History of the presidency: Why Peter Bunting’s leadership challenge could change the PNP

Peter Bunting declared his intent to challenge Dr. Peter Phillips for the presidency of the People’s National Party (PNP) in June – sending shockwaves through the political landscape.

PNP presidential aspirant Peter Bunting about to address hundreds gathered for the launch of his ‘Rise United’ campaign in Manchester back in July (Photo: Facebook @PeterBunting,MP)

While not unheard of in the life of any party leader, Bunting’s aspirations for the helm of the PNP could signal a new chapter in the party’s rich history.

Should Bunting win the presidential run-off election in September, he would have achieved two firsts for the party: ousting a sitting president, Dr. Peter Phillips, as well as having an incumbent PNP leader leave without becoming Prime Minister.

The PNP now has had five presidents over its colourful 80-year history, who, in most cases, have waited for their predecessor to step down.

(from top left) All five PNP Presidents: Norman Manley, Michael Manley, Percival James Patterson, Portia Simpson Miller and Dr. Peter Phillips. But could Peter Bunting be the party’s sixth come September?

Before becoming president of the party, Dr. Peter Phillips made two attempts at capturing the presidency, once in 2006 when PJ Patterson stepped aside and again in 2008 when he challenged Portia Simpson-Miller.

As anticipation heightens for the September 7 elections leading up to the 81st annual conference, BUZZ presents some interesting facts about the history of the PNP presidency:

The birth of a movement

It was the 1930s, and woefully unequal socioeconomic conditions gave way to widespread civil unrest across Jamaica. The People’s National Party was officially formed on August 28, 1938 at the Silver Slipper Club in Cross Roads, St. Andrew.

Photo: Wikipedia

Birthed out of a need to mobilise the growing anti-colonial movement, the PNP was ‘founded’ by Osmond Theodore Fairclough, who first approached Norman Manley with a plan to form the party in 1936.

The founder of the PNP, Osmond Theodore Fairclough (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Following a decades-long tradition that is still upheld today, the PNP was publicly launched on September 18, 1938, to a crowd of 2,000 at the Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston.

Six men were at the helm of the PNP when the party drafted and approved its constitution: Norman Manley, who was designated Chairman; H. P. Jacobs; Noel N. Nethersole; Howard F. Cooke; W. G. MacFarlane; and Reverend O. G. Penso – with Fairclough serving as the PNP’s first secretary.

In its rich 80-year history, the PNP has had five presidents: Norman Manley, Michael Manley, Percival James Patterson, Portia Simpson Miller and currently, Dr. Peter Phillips.

Norman Manley (PNP President, 1938-1969)

As the party’s first president, Norman Manley served in his capacity between the years 1938 to 1969, during which time he became Jamaica’s first and only Premier leading up to independence from British rule.

The Rt. Excellent Norman Washington Manley (Photo: National Library of Jamaica)

Michael Manley (1969-1992)

Following Norman’s death, the mantle of party leader was handed down to Manley’s second son, Michael, who ushered in a new age of political charisma and appeal. Manley served as PNP president from 1969 to 1992.

Michael Manley (Photo: National Library of Jamaica)

Percival James ‘PJ’ Patterson (1992-2006)

The values of Manley were not lost on PJ Patterson when he was elected president of the PNP in 1992, having ran one of the most successful political careers the Caribbean has ever seen.

Photo: Facebook, @Honorable PJ-Patterson

Patterson, who served as PNP president until 2006, was never defeated in a general election. He remained Prime Minister until his resignation from politics.

Portia Simpson Miller (2006-2017)

Portia Simpson Miller became the PNP’s fourth president after beating out a crowded field to take over from Patterson, who resigned the post. A month later, she was installed as Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister. In 2008, Simpson Miller warded off her first challenge from Dr. Peter Phillips.

Photo: Ebony Magazine

Her leadership effectively ended in 2016 after the shock general election defeat to Andrew Holness and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Mrs Simpson Miller remained PNP president until March 2017 when she stepped down

Dr. Peter Phillips (2017-present?)

Dr. Peter Phillips, since coming into the presidency in 2017, has sought to restore the stature of the PNP, with various degrees of success.
As arguably the best performing minister in Jamaican politics to date, a leading academic and respected businessman, Phillips and his leadership face its greatest challenge yet.

Photo: Jamaica Information Service (JIS)

Leading up to September 7, Dr. Phillips will have to convince weary delegates that he, and not Peter Bunting, is the right man to guide the PNP back to a familiar winning mindset.

We want to hear from you! Who is best suited to lead the People’s National Party (PNP) at this time? Dr. Peter Phillips or Peter Bunting? Sound off in the BUZZ comments section!!