It's Election Day

Quiet anticipation in St Andrew Southern and South Western

By Balford Henry
Senior Staff Reporter

Monday, October 30, 2017

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Residents in three constituencies — St Mary South Eastern, St Andrew Southern, and St Andrew South Western — go to the polls today in by-elections to decide who will represent them in Parliament.

The seat with the most heat has been St Mary, where Norman Dunn and Shane Alexis are in a noisy tug of war. The Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Dunn lost the 2016 General Election to Dr Winston Green of the People's National Party (PNP) by a mere five votes. He now has to face off against Alexis after the sudden passing of Dr Green earlier this year.

There is very little excitement in the media about two of the three by-elections scheduled for today -St Andrew Southern and South Western.

But, inside both constituencies the election temperature has been just as high as it is in South East St Mary, and large voter turnouts are expected in both.

Last week Monday, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillip visited South St Andrew campaigning with People's National Party (PNP) candidate Mark Golding.

And on Thursday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness was there leading a large group of Jamaica Labour party (JLP) supporters through the streets of Wilton Gardens (Rema) and lower Trench Town, closing off with a campaign meeting.

At one point, the JLP and PNP crowds actually met, embraced each other and listened to Holness explain how he plans to remove the “garrison” culture from the area.

The Prime Minister welcomed the togetherness between JLP and PNP supporters, and announced that he would present a Bill in Parliament, during his current tenure, to make the “garrisons” illegal.

He said he was happy that the political parties had come a long way to the point where both sides could now share the streets of Trench Town, and campaign, peacefully.

“We must always remember that we are one Jamaica, and we must never make politics divide us,” he told the bipartisan crowd in earshot.

Holness also promised to bring legislation to Parliament during his current tenure as Prime Minister, to remove the “garrison” culture from the area.

“And one thing I guarantee you, during my tenure as Prime Minister, is that we must amend the laws to ensure that any political party can go anywhere in Jamaica without interference, and without fear, and that if any one does anything to prevent the free movement of people anywhere in Jamaica, that would be a criminal offence,” he said.

Golding, who has already been named Opposition spokesman finance and planning, although not yet being elected, also told the Observer that he was pleased the way both sides has approached the by-election.

He noted that his message to his supporters has been that “the word is love”, and they have welcomed his approach.

Holness' campaigning also took him into South Western St Andrew, the seat formerly held by former Prime Minster Portia Simpson Miller, known as the strongest PNP seat in the country.

Indications are that very little, if anything will change this time, despite the fact that Simpson Miller has given way to a candidate from outside the constituency, former Senator and Mayor of Kingston, Angela Brown Burke who had to fight off a very strong challenge from Councillor for Payne Land (Tavares Gardens), Audrey Smith Facey, despite the strong blessing of the former MP.

Some JLP spokesmen have raised faint hopes of winning the seat, but there is very little doubt that the “garrison” nature of the constituency will ensure a huge victory for Brown Burke, whose test will obviously come from the level of support she will have from constituents after this process is over.

The best the JLP has done in this constituency, which was once its strongest in the Corporate Area, was the 702 votes recorded by Victor Hyde in 2016.

The best Hyde's predecessor as JLP caretaker/candidate, Garnett Reid, was able to muster in the “garrison” was 601 votes in two tries, 2002 and 2007, against votes totaling over 10,000 on each occasion for Simpson Miller.

However, despite accepting the obvious on this occasion, Reid says that with Simpson Miller gone and with some “Comrades” turned off by the choice of candidate, there is a possibility of JLP regaining the constituency within the next decade.

“I have no doubt he (Hyde) will get more value, but not much at this time. The constituency needs mobilisation and it needs money for campaigning. You can't win a constituency where the supporters only see the candidate at election time, but I think it will turn around over the next decade,” he insisted.

Unfortunately for the JLP in South Western St Andrew, it does not have the vibrant base of Wilton Gardens (Rema) which the JLP has in Southern St Andrew, and which university lecturer Dane Dennis has been building on since his nomination on October ninth.

Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Desmond McKenzie, believes that Dennis will give the PNP its toughest fight since 1972 when Anthony Spaulding won the seat from the JLP's E C L Parkinson by a mere 102 votes.

By the 1976 general election Spaulding turned that margin into a near 15,000 majority, and was accused by the Opposition of using his portfolio of housing as the basis of removing thousands of JLP supporters from the area to build new houses eventually occupied by PNP supporters.

Spaulding was also accused of carrying out a similar policy in South Western St. Andrew, and turning both constituencies into PNP “garrisons”.

But, the Wilton Gardens area of Southern St Andrew remained firmly supportive of the JLP, allowing Dennis Massias, a former Superintendent of the nearby May Pen Cemetery, to garner an average 1,200 votes in four attempts to defeat former finance minister, Omar Davies, between 1997 and 2016, while Davies enjoyed total support of over 10,000 each occasion

Although it is also obvious that the massive “garrison” ascendancy of the PNP in Southern St. Andrew will ensure a wide victory margin for Golding, Holness and the JLP holds out much hope for Dennis as a young enthusiastic “Labourite” with an MBA degree and who works as a university lecturer, to start building his base in the constituency.

Dennis, unlike Massias, who did very little campaigning, has been very active both in the area and on social media selling the message that after four decades of PNP leadership and lack of attention, it has become “the worst constituency” in the Corporate Area.

McKenzie believes that with his youth, his education and the fact that he has been protégé of Trench Town, Dennis is the future of the JLP in Southern St Andrew.

But, that confidence may be tested by the outcome of today's by-election.

 

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