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Humiliated - Phillips to bow out as PNP hammered in polls

Published:Friday | September 4, 2020 | 7:20 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Peter Phillips
Peter Phillips

The devastating loss suffered by the People’s National Party (PNP) in Thursday’s national polls, held amid a severe coronavirus pandemic, has shattered the hopes and dreams of Peter David Phillips, whose quest for the prime ministership fell woefully short of the mark.

Phillips has become the only president of the 82-year-old party to have been denied the opportunity of leading the country.

The crushing defeat means the dawning of a new day for the PNP, with heir apparent Peter Bunting beaten by a newcomer to representational politics, leaving the party scrambling now to find someone to lead the organisation.

Poll after poll had forecast an embarrassing loss for the PNP, and despite trumpeting a list of promises in its manifesto, including the payment of utilities to the tune of $48,000 per year for 360,000 families across the country, the electorate was not swayed by the pledges and decided to keep the party in the political wilderness for a second term.

In 2017, when Phillips was ushered into the presidency of the PNP, former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson gave him a charge to take the PNP to “new frontiers” and to “retrofit its engines to attract the tremendous energy that is required of our time”.

Opinion polls in the run-up to the elections indicated that Phillips had personally struggled to attract strong support from the electorate, but more so, the younger demographic.

Before being trounced by the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Phillips had said earlier Thursday that should the PNP lose at the polls, he would step aside both as opposition leader and member of parliament for St Andrew East Central.

Health concerns

The PNP, at one point, was concerned about the health of Phillips and whether he would be in a position to lead the party forward. But Phillips was at pains to convince his colleagues that his diagnosis for stage-three colon cancer was now behind him and that he was the man – suited to challenge Holness.

In an election where a huge spike in COVID cases became a cause for concern among the electorate, with many in a state of apathy, it was not surprising that 37 per cent of those registered to vote turned out on Thursday. This is a new record low from the 48 per cent that voted in the 2016 general election.

Speaking Thursday night at the PNP headquarters in Kingston, co-campaign manager Phillip Paulwell said that blame should not be placed at the feet of any one person for the massive loss suffered by the party.

He said that everyone in the party has to take responsibility for the defeat.

Commenting on factors that may have contributed to the crushing loss, Paulwell highlighted the issue of party disunity and distrust.

“We wish the Government well. We wish the people well,” he said.

Having lost a number of seats to the JLP, Paulwell said the PNP has the talent to rebuild the organisation.

“We have to wheel and come again,” he said.

Former vice-president of the PNP, Dr Angela Brown Burke, told The Gleaner Thursday night that “most people are still in a bit of a shock, so I think persons are trying to come to terms with it and exactly what that means, and try to understand how we got to that point”.

She said that the PNP would now have to take a “second look at the organisation, at who we are, and how we do things, and how we engage individuals on the ground, how we represent them and champion the issues that are important to their lives”.

Paulwell told reporters that Phillips would address the country today in a digital press conference.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com