Lisa Hanna’s bid to become one of four vice-presidents of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) is being fiercely resisted by some hard-core members and delegates of the 78-year-old political movement.
With six days to the voting aspect of the party’s Annual Conference at the National Arena in South East St Andrew, Hanna faces a race against time as she tries to beat the odds and knock away one of the four other established contenders — all, but one, sitting vice-presidents. They are incumbents Dr Fenton Ferguson, Angella Brown Burke and Noel “Butch” Arscott. The fourth, Dr Wykeham McNeill, is seen as the natural replacement for outgoing vice-president Derrick Kellier and has strong support nationwide, the Jamaica Observer has gathered.
But the Member of Parliament for St Ann South East and former Minister of Youth and Culture, while appearing to be strong in some regions, does not seem to command support in others.
At last Sunday’s East Central St Andrew constituency conference, party members jeered her in her absence, and openly pledged not to mark the ‘X’ beside her name at the conference.
Hanna arrived later than the other vice-presidential hopefuls, but before she got there, several party supporters, many of them delegates of Region Three, comprising Corporate Area constituencies, voiced their disapproval of her by shouting, among other things ‘we a support the comrades … we naa vote fi di labourite’. The comments were directed at her primarily to alert the ignorant few that Hanna had before supported the Jamaica Labour Party, and had been at the forefront of a public demonstration against a petrol price increase organised by JLP operatives, during the 1990s when the PNP governed the island.
Her switch to the PNP following the breakup of her marriage to Rhodes Scholar David Panton, who also supported the JLP, was rewarded with the South East St Ann seat, the only constituency that has never been won by the JLP in contested polls since Jamaicans earned the right to vote in general elections in 1944.
At the time, critics lashed PNP President Portia Simpson Miller for bringing Hanna, the only non-PNP purist in the race, on board and confirming her into a seat that many high-profile members of the party had sought. Ironically, the relationship between Hannah and Simpson Miller, who will be challenged for the post of party president at the conference by former Cabinet minister Dr Karl Blythe, has since soured, although both women have put on their faces of unity in public.
Last Sunday’s display by the party supporters and members showed up some glaring moments. Meeting chairman Basil Waite, while acknowledging Hanna’s presence when she arrived, did not call on her to address the delegates, unlike the other candidates who were in attendance. It is no secret that there is no love lost between Waite and Hanna. Also, there were insinuations by Waite and guest speaker Dr Dayton Campbell which were clearly directed at Hanna in her absence.
Two weeks ago, campaign manager for McNeill, Richard Azan urged delegates attending a PNP divisional conference in Frankfield, Clarendon, that Region Four, comprising the parishes of Clarendon and St Catherine, not to support the candidacy of Hanna.
“Comrades, you know I am a man who talk straight. You all know that I am the campaign manager for Comrade Wykeham McNeill, and so I ask you to give him your support. I am also asking you Comrades to support Comrade ‘Butch’ Arscott, who is the chairman of Region Four, and Region Four, Comrades, is also going with Comrade Fenton Ferguson, and Comrade Angella Brown Burke,” Azan said.
Azan might not have things his way throughout the region though, as Hanna is popular among many of the younger voters in Clarendon in particular, some of whom have told the Sunday Observer that they would be voting for her, with Brown Burke being the reject.
And while some delegates in Region Three and Region Four have openly voiced their disapproval of Hanna, there is a view that she has what some consider reasonable support in some of the other areas — her own Region One (St Ann and Trelawny) which she chaired up to recently, Region Two (St Mary, Portland and St Thomas), Region Six (Westmoreland, Hanover and St James), and Region Five (Manchester and St Elizabeth).
Hanna is being supported by some powerful men inside the PNP, with former Cabinet minister KD Knight being her campaign manager. However, her outspoken nature has landed her in the bad books of some party veterans, who believe that she has been too strident in wanting the party to change some of its fixed ways.
She was one of the early ones to call for reforms within the organisation, weeks after the party lost — surprisingly to some — the general election of February 25.
One senior PNP official who spoke with the Sunday Observer last week said that manipulation by members of parliament and other elected officials of the party could play a key role in Saturday’s vote.
“Left by themselves, several of the delegates would vote for her. Lisa’s thing is one wherein some of the leaders of the party are cramping her. She has support from some of the MPs, including Bobby Pickersgill, Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, Dr Omar Davies, Ian Hayles, among others, but some others are totally against her,” the official said.
“Generally, she has strong support in the west, but again, some of the leaders are trying to water down that support,” the official went on.
Another PNP veteran urged Hanna to pay keen attention to the voting exercise next Saturday, as influential MPs who are against her may want to force their constituents to stay away from her.
“Some of the MPs will more than likely look at some of the slates that the delegates have selected, before they drop them in the ballot boxes and manipulate the process. That has happened before and it wasn’t democratic then, so it won’t be democratic this time around, if it is allowed to happen. If Lisa allows that she will certainly lose, so she needs to give herself a fighting chance by being vigilant,” the veteran stated.
However, another member of the party hierarchy said that Hanna had not yet served her apprenticeship, and therefore, he thought that it was not yet time for her to be vying for vice-president.
“There must be something about an individual, in this case, Lisa, serving her time. She just come into the thing. She has not served her time and it says something when someone like her can come to that table and become vice-president,” the member said.
On the other hand, a delegate who said that he would vote for Hanna based on her ability, stressed that she was better equipped to articulate the programmes and projects of the party, over many others. “It’s really a travesty to carry Butch and Angella over Lisa, based on ability, but that is the reality of what is happening.
“Angella is not that sharp…not creative, certainly not articulate, and as far as the major issues of our day goes… if you say to her ‘tell me how to solve crime problems’, or test her on economic issues — she is lacking. And she has been in it a long time. They are all giving Lisa a warm (expletives deleted) time, but I don’t believe she is not without support,” the delegate said.
“As for Butch, he is vice-president only because he is a cousin of Portia, because really and truly, he does not know his eyes from his nose. He was a disaster as a minister and he only got the job as minister all because of Portia,” the delegate added.
Those closely following activities leading up to the conference, which officially runs from September 16 through 18, believe that Dr Ferguson and Dr McNeill will be the top two finishers, by wide margins, when the numbers are tallied, leaving the other three contenders to determine just how many delegates believe in their ability to function at the second-tier level of the organisation.
One young delegate who spoke with the Sunday Observer on Friday night said that Hanna’s ability to articulate effectively, her beauty, being a former Miss World, her sex appeal and genuine concern for the advancement of youth, would tip the scale in her favour.