There has been a shift in the power balance in the People’s National Party (PNP) with the rise of Mark Golding as party president and leader of the Opposition, even amid the cry for unity.
Having defeated Lisa Hanna by 296 votes, Golding has, to some degree, given life to a faction of the PNP which had been laying low as Dr Peter Phillips led the party to a crushing defeat in the September general elections.
Peter Bunting, Dayton Campbell, and Ian Hayles are all back in the fold, though without seats in Parliament; having been casualties of the green wave that swept the island on September 3.
On the fringes now are members of Phillips’ guard, including Phillip Paulwell, the long-time Region Three chairman; Natalie Neita Headley, deputy general secretary; and Fitz Jackson, the outgoing chairman.
Although Hanna and Golding signed declarations that they would unite after the dust had settled, when reality set in on Tuesday, only one of Hanna’s supporters in the parliamentary corps was present at Golding’s swearing-in ceremony as leader of the Opposition at King’s House in St Andrew.
Hanna said she was sick and could not attend.
It is understood that Golding’s team did not extend invitations to even the party chairman, Jackson, who has long been rumoured to be staunchly against the pro-Rise United team.
A photograph that surfaced at the height of the campaign showing Jackson at a Hanna campaign meeting did not help his cause as a supposed neutral onlooker in the leadership race.
The Golding team’s justification for not extending invitations to key people who did not support him – that space was limited – was hardly convincing given that less consequential figures such as Hugh Graham, who barely held on to St Catherine North West, a former bastion of the PNP, were present.
The rift in the PNP could be further widened in the coming days with Golding set to fill one vacancy on the Opposition benches in the Senate. There has been high speculation that the vacancy is being reserved for Bunting, the long-time friend and business partner of the Opposition leader – who was incidentally the front-runner to succeed Phillips before fate took over and was toppled in Manchester Central after a three-term run.
At present, Hanna’s campaign chairperson, Donna Scott Mottley, is the leader of opposition business in the Senate. She and several others have already declared they will not be resigning from the Upper House, a move which would have given the new Opposition leader a free hand to choose his own senators.
Golding, however, could strip her of her leadership role on the opposition benches as that authority falls within his purview.
Other outstanding issues for the PNP include the selection of a new general secretary and chairman.
Outgoing PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson has presided over and lost every single competitive and consequential election the PNP has participated in since he was elected in 2016.
The embarrassing 49-14 defeat to the Andrew Holness-led JLP had placed the final nail in his proverbial coffin and he quickly signalled after the defeat that he would step down.
While no one has so far declared an interest in the post, sources say Campbell, who was manager for the failed Rise United campaign, is being eyed as a possible replacement.
Anthony Hylton, who was the chairman for the Golding campaign, is the front-runner to replace Jackson as chairman.
It was Fitz Jackson who defeated Hylton 187-79 back in 2017 to become party chairman under Phillips’ leadership, replacing Robert Pickersgill, who had served 25 years in the post.
Elections in the PNP are far from over, because the vice-president race is yet to be scheduled. At that time, political watchers will be tuned in to see whether the Golding faction of the PNP will tighen its grip on the 82-year-old socialist party or whether those who had fought fiercely against him and Bunting will hold on to second-tier leadership.
While Golding’s win seemed sizable in comparison to the 76-vote margin Phillips enjoyed to retain the presidency in 2019, it was no blowout.
The margin appears to be par for the course in PNP presidential elections. Portia Simpson Miller, back in September of 2008, polled 2,332 votes from a total of 4,291 to beat the Phillips-led Rise and Renew, 1,959.
That was a 373-vote margin.
Before that, in a race to succeed P.J. Patterson, Simpson Miller received 1,775 votes, while her nearest rival, Phillips again, took 1,538 votes. That equated to a margin of 237.