Portia Simpson Miller Announces Plans To Step Down As Party Leader

Two names have already emerged as potential leaders of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) following yesterday’s emotional announcement by President Portia Simpson Miller of her intention to step down.

Member of Parliament Peter Bunting comments on a matter at yesterday’s NEC meeting. (Kenyon Hemans)

Businessman Peter Bunting and political economist Dr Peter Phillips have confirmed that they will seek the top post in the 78-year-old institution, but the name of medical practitioner Dr K Wykeham McNeill is also expected to be thrown into the hat as well.

Opposition Leader Simpson Miller yesterday announced at the meeting of the party’s highest decision-making body that she will not be seeking re-election as leader of the PNP at the annual conference next September adding fuel to the growing disunity within the party. There were clear signs of conflict within the party yesterday at the National Executive Council meeting, held at the Cedar Grove Academy in St Catherine, as Simpson Miller’s loyalists and disgruntled members from Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna’s St Ann South Eastern constituency hurled abuse at Hanna and Bunting in particular.

Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna listen to the deliberations at yesterday’s NEC meeting in St Catherine. (Kenyon Hemans)

Hanna, a former Cabinet minister, had been at odds with executives of the PNP, including Simpson Miller, something which intensified during the recent local government election.

The loyalists also lashed out at others who they felt did not support Simpson Miller.

The angry supporters chanted “No Lisa, no Bunting!” periodically during the meeting and refused to stop when asked by other members. They could also be heard chanting at the end of the meeting.

“We no waan nobody weh a fight against wi prime minister. She affi work fi dis like how Portia wuk. Weh she hear bout; she think dis a beauty contest?” said supporter.

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Another woman who identified herself as a delegate from Hanna’s constituency said: “The people of South East St Ann don’t want Lisa. She create history down there; she mek Labourite a rule Moneague and from I born till now Labourite never win down there yet,” she said in reference to the shock loss suffered by long-standing PNP Councillor Lloyd Garrick in the Moneague Division of the St Ann Parish Council.

While some people were clear that they would not be support Bunting and Hanna in any quest to lead the party, others could be overheard saying that the campaign is on for Peter Phillips. One woman even got into a public tracing match with prominent attorney-at-law K D Knight, who served as campaign director for Hanna in the vice- presidential contest that ended in defeat for her last September.

Simpson Miller, in the meantime, left in the midst of the meeting after giving her address. However, Chairman Robert Pickersgill, who spoke to reporters after the meeting which was closed to the media, said that after serving the party for 40 years, the PNP leader feels that the time has come for her to step aside.

When asked if the leader was of the view that people had pushed for her to leave, Pickersgill said: “I can’t speak for her, but I would be very surprised if that did not pass through her mind.”

According to the party chairman, Simpson Miller was not heartbroken about her departure, but was very emotional.

So too were the party supporters who were in attendance at the meeting. Pickersgill said the leader’s announcement was met by tears and sadness, and that the meeting had to adjourn for a while.

“Because, really, after 40 years and being with the party for as long as she has been in the ups and down  you could imagine what kind of emotions that could have evoked,” Pickersgill said.

According to the party chairman, Simpson Miller had previously indicated that she would step down after the local government election.

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“She did not want a new leader to face the poll, bearing in mind that we did not know what the outcome would be. She ‘rathered’ that the new leader would not start out on a negative note, which I thought was extremely thoughtful of her,” he said.

“The party is going to demonstrate its gratitude for her sterling work and will be hosting a big celebration for her. I regard her as one of the greatest women in the history of Jamaica for reasons that should be very obvious. The amount of firsts that Portia Simpson Miller has scored, it’s going to be difficult for anyone else in terms of that gender, because once it is first it is first,” Pickergill said.

The party chairman said he was “very proud” of Simpson Miller and praised her for excellent performance as leader of the country.

“She presided over the Cabinet that ended in February 2016, and although I was a member of that Cabinet, I really believe it was the greatest performance by any government in recent times, and it is something that, in terms of her legacy, I will endeavour that Jamaicans never forget.

“She is an extraordinary politician and extraordinary woman and she will be missed,”
Pickersgill said.

New PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson addresses the media (Kenyon Hemans)
Veteran attorney-at-law KD Knight reacts to a section of the crowd that
heckled him at times for his support of Lisa Hanna. (Kenyon Hemans)

TANESHA MUNDLE – Jamaica Observer

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