left) Wykeham McNeill, Noel Arscott, Angela Brown Burke, and Dr Fenton Ferguson. (Photo: Michael Gordon)
Portia Simpson Miller last evening accepted her re-election as People’s National Party (PNP) president amidst gleeful shouts of “One leader!” from delegates who also decided that Dr Fenton Ferguson, Wykeham McNeill, Noel Arscott, and Angela Brown Burke should serve as vice-presidents.
But even as the frenzied Comrades celebrated what many saw as a rejection of the renewal message pushed by defeated presidential candidate Dr Karl Blythe and vice-presidential hopeful Lisa Hanna, Simpson Miller and her deputies pronounced that the splintered party would enter its rebuilding phase today at the private and public sessions of its 78th annual conference.
“I want to say to the vice-presidents, you have an important role to play as we move together in the months ahead to strengthen our noble movement,” Simpson Miller said as she congratulated them before offering a special word to Hanna, who put on a brave face to join the victorious candidates on stage inside the National Arena.
“Don’t worry, your time will come,” Simpson Miller told Hanna, who she gave a warm hug after the St Ann South Eastern Member of Parliament arrived during Brown Burke’s address.
The PNP president, who spoke from a prepared text, said she was happy that Blythe felt that he could put up a challenge against her in the PNP. “I commend him for his bravery… but I thank him because the Comrades sent a strong message, not only to Comrade Blythe but to Jamaica of their love and support for a Portia Simpson Miller,” she said, eliciting shouts of “One leader” from the delegates.
“I want to thank Comrade Dr Blythe for the contest today. Once again, I have demonstrated that the delegates of the People’s National Party wanted Portia and supported Portia,” said Simpson Miller, who beat Blythe, as well as Dr Omar Davies and Dr Peter Phillips to become the first woman to lead a political party in Jamaica in 2006.
That contest was triggered by PJ Patterson’s decision to retire and resulted in Simpson Miller also becoming Jamaica’s first woman prime minister.
Yesterday, she said it was a tribute to the PNP that a member could return from political retirement to offer himself for the highest office of the party.
“Comrades, the internal elections are over. There’s one leader. One leadership team. One People’s National Party,” Simpson Miller said, then suggested that Blythe could utilise his energy and talent to mentor young Comrades and contribute to the party’s organisational work at the constituency and regional levels.
The election proved a total blowout for Blythe who received a mere 198 votes to Simpson Miller’s 2,471.
In the vice-presidents’ race Dr Ferguson came out on top, polling 2,479 votes, McNeill received 2,395, while Arscott scored 2,207, Brown Burke got 2,009, and Hanna managed only 1,570. Dr Ferguson’s eight-vote table-topper meant that it was the first time that a vice-president received more votes than a president in a contested PNP internal election.
The party reported that it had 3,339 delegates eligible to vote. At the end of the count, a total of 2,669 votes were cast for president and 10,660, overall were recorded in the vice-presidents contest.
It was not immediately clear if there were any spoilt or rejected ballots.
Unlike Hanna, Blythe did not show up after the results were announced, but earlier when the Jamaica Observer asked him whether he thought the renewal process would be dampened if he lost, he said: “Absolutely not. It is not a failure for the renewal process. What they might be saying is that as we continue to put the renewal in place, let the present president stay, and hopefully she will give us that timetable within the year. Democracy must rule, whether I win or lose.”
Blythe’s challenge and the vice-presidents’ contests had deepened divisions in the party created in the run-up to the February 25, 2016 General Election and made worse by its one-seat loss to the Jamaica Labour Party.
Yesterday, in their short victory remarks inside the arena, the four vice-presidents, after thanking the delegates for their votes, spoke to the need to rebuild.
“At this time, Comrades, even as we were tied down with internal elections, the time has come now; tomorrow we want you to come out to the private session where we can buckle down to deal with the policies and programmes of our great party. Thereafter we will continue the rebuilding process,” Dr Ferguson said.
McNeill said that the voting process demonstrated the strength of the PNP. “It shows that we have a great, strong party, and that our party will remain at the vanguard of politics in Jamaica,” the Westmoreland Western Member of Parliament said.
“In any election within a party or any organisation where you have a number of people going up, in this case five people for four posts, you’re going to have someone who is disappointed. But we’re one party. Everyone who contested today is a good member of the People’s National Party. We’re all Comrades and we will all act as Comrades, and the next move is for us to fully unite our party,” he told the delegates.
“The last few months was about an internal democratic process, but now we’re going to look outwards. We’re going to look at how this Government is managing and mismanaging things… and we’re going to go back to being the strong parliamentary Opposition that this country knows and deserves,” McNeill said.
Arscott, in his remarks, told the delegates that their task would start today at the public and private sessions. “We’re gong to rebuild our great party. We’re going to rise again and show Jamaica that the People’s National Party is the party of choice,” he said.
Brown Burke told the cheering delegates that she needed three campaign managers to counter what she described as a “hard anti-Brown Burke campaign” that ran for about two years.
“The party has always been a party of renewal, we know that… come tomorrow, led by Comrade Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller, whom you have re-elected, whom you have placed your trust in, the PNP begins to take that time of introspection to decide on those priorities in the days and months and years ahead,” she said.
“This is a good time for us to look at exactly what we need to do,” Brown Burke argued, reiterating that among those tasks was the development of an empowered and informed group structure, as well as delegates and members who are empowered.
Hanna, who was invited by party Chairman Robert Pickersgill to speak, said: “My entry into this race was not because it was important to have a position, but because I felt strongly that the energy that we needed to have as Comrades needed to come back, especially after February 25.
“I said in South East St Andrew recently, that even if I was not elected it would not stop the programme of work I had intended to do, were I elected. And so I will still be on the ground, I will still be cross country, and I will still be doing the work for a strong and progressive People’s National Party, because a strong and progressive Jamaica needs a strong and progressive PNP. So, Comrade delegates, make sure that yuh put on yuh Gideon boots, because I will be beside you, in front of you, behind you working to rebuild and make this party stronger for the future of this country,” Hanna said.