Winston Foster | Both Peters poised to make history in the leadership contest
There has never been a case in Jamaica where a sitting leader of a major political party was voted out of party leadership, or where a contender was able to unseat the leader of a major political party. The succession of leaders of the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) came only after the incumbent had decided to step aside – either willingly or after being pressured. Even though there were strong reasons throughout our political history to remove party leaders, and strong efforts made to bring those changes about, none was successful.
Since independence, the JLP has had six leaders and the PNP has had five. When Bustamante – the first JLP leader – left, it was without any challenge and the leadership of the JLP was handed down to Donald Sangster. Donald Sangster’s leadership lasted from February to April 1967 when he died, and the leadership of the JLP then went to Hugh Shearer.
Following Hugh Shearer, the leadership of the JLP went to Edward Seaga, without any contest of Hugh Shearer’s leadership. Seaga remained the leader of the JLP for 30 years after which he stepped aside. During the latter part of his tenure, it was strongly believed by party insiders and outsiders that Seaga’s chances of returning his party to government were over, yet all efforts to remove him failed.
After Seaga resigned, the leadership of the JLP and his former constituency was inherited by Bruce Golding, and after one term Bruce resigned, after which Andrew Holness ascended to the leadership of the party and government. Since becoming leader of the JLP, Andrew Holness has won a challenge of his party leadership by Audley Shaw.
After Norman Manley retired from leadership of the PNP in 1969, his son Michael Manley had a run-off with Vivian Blake and was elected the leader of the party. Michael Manley led the party until 1992 when he resigned due to illness. Percival Patterson became the next leader after a contest with Portia Simpson. Percival Patterson was never challenged for the leadership of the PNP, and after his tenure, the leadership of the party went to Portia Simpson, following a contest with Dr Peter Phillips, Dr Omar Davies, and Dr Carl Blythe.
Portia Simpson Miller’s leadership was unsuccessfully challenged by Dr Peter Phillips in 2008. Dr Peter Phillips became the leader of the PNP in 2016 after the resignation of Portia Simpson Miller.
A win for Peter Bunting in his promised contest to dislodge Peter Phillips will create history in political leadership in Jamaica, for both Peter Bunting and Peter Phillips.
For Bunting, he would be the first to unseat the leader of a major party in Jamaica. For Peter Phillips, he would be the first leader of a major party in Jamaica to be dislodged. Beyond that, he would have been the first leader of a major party in Jamaica to have never had the opportunity to lead the government.
The opportunity to witness history in the making in the upcoming leadership contest is one which I have no doubt we are all enthusiastically anticipating.