PNP will bounce back — Wykeham McNeill

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Dr Wykeham McNiell, a vice-president of the People’s National Party (PNP), which is now licking its wounds following a landslide defeat at the hands of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the September 3 General Election, is expressing confidence that his party will rebound stronger and better.

The JLP secured 49 seats while the PNP won the remaining 14 seats in the 63 constituencies.

When the JLP’s Daniel Lawrence was declared the victor at the end of a magisterial recount for the Westmoreland Eastern seat on Tuesday, it meant that his party had made a clean sweep of all the five parishes in the JLP’s Area Council Four in the September 3 General Election. The parishes that form the JLP’s Area Council Four has 16 parliamentary seats across Trelawny, St James, Hanover, Westmoreland and St Elizabeth.

Political neophyte, the JLP’s Morland Wilson created an upset in ousting Dr McNeil in the recent general election. The incumbent Dr McNeill represented the Westmoreland Western seat since 1997.

But the PNP stalwart, who reflected on the PNP’s Region Six winning of all the nine seats in the parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland during the 1997 general elections, posited that his party remains resolute to rebound and form the Government, given, among other things, the fluctuating nature of politics.

In the 1997 elections the then ruling PNP, led by PJ Patterson, won 50 of the 60 seats, the JLP 10, while the Bruce Golding-led National Democratic Movement was unable to secure a seat.

“Put it in a historical context, politics has ebbs and flows. In 1997 the PNP’s Region Six won all seats in those three parishes. You had four on St James, three in Westmoreland and two in Hanover at the time. The reality is that these things come and go, but you have to do the rebuilding,” Dr McNeill argued.

He stressed the importance of the PNP to now get the process of reorganising and reconnecting off the ground quickly to regain lost ground.

“The reality is that there are two things that need to be done —you have to look at the party and there is work that has to be done at the party in terms of its organisation and reconnection with the electorate because we have lost ground, that is for sure. So there are two elements. One is what is taking place at the centre. The party leader has indicated that he is going to resign. There is a process that will lead change in leadership, which is ongoing, and also there must be a commitment, which there is, to look at the issues …to look at the organisational issues, get back on the ground and rebuild the party,” Dr McNeill articulated.

“As I said, there are ebbs and flows, it has been done before and we are going to do it again. Our job is to come back stronger and better than we were before.”

He was also quick to point out that even as the JLP swept to a convincing victory in the September 3 election the voter turnout was a mere 37 per cent, therefore, both parties should be concerned over voter apathy.

“What is patently clear is while the JLP won a resounding victory, no doubt about that, you have a 37 per cent turnout. The number of persons that voted for us was very low. The numbers that voted for the Labour Party were higher than what voted for the PNP but were nothing to brag about, which means that there is a large swathe of Jamaicans, of constituents who are not at this point impressed with both (parties) to come out and vote. And what we have to do now is to focus on our part, re-engage, rebuild, reconnect and put ourselves in a position that whenever the general election comes again in the future that we are in a better position,” the PNP stalwart said.

Another significant reason he cited for his party’s overwhelming loss was the strongly held notion that the party was divided and that the voters did not connect with neither the party message nor the party leader Dr Peter Phillips.

“There were a number of reasons (for people not voting PNP) many of them have been documented. Many Jamaicans did not connect to the leader, many Jamaicans did not connect to the message, and thirdly, there was the perception/reality of a divided party. That has to be resolved once and for all. We have to bring these things, we have to have closure of these things….a united party is usually a victorious party. You have to make sure that inside all is well. And I am sure that a lot of the work is the rebuilding of the party. And to do that all hands have to be on deck,” Dr McNeill argued.

“What really unites a party more than anything else is a common philosophy, is a common understanding of what it is you feel is important. I think most of us that are members of the party do believe that our job more than anything else is to sort of make a better Jamaica for all but especially for those who are least able in society. It has been sort of the lifelong philosophy of the party and I don’t think the general issue has changed. However, as time passes your methodology of doing it is different. There was a time when the most important thing was to have electricity in their houses and water. Today water still remains a priority for most Jamaicans but electricity over 90 per cent of the population has it. It may well be that they need universal access to Internet.”

He pointed out that despite his loss in Westmoreland Western, he remains committed to the rebuilding of the party, especially in western Jamaica.

“Despite everything and despite my loss I am committed. I have spent a great part of my life dedicated to the party and I remain a vice president and I have a responsibility, especially to western Jamaica to do all in my power to ensure that the party regains its prominence; and I will commit to that but it has to be all hands on deck. I also think that the next few years are going to be very important for the party. As I said before this is not unprecedented it has happened in both parties on a number of occasions. As recently as 2012 was one of the largest electoral defeats that the country has ever had, the PNP beat the JLP and eight years later here we are. The fact of the matter is that the work can be done, the work has to be done, the work will be done.”

He listed the national swing to the JLP among the plethora of factors for his personal loss in Westmoreland Western.

“There are many factors, as I said before, that came into play. It is not a matter of the Comrades not being there, it’s not a matter of the supporters not being there. What happened in this election is, for a number of reasons, they did not come out and vote. There is also the matter of COVID-19 itself. I think it played a major role in it. But again, we as a party will be doing an analysis of everything and looking into further detail, but at this point you have to determine that something went wrong and we have to turn around and address those problems and make ourselves more attractive to Jamaica going forward,” he conceded.





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