March 25 by-election

Nomination Day March 8

Observer correspondent

Saturday, March 02, 2019

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PORT ANTONIO, Portland — A new Member of Parliament is to be elected in Portland Eastern on March 25 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Dr Lynvale Bloomfield last month.

The by-election date was announced last night by prime minister and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader Andrew Holness at a rally in Port Antonio, the parish capital on the island's north-eastern coast.

“The 25th of March will be action day,” Holness said to loud cheers, adding that the day is also “pay day”.

He also announced that nominations for candidates will be accepted on March 8, International Women's Day, which, he pointed out, is also the anniversary of the birth of Lady Bustamante, the wife of the JLP's founder Sir Alexander Bustamante.

In addition, Holness, playing on the JLP's theme of women in politics, pointed out that March 8, 2001 was the date of the by-election in St Ann North Eastern which was convincingly won by the current Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson. That election victory marked a turnaround in the electoral fortunes of the JLP, which had been losing general elections to the People's National Party (PNP) since the February 1989 poll.

“This will be a peaceful election. It will be an efficiently run election,” Holness said.

The Portland Eastern by-election will be a straight fight between Senator Damion Crawford, the candidate for the Opposition PNP, and the JLP's Ann-Marie Vaz, who is campaigning under the slogan “Action Ann”. She is the wife of Portland Western MP Daryl Vaz, who is also minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

Holness used his address to outline the infrastructure programmes being implemented by the Government and chided the PNP for voting against a further extension of the states of emergency.

Stating that his Government was committed to taking action, instead of talking, to resolve the country's problems, Holness said he was confident in Vaz's ability to work for the benefit of the people of Portland Eastern.

“I'm sure that Action Ann is committed. I'm sure that Action Ann respects the people,” he said.

Last night, Vaz said the time has come for action. She promised to continue working in the constituency and said the Government is committed to creating more jobs.

She spoke of the programmes she has already implemented in the constituency, adding, “I'm here to solve the problems; I want the youths here to build East Portland”.

Vaz also pointed to a number of issues affecting the constituency, such as water, roads, Internet connection, particularly WiFi hotspots, and phone service, saying that she will work to resolve those issues.

Dr Bloomfield won the seat in the February 25, 2016 General Election receiving 8,606 votes (57 per cent) to the JLP's Derron Wood, who got 7,220 votes (44.6 per cent). Data from the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) website show that 34,396 people were eligible to vote in that general election. Of that figure, 15,110 people voted; a voter turnout of 43.93 per cent.

Earlier this week, the Electoral Office of Jamaica said that it was ready to conduct the by-election once Prime Minister Holness announced a date.

“We are always in ready mode. The prime minister can call it any time, so we are always ready,” Director of Elections Glasspole Brown told the Jamaica Observer.

“In terms of the renewal of voters' identification cards, it's being discussed by the [Electoral Commission of Jamaica] and a decision will be taken shortly. We have started the processes of preparing for the renewal, but final details will be issued later on this year by the commission,” Brown said.

Second-term MP Bloomfield was found dead in his Passley Gardens home in the constituency on February 2 with more than 20 stab wounds.

Yesterday, the police reported that they had charged 20-year-old Simeon Sutherland in connection with Bloomfield's murder. Sutherland had been initially taken into custody and released late last month.

Earlier this week, when the PNP announced Crawford as the candidate after weeks of speculation, the party's Executive Committee sought to present a picture of unity over the selection by having long-time aspirant for the seat, Andrea Moore, express support for Crawford.

“Damion and I will be campaigning vigorously together to ensure victory for the People's National Party,” a PNP news release quoted Moore. “There will be no divide here; it is one mission — victory for the PNP.”

Moore, an attorney, had signalled her intention to campaign for the selection shortly after Bloomfield's murder. But PNP insiders said that the party was uncomfortable with Moore, who, in the run-up to the 2016 General Election, was sidelined despite winning a delegate selection contest against Bloomfield.

Portland Eastern is considered a safe seat for the PNP, which has been winning the constituency for several years and which was last represented in Parliament by the JLP in 1980 when there was a massive swing against the PNP.

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