'Mad rush' as PNP gears for succession race

published by The Jamaica Gleaner: Sunday | May 16, 2004


Earl Moxam, Senior Gleaner Writer

THE SECRETARIAT of the governing People's National Party (PNP), gearing up for the election of its next president, is serving notice that it will be applying exacting eligibility standards for those members who will ultimately vote in the election that determines the new president.

Those standards, according to Maureen Webber, deputy general secretary for Organisation, are in keeping with the provisions of the party's constitution, which sets out the eligibility rules for membership and delegates from the smallest unit the group, and up through all other organs of the party. "It all goes back to the Constitution, that's what we have to rely on," she said.

As a result of the new stringent standards being applied, there was reportedly a mad rush to party headquarters by some constituencies to meet Friday night's deadline to certify the existence of their bona fide groups.

One Member of Parliament who was only able to have 32 out of a possible 44 groups registered, nevertheless ex-pressed appreciation for "the transparency of the process and the assurance this gives that we will have genuine delegates from legitimate groups going forward to the next Conference."


Another member of the party, however, while crediting the secretariat for its efforts to revive the group structure, warned of "the danger of the secretariat controlling the process in terms of the internal machinations in the party, to the detriment of some candidates."

But the fate of candidates, according to Ms. Webber, will ultimately hinge on the work that is done by their supporters at the constituency level, in organising their groups and ensuring that they conform to the constitution of the party.

In that regard, she pointed out that groups not only have to be registered by the January 31 deadline, but must also prove that they are not just "paper" groups but have a recognised structure and are working in the constituency, according to the provisions of the party constitution.

The management of the group is required to be in the hands of a committee of not less than six persons, to be elected annually by the members; with each group having a chairman, a secretary and a treasurer. Each group is required to have an annual general meeting where its officers are elected. An active party group is required to be engaged in several activities, including recruitment, political education, community outreach, leadership training and fund-raising. The deadline for proving the bona fides of the groups for this year's Annual Conference was April 15, but was extended to May 14 to facilitate those who could not meet the initial deadline.

On January 31 there were 1,800 registered groups. The number of recognised groups going forward to the Annual Conference will, however, depend on the submissions received by last Friday's deadline.

Each group is entitled to a minimum of two delegates and a maximum of four voting at Annual Conference, depending on factors such as the size of the group and duration of membership.

Based on those and other factors, Ms. Webber estimates that delegates voting at conference can be as high as 6,000.

But there is now a push by some members of the party to have the constitution changed to allow all members of each group to become voting delegates at Annual Conference.

"In that case Jamaica will see that the next party president is elected by upwards of 40,000 people, which would more truly reflect the will of the Jamaican people," one member, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"Furthermore, this would force the candidates to really campaign and would take the decision as to who gets to vote out of the hands of the chairman of the constituency," the member said.

Dr. D.K Duncan, a former General Secretary of the PNP, agrees that opening up the vote to all members of the party would be good for democracy in the party.


"I see this as a plus as it is very difficult to maintain the group structure, which began to fall apart after the 1970s when we had an ideology around which to organise," he said.

But one supporter of the expected candidacy of Portia Simpson Miller for the party presidency worries that this initiative will not succeed "because some people will be afraid that more grassroots people in the party will be able to vote for her under that system".

While agreeing that the change could be of benefit to Mrs. Simpson Miller, Dr. Duncan maintains that her popularity is to be found substantially more in the general population than within the party.

"So even though there could be some advantage in it for her among delegates, it would not necessarily prove a great setback for the other candidates. It would depend on how well they mobilise to register those members to vote and how well they campaign," he concluded.

Whatever the outcome of such considerations, Ms. Webber is maintaining that power to elect the next president of the PNP will rest in the hands of the delegates.

"To the extent that we expose all of our comrades to their rights and the important issues, they will then be able to determine for themselves how they want to vote," she asserted.


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