Portland Eastern vote will have national impact

Monday, March 18, 2019

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The result of the upcoming by-election in Portland Eastern, following the tragic death of Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, will reverberate nationally.

To begin with, the seat has long been considered a safe one for the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) to such an extent that the party president Dr Peter Phillips is on record as describing it as “PNP territory” and “PNP seat”.

It's true that a party in government, in this case the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), tends to have an advantage in by-elections — especially when those take place in the first five-year term — but even at that, PNP loss of Portland Eastern would constitute a big blow for the Opposition and would further damage the credibility of Phillips who at 69, is seen by many in political circles as 'past his time'.

Bear in mind that a PNP defeat would follow the loss of St Mary South Eastern in the by-election of October 2017.

Opinion polls in Portland Eastern and nationally have suggested that three years after winning the February 2016 general election by just one seat, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his ruling JLP are riding a wave of public approval. That must be of grave concern for Phillips and the PNP.

Victory for the JLP in Portland Eastern would provide additional wiggle room in the House of Representatives and provide a huge boost for morale. It may also encourage thoughts by Holness of a snap general election in 2020, ahead of the mandatory 2021 date, in the expectation of metaphorically blowing the PNP out of the water.

But what of the people of Portland Eastern? All too often in by-elections, observers relegate local needs and aspirations in the face of national considerations. Also, too often locals blindly vote for their party, without a thought for whatever it is that the candidate brings to the table.

In this regard we think stories in yesterday's Sunday Observer which highlight intentions of the two candidates, Mr Damian Crawford of the PNP and Mrs Ann Marie Vaz, are extremely useful.

Mrs Vaz, as the wife of MP for neighbouring Portland Western and high-profile Cabinet Minister Mr Daryl Vaz, is seeking to become the first woman to represent Portland Eastern. Mr Crawford is considered a political heavyweight, being a vice-president of his party with much potential.

Like virtually everywhere else in rural Jamaica, the needs are extreme in Portland Eastern. It has serious problems in terms of unemployment and underdevelopment. Like almost all of rural Jamaica, road and water infrastructure is weak.

In yesterday's Sunday Observer, Mr Crawford and Mrs Vaz explored some of those issues and put forward ideas. It would be good if those eligible to vote pay attention to what the candidates are saying and place some weight on that aspect when they cast their vote.

Also, when the by-election is over and done with, constituents should seek, by all means available, to hold the victor to account.

The news media has an important role to play in the latter regard. We regret to say, that the media — this newspaper included — has fallen down, time and again, when it comes to holding our political representatives to account on the basis of their pledges and stated intentions. That has to change.

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