The 70-year-old leader of the People’s National Party (PNP), Dr. Peter Phillips, is expected to resign as party leader and step away from representational politics after a shocking general election loss on September 3.
The PNP won only 14 of the 63 parliamentary seats, in what is considered to be one of the most remarkable elections that the island has ever seen. The only other time a massive sweep was delivered in Jamaica was in the 1980 general election when the polls were marred by gun violence, mass lay-offs in the public sector, and mounting economic challenges.
Phillips, who has given 30 years to politics in Jamaica, has the unenviable distinction of being the only PNP leader to never have won a general election. While the loss has been severe for the PNP, Phillips delivered a stunning performance during the national debates on August 29, proving himself to be a more-than-capable leader. Jamaicans are now calling for the party to undergo a complete restructuring and unite to form a strong opposition.
Some supporters of the PNP stung by the devastating loss are criticizing Phillips for agreeing to contest the elections. “He should never have agreed to contest the elections in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was also the risk of a low voter turnout, which would be a disadvantage to the party challenging the incumbent governing party. This exactly what happened,” bemoaned a PNP supporter.
Another described Phillips as “selfish: as his personal goal was to have the honor of leading the party to an election victory. “Now, him mash up the party.”
Phillips was born in Kingston to Mico Teachers’ College lecturer Aubrey Phillips and civil servant Thelma Phillips. Aubrey was a graduate of Mico, where he had roomed with Howard Cooke, who would later become Governor-General of Jamaica.
He completed his high school career at Jamaica College, before earning a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in government from the University of the West Indies. He is also a Ford Foundation Fellow and completed doctoral studies in international political economy at The State University of New York at Binghamton. He was also a Fulbright Scholar and has done studies at the University of Florida at Gainesville.
These qualifications led him to a distinguished career in academia prior to entering Parliament. In his teaching career, he was a lecturer in the Department of Government at UWI, Mona.
Phillips first entered Parliament as an appointed senator after the People’s National Party won the 1989 general elections. He served as minister of state in the Office of the Prime Minister until 1991 when he was appointed PNP general secretary and minister of special projects in the Office of the Prime Minister. In this role, he led the Caribbean Community teams for major trade negotiations including with the United States and Venezuela. He remained in post until 1994 when he was elected to Parliament as the member for East Central St. Andrew. He has remained the MP for the constituency since.
Phillips was minister of health between 1995 and 1997 and in that capacity led the comprehensive reform of the health system, ensured the expansion and upgrading of several hospitals and introduced the Drug for the Elderly Program to subside medication for seniors.
While serving as minister of transport and works from 1998 to 2001, Jamaica saw the introduction of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and the introduction of a regulated route taxi system.
He was elected a vice president of the PNP in 1999, serving with Portia Simpson Miller. He was subsequently appointed minister of national security. During his tenure as national security minister, (2001-2007), Jamaica recorded huge successes in reducing illegal narcotic flows and saw significant reform and modernization of the Security Forces.
He twice unsuccessfully ran for president of the PNP in 2006 and 2008. He lost ministerial office when the PNP lost the 2007 elections. However, after the party won the 2011 elections, he was appointed Minister of Finance and Public Service. During his tenure, he was credited with having presided over the most fundamental positive reform of the Jamaican economy. His achievements were reflected in positive economic indicators for Jamaica including inflation at a 48-year low.
The PNP lost the 2016 elections, after which Simpson Miller stood down as leader and Phillips won the subsequent leadership election in 2017. In 2019, he was challenged for the leadership by Peter Bunting but was reelected in the September vote.
In early 2020, Phillips announced that he had successfully undergone treatment for stage 3 colon cancer. During his general election campaign, Phillips said he was 100% cancer-free.
Peter Phillips is married to Sandra Minott Phillips and is the father of daughters Tsahai and Ruth and sons Mikael, David, Luke and Jacob.