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'Sugar' Shane so salt in St Mary South Eastern

BY TROY CAINE

Sunday, November 12, 2017

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THE victory of Dr Norman Dunn and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in St Mary South Eastern on October 30 resonated nationally and lived up to the expectations of being perhaps the most exciting and the most significant by-election held in the island since adult suffrage.

Coming from a deficit of five votes against Dr Winston Green in last year's general election, Dr Dunn didn't just win as was widely expected, but he won impressively, trouncing Dr Shane Alexis and the People's National Party (PNP) by over 900 votes, which not only moved the JLP from its one-seat to a three-seat margin of 33-30 in Parliament; it also highlighted an exceptionally organised, unified and formidable JLP under the leadership of Andrew Holness, which the PNP in its present state will be hard-pressed to penetrate.

The final count has Dr Dunn polling 8,169 votes (53.04 per cent) to Dr Alexis's 7,246 votes (46.96 per cent), a JLP margin of 923 votes (6.08 per cent) in a voter turnout of 15,509 (61.42 per cent) from a voters' list of 25,251. It also showed that Dr Alexis's poll is a 78-vote (1.1 per cent) reduction on Dr Green's 2016 total of 7,324, while Dr Dunn increased his poll by 850 votes (11.6 per cent) from his 7,319 in 2016.

This seems to suggest that Dunn captured most of the new voters who came on the list since last year, or that the JLP had superior organisation on the ground, or both of the above. However, while this result does not necessarily remove the marginal status of the St Mary South Eastern seat, it is indeed a comfortable victory on which the labourites can build for the future.

So, once more, the constituency of St Mary South Eastern has demonstrated to the rest of the country how best to exercise their franchise by turning out in large numbers at the polls to the tune of a respectable 61 per cent, when currently the national voter turnout is plummeting below 50 per cent. But voter turnout in parliamentary by-elections over the years has been a lot higher than most people believe.

St Mary South Eastern's 61 per cent turnout is the 13th highest turnout overall in a by-election since St Ann North Eastern's 66.6 per cent in September 1974, when the PNP's Vivian Blake was elected for the second time. The St Mary South Eastern turnout is the second highest in 43 years, surpassed only by Portland Western's 72.9 per cent in 2009 when Daryl Vaz was re-elected. (see chart)

The average voter turnout in parliamentary by-elections since the first one in 1946 is 52.0 per cent. There have been 14 voter turnouts above 60 per cent — 13 in the 50s, 10 in the 40s and 30s and only six below 30 per cent. The highest is 82.9 per cent in the June 1967 contest in Trelawny Northern following the death of Elliston Wakeland, closely followed by 82.6 per cent in the October 1967 contest in St Elizabeth South Eastern following the death of BB Coke.

The lowest ones are 15.6 per cent in St Ann North Eastern in December 2010, boycotted by the PNP following the unseating of Shahine Robinson; and 18.0 per cent in St Catherine Southern in August 1994, boycotted by the JLP when Fitz Jackson was first elected to succeed Hugh Small. Very scanty voter turnout usually occurs in by-elections when either of the two major parties have not participated.

There were no surprises in the other two by-elections of the day, since the 'MarkAngela' political experience lacked the artistic touch in the garrisons of St Andrew Southern and South Western. From massive voter turnouts in the past (sometimes exceeding 100 per cent) to a trending down of very low turnouts since about 2002, these two major garrisons have not only been hit by national apathy, but also perhaps an increasing lack of interest in the PNP's 40-odd years of garrisonal-type domination of these two areas and with very little improvement to show for it. Hence the tiny turnout of only the fundamental tribalists who continue to run things in these areas, because… “a suh it set”.

In St Andrew Southern, Mark Golding's final poll of 6,203 votes was over 3,200 less than Dr Omar Davies' poll in 2016, although Golding's percentage at 87.6 was 0.4 per cent higher than that of Davies. And by getting 446 votes less than Dennis Messias got in 2016 (774 to 1,220), the JLP's Dane Dennis polled a lower 10.9 per cent of the ballots to Messias's 11.3 per cent. All of this happened in a disappointing 30.1 per cent voter turnout — (7,085 from 23,533) — a plunge of over 17.8 per cent below the 2016 turnout of 47.9 per cent — that can hardly be compared to the 57.4 per cent voter-turnout in the December 1993 by-election when Dr Davies was first elected after the resignation of Bobby Jones, and opposed by two puny third-party candidates who got a total of 23 votes and an Independent who polled 0.

