PNP Leader, Dr. Peter Phillips Faces Challenge Over Party Leadership

Less than a year after People’s National Party (PNP) leader, Dr. Peter Phillips retained his leadership of the 81-year-old party, his leadership is again being challenged by a group of PNP politicians.

Reports are that last week, 15 PNP Members of Parliament (MPs) signed a letter demanding that a meeting be held to discuss the future of the party, since he was not meeting the needs of the parliamentary group.

Most of the signatories had backed Manchester Central MP Peter Bunting when he challenged Phillips for leadership of the party in 2019. In the letter, the 15 MPs pointed to the lack of a meeting of the PNP MPs since Phillips disclosed that he had cancer.

Further developments also revealed that the MPs were poised to ask the governor general to remove Phillips as opposition leader.

The meeting is now set for Monday, June 8, but tensions have mounted in the party as supporters of Phillips and supporters of Bunting continue to trade spiteful remarks. Veteran PNP member KD Knight, who chaired the Phillips campaign in 2019, posted on social media that the behaviour of the 15 was “scandalous and clearly anti-party”.

As the story continues to unfold, the conflicts within the party prove that it is not in best of shape to contest Jamaica’s next general election, which could be announced in a few months.

The 70-year-old Phillips is one of the party’s most seasoned politicians, having dedicated over 30 years to the PNP. He first joined the party in 1989 when Michael Manley won the general elections. Phillips was elected as Minister of State during that period up until 1991. He was then elevated to PNP General Secretary and Minister of Special Projects under the leadership of Prime Minister P.J Patterson.

After being moved to the Ministry of Health in 1995, Phillips undertook a project that modernized and transformed the island’s health system in preparation for the 21st century. In 1998, he was appointed Minister of Transport and Works and had great success in reorganizing the transport system in the corporate area and improving the road network across the island.

He was elected a vice president of the People’s National Party in 1999 serving with Portia Simpson-Miller. During that time, he was appointed Minister of National Security where he had significant success in reducing illegal narcotic flows through Jamaica and led a reform effort for Jamaica’s security forces.

When P.J. Patterson retired as leader of the party in 2005, Phillips lost the presidential election to Portia Simpson Miller. After the PNP lost the 2007 election, Phillips challenged Simpson-Miller for leadership of the party but lost. When the party regained power in 2011, Phillips was selected to be Minister of Finance. During this time, Jamaica and the rest of the world were hard hit by a global recession and Phillips was credited to achieving stability after the major economic fallout.

After the 2016 elections, Simspon-Miller stepped down and party leader and Phillips was elected president.

Phillips is a known scholar. The Jamaica College alum has a B.S.  in Economics and a Masters in Government from the University of the West Indies. A Ford Foundation Fellow, he completed doctoral studies at The State University of New York at Binghamton, in International Political Economy.

As a family man, Phillips has been married to Attorney, Sandra Minott-Phillips for over 30 years and is a father of six children.

In April 2020, it was revealed that Phillips had been undergoing treatment for stage 3 colon cancer, and was making a successful recovery so far.

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