VP race set to dominate day three of PNP 80th annual conference
From left: Damion Crawford, Mikhail Phillips, Wickham McNeil, Angela Brown Burke, Fenton Ferguson and Phillip Paulwell.
The highlight of day three of the 80th annual conference of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) on Saturday is the much-anticipated vice presidential elections, which will take place inside the National Arena in Kingston.
Voting is scheduled to get under way at 10:00 a.m., and is slated to last until 4:-00 p.m.
The elections will be supervised by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), and PNP General Secretary, Julian Robinson, has said the results should be ready by 6:00 p.m.
A little over 3,100 delegates will have the literal headache of electing four of the six persons who have offered themselves for the senior leadership positions in the party.
The delegates have acknowledged that this time around, it is a crowded field with some serious choices to be made..
The three incumbents - Dr Angela Brown Burke, the Member of Parliament (MP) for St Andrew South Western; Dr Fenton Ferguson, MP for St Thomas Eastern; and Western Westmoreland MP, Dr Wykeham McNeill – are joined by Phillip Paulwell, former chairman of the powerful Region Three and MP for East Kingston and Port Royal; Senator Damion Crawford and Manchester North Western MP, Mikhail Phillips.
From pre-election campaign jostling, general public opinion appears to be swaying decisively in favour of handing the maverick Crawford one of the top party spots that are up for grabs. This is particularly so because of his perceived ability to connect with and influence young people in a bid to bring them closer to the PNP ahead of the next General Elections, which are constitutionally due in 2021.
Crawford is also widely seen to have more backbone than his fellow contestants, although his tendency to wade into controversy may not be a positive among some of the delegates, and public opinion is not what will determine the victors on Saturday evening, but, instead, the will of the 3,100 delegates.
Interestingly, Mikhail is a son of PNP President and Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, who has, interestingly, publicly made it a point to remain neutral in terms of his support, insisting that all six contestants are good candidates.
For what it is worth, a longstanding PNP delegate, who claimed to have voted twice for Dr Phillips when he unsuccessfully challenged Portia Simpson Miller for the PNP presidency, told Loop News on Friday, that he will definitely be casting his ballot for the younger Phillips.
“Apart from being a bright young man, who has learnt his craft well, and who also represents the party equally well as a spokesperson, it would be a good look to have the leader’s son in a senior leadership position in the party,” said the delegate.
He also favours McNeill and Ferguson, but refused to say who else will likely attract his support.
“They are all good comrades,” was all he would offer in terms of his wider pick.
Brown Burke, the lone female in the race, has seemingly not connected with the public in the run-up to the polls, but if she is benefiting in any significant way from the backing of the Simpson Miller base in the party like she did to be propelled into the position of an MP, she should not necessarily be written off early. Additionally, she always seems to come home trumps, despite not being an obvious crowd favourite.
But the dynamics of the internal party elections appear to have shifted significantly with the change in the top party leadership, which likely resulted in the departure of one of the incumbent VPs, South West Clarendon MP, Noel Arscott.
Paulwell, despite his standing as a long-serving Region Three chairman, and a fixture in East Kingston and the wider capital city politics, appears not to be similarly grounded in the campaign for the delegates’ support on Saturday.
This is while McNeill and Ferguson appear to be – as usual – enjoying their traditional levels of likability as vice-presidential candidates within the 80-year-old PNP.