In St Andrew South Western, the story was quite similar. After all the hype and hustle in her switch from the Norman Gardens Division in Kingston Eastern & Port Royal, Angela Brown Burke polled a mere 6,324 votes which was just 24.6 per cent of the listed electorate of 25,670 and barely a little more that a half of Portia Simpson Miller's 10,090 votes in 2016.

In an equally disappointing constituency turnout of 25.9 per cent, compared to the seat's poor 47.4 per cent turnout last year, the JLP's Victor Hyde also failed badly, especially with the expectation that he might have benefited from any possible PNP fallout from the parachuting of Brown Burke into the seat. He ended up polling only 223 votes or less than a third of his 702 votes against Portia last year.

However, all of the excitement and the interest were really centred on the contest in St Mary South Eastern and what result would ensue at the end of the day. The result was not only predictable, but it also emerged as polled by Trinidadian Derek Ramsamooj and his team, the only pollster who got it right leading up to our general election last year.

The poll done in September, which showed Dr Dunn with 54 per cent support and Dr Alexis at 45 per cent, was good enough, but it was the October poll that was really bang on target, revealing that of the 1,740 individuals polled, 929 (53.4 per cent) favoured Dr Dunn, 607 (34.9 per cent) were for Dr Alexis, and 204 (11.7 per cent) were undecided. Furthermore, 917 (52.7 per cent) said they would not vote for a non-Jamaican citizen, as against 550 (31.6 per cent) who said they would; 44 per cent said only the JLP could fix the problems in the constituency, while 31 per cent said only the PNP could; and the poll had Prime Minister Andrew Holness' approval ratings some 15 points beyond that of Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips. But the PNP called it a fake poll, yet their own alleged internal poll never saw the light of day.

The role and performance of Andrew Holness as prime minister and JLP leader cannot be overstated in this achievement of the JLP in St Mary South Eastern. Along with his wife, MP Juliet Holness whose role and influence also worked wonders, plus the other JLP MPs, Cabinet ministers, councillors and party organisers “from tap to battam” as Bustamante would say, cut a swathe of style, objectives and a sense of purpose in their campaign which were clearly manifested in their advertising, their graphics on social media and on the campaign trail.

I was left speechless when I saw Andrew Holness campaigning in St Andrew Southern and South Western and bonding with supporters of both sides, which is something never before attempted by a JLP leader. But what really stood out was his barefoot walk with the residents and others across the river at Chesterfield in St Mary South Eastern and how well it resonated with everyone.

In comparison, the PNP campaign clearly ran out of steam, although we were told that all the party big guns, including former prime ministers PJ Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller would be jamming in St Mary South Eastern to rock with “Sugar” Shane. For a party that was always so resilient, this time they were totally out of their depth, encumbered with a lack of solid leadership, a candidate with the sudden baggage of being non-Jamaican, a campaign which mirrored the errors made during the two elections they lost last year, and an apparent scarcity of funds which stifled the tempo of their campaign and made them hardly looking like winners. Where was the Portia Pull, the magic of PJ, “Star Boy” KD, and the organisational skills of the “Six- Star General” Dr Fenton Ferguson who was Dr Alexis's campaign manager?

Dr Phillips' inability to keep up with Andrew Holness and to compete with the prime minister's energy, popularity and performance not only became an impediment to the PNP, but his assessment of the election as a referendum on Holness and his Administration was an embarrassing reversal of fortunes which only rendered the president and his party to further ridicule. Consequently, his failure with Dr Alexis to clinch victory in the by-election could now make him quite vulnerable to those who have been patiently waiting for him to fail.

But the joke of the century has to be the PNP accusing the JLP of buying votes. This is a clear case of the kettle and the pot and perhaps the most blatant case of PNP hypocrisy. If it is true, then it is simply a situation where the JLP has merely perfected the art which the PNP mastered decades ago. My perception of vote-buying is just doling out actual cash for votes, but how can the employment of constituents for infrastructural work in the constituency be constituted as an act of vote-buying?

The four divisions of St Mary South Eastern — Annotto Bay, Belfield, Richmond and Castleton — are really what have dictated the variety of the political landscape, especially their parish council representation since 1947, and to a large extent, their political diversity in recent years. Both the Annotto Bay and Richmond divisions have had neck and neck representation of JLP and PNP throughout the years, but unlike the other three, Annotto Bay never had early Independent representation and has spent 37 years with the JLP and 33 years with the PNP.

Richmond endured Independent representation for its first 13 years (1947-1960) and has had 30 years under the JLP and 27 years under the PNP. Belfield and Castleton divisions have always been the two die-hard areas, the former for the PNP and the latter for the JLP. But whereas Belfield spent its first 13 years as an Independent division, then 13 years under the JLP and 44 years under the PNP, Castleton was only Independent for the first five years, then JLP for 60 years, with only a break of five years (1998-2003) under the PNP which explains the perennial edge the JLP has had over the PNP in this constituency, in addition to their preponderance of parliamentary longevity.

The present three-seat margin in the Lower House now enjoyed by Andrew Holness and the JLP Administration is an important improvement to the former one-seat margin, as it allows more scope to manoeuvre, but it still continues to be the smallest margin held by an administration since 1944. The next smallest are actually in a three-way tie, namely: Bruce Golding's four-seat margin (32-28) in 2007, Norman Manley's four-seat margin (18-14) in 1955, and Alexander Bustamante's four-seat margin (17-13) in 1949.

Holness and the JLP are probably smacking their lips at the prospect of another possible parliamentary by-election in the St James Southern seat, where it is reported that long-time PNP incumbent Derrick Kellier is ill and considering retirement from politics after over 28 years in Parliament. That seat, like St Mary South Eastern, is not easy to be retained by the PNP, and in recent times it has been regarded as marginal, one of at least 23 such seats islandwide for which the PNP will find it very difficult to compete in its present condition of lack-lustre leadership, disunity and disorganisation.

Not so long ago, the PNP had some two dozen safe seats to begin their tally at election time. Now it appears that only a few PNP bastions are left that are not vulnerable. Other than the six garrisons in the Corporate Area and one in St Catherine, perhaps only St Ann South Eastern, Westmoreland Eastern, St Elizabeth North Eastern, Manchester North Western, St Catherine Southern, St Catherine North Western, Westmoreland Western, St Mary Central, St Andrew South Eastern, and Clarendon South Western can be still regarded as strong PNP seats. But that is only 17 seats, and 15 more are required to be first past the post. If the JLP can sustain its present level of organisation and cohesiveness on the ground nationally, the PNP could be stationed at West King's House Road for a very long time.

The St Mary South Eastern by-election also succeeded in outshining the 2001 St Ann North Eastern by-election, previously the most significant by-election in a PNP bastion, won by Shahine Robinson who transformed it into a JLP safe seat. But the St Mary South Eastern election was more consequential, more tense, more exciting, had more spending and had been a marginal seat unlike St Ann North Eastern.

St Mary South Eastern also became the sixth by-election to reverse the result in the previous general election, and only the second such victory by the JLP.

No doubt many people expected the St Mary South Eastern by-election to be much closer, but the close contest was only on paper, and in any case small margins have not been prevalent in Jamaica's parliamentary by-elections. Of the 45 held thus far, only nine (including St Mary South Eastern) have produced winning margins of less than 1,000 votes, and only two are under 300 votes, which means that Cecil A Neita's 70-year-old Independent margin of 173 against the JLP's JH Sparkes in the January 1947 by-election in Trelawny Southern will remain the smallest margin in parliamentary by-elections for some time to come.

For a political neophyte, Dr Shane Alexis didn't run a bad campaign, given the time factor. But the odds were stacked heavily against him, having to deal with a much energised JLP and its leader, as well as the PNP's awkward handling of his candidacy and the nationality issue.

However, politicians need to be careful what nicknames they attach to themselves. The last “Sugar” politician (before Shane) was educator, the JLP's Clifford C Campbell of Westmoreland who became a Speaker of the House, the first Senate President and Jamaica's first native Governor General. He was nicknamed “Sugar Head” Campbell during his political heyday when he dominated Westmoreland Western (1944-1955), before being soundly trounced by the PNP's FLB “Slave Boy” Evans in 1955, and again in 1959 by another educator, Rudolph Robinson (Julian's grand-dad) who retired him from representational politics.

Fortunately for the PNP and for Jamaica, in the wake of his defeat, “Sugar” Shane might not own a horse, otherwise he might be riding off into the setting sun and into oblivion like his Western namesake, while a sad group of adoring female comrades kept shouting: “Shane! Shane! Come back, Shane! We love you, Shane! You're still our Sugar, Shane! Come ba-a-a-a-a-ck!!”

— Troy Caine is a political historian and analyst

trodencorp@gmail.com

HIGHEST VOTER-TURNOUT IN PARLIAMENTARY BY-ELECTIONS

1. 82.9 – N Ty, June 1967—Allan W Douglas (JLP) def. Cedric O Titus (PNP).

2. 82.6 – SE St. Eliz, Oct 1967 —Vivian O. Blake (PNP) def. Glen Mitchell (JLP).

3. 77.1 – SE Wd, Mar 1970 — PJ Patterson (PNP) def. Euphemia Williams (JLP).

4. 74.9 – NE St Ann, July 1973 – Hazel Hamilton (PNP) def. Pearnel Charles, Snr (JLP).

5. 72.9 – W Pd, Mar 2009 – Daryl Vaz (JLP) def. Kenneth Rowe (PNP).

6. 68.7—SE St Ann, Mar 1969 – Seymour Mullings (PNP) def. Garland Lloyd (JLP).

7. 66.8 – S Ty, Jan 1947 – Cecil A. Neita (Ind) def JH Sparkes (JLP).

8. 66.6 – NE St Ann, Sept 1974 – Vivian O Blake (PNP) def Robert Marsh (JLP).

9. 65.9 – E Pd, Oct 1964 – Clement T Afflick (JLP) def. Kenneth G. Wright (PNP).

10. 64.8 – W Hr, Nov 1946 – William M Dickson (JLP) def. Hugh D. Johnson (PNP).

11. 62.6 – SW St And, Feb 1968 – Wilton O. Hill (JLP) def. Hopeton Caven (PNP).

12. 61.6 – W St Ann, July 1950 – Rupert D Wilmot (PNP) def. GW Aabuthnott-Gallimore (JLP)

13. 61.4 – SE St Mary, Oct 2017—Dr Norman Dunn (JLP) def. Dr Shane Alexis (PNP).

14. 60.1 – NW Cn, July 1950 – Edwin L Allen (JLP) def. Wessell H. Williams (PNP).

15. 59.0 – NE Cn, Dec 1955 – Donald B Sangster (JLP) def. Percival A. Broderick, Snr (PNP).

16. 58.0 – NE St Ann, Mar 2001 — Shahine Robinson (JLP) def. Carroll Jackson (PNP).

17. 57.6 – E St Thomas, Dec 1956 – Lynden G Newland (JLP) def. Allan G Stanley (PNP).

18. 57.4 – S St And, Dec 1993 – Dr Omar L Davies (PNP) def. John Causwell (UPM).

19. 56.3 – NC Cn, June 1967—Dr Frederick R. Duhaney (JLP) def. Ancel G. Taylor (PNP).

20. 56.1—E Pd, April 1953 – T. Adrian Gray (PNP) def. Percival H. Gale (JLP).

21. 55.9 – W St And, Feb 1956 – William M Seivright (PNP) def. Arthur A. Leon (JLP).

22. 55.5 – C St And, May 1959 – Vernon L Arnett (PNP) def. D. Clement Tavares, Jr. (JLP).

23. 55.1 – E Wd, July 1951—Frederick LB Evans (PNP) def. Gladys M. Longbridge (JLP).

24. 53.1 – W Kgn, April 2005 – O Bruce Golding (JLP) def. Joseph Whitter (PNP).

25. 53.0 – NE St Cath, June 2009 – D Gregory Mair (JLP) def. Granville Valentine (PNP).

— Troy CaineRESEARCH 2017

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