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Stern trounces NDM candidate in lacklustre by-election

BY ERICA VIRTUE Observer writer virtuee@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, September 05, 2009    

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FRANKFIELD, Clarendon - The Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) Michael Stern was yesterday returned as the member of parliament for Clarendon North Western following the close of polls on a day characterised by snail's pace voting at nearly all polling divisions.

Preliminary results showed Stern receiving 5,572 votes while Eaton Williams of the National Democratic Movement (NDM) received 381 votes. There were 22,600 eligible voters.

The voting was conducted on the June voters list. However, not even JLP supporters appeared interested in yesterday's contest, which lacked the fanfare and excitement of the two previous by-elections.

The JLP's own presence in the constituency lacked the nomination day excitement which was characterised by marching, singing, dancing and bell ringing.

Only smatterings of JLP supporters were observed across the constituency throughout the day, even at points which housed polling clusters of three to four polling divisions.

Stern admitted that the absence of a candidate representing the main Opposition People's National Party (PNP) put a damper on the spirit of the proceedings, resulting in a low voter turnout. He also said the day of the election affected the turnout.

"Friday is a market day for most rural people, and this is a largely farming community," said Stern when the Observer caught up with him in Smithville. "Most persons would have taken their produce to the market and would not be here for the polls. Also, by-election voter turnouts have traditionally been low."

According to Stern, his canvass was showing that he had received nearly 3,000 votes close to 3:00 pm and was in reach of an expected target of between 3,000 and 4,000 votes.

"If I get that, I will be happy with it, because of the circumstances under which the elections are being held, circumstances I have explained earlier," he said.

Stern also charged that he had reports that the PNP had activated its machinery in the constituency in support of Williams, a claim later dismissed by the PNP officials.

"Stern is talking absolute rubbish," a PNP official said when contacted.

However, PNP supporters acknowledged that their candidate, Richard Azan, has held "workers meetings" in the constituency, but admitted these had nothing to do with the by-election.

Director of Elections Orette Fisher said the day went well.

"There were no reports of any problems whatsoever. I wish everyday was like this," he said. Stern is the third JLP elected representative to have been found in breach of the Jamaican constitution by holding dual citizenship at the time they were nominated for the September 2007 general elections.

All three were disqualified by the courts and by-elections ordered. The other two representatives - Daryl Vaz in Portland Western and Gregory Mair in St Catherine North East - easily won re-election to the House by trouncing their PNP challengers Kenneth Rowe and Granville Valentine, respectively.

Despite the absence of the PNP in yesterday's by-election, it was clear that Stern and the ruling party were taking no chances. Freshly filled potholes were evident throughout the constituency, with residents saying that work to fill potholes was done during the week.

They also said that several kilometres of road were asphalted between Frankfield and Smithville since Stern became caught in the dual citizenship saga.

Residents said that Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry, minister with responsibility for local government Robert Montague and Labour and Social Security Minister Pearnel Charles have been fixtures in the constituency for weeks before and after the judgement was handed down.

Yesterday, Charles and Henry were spotted in Frankfield, as was Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett, Health Minister Ruddy Spencer, and National Security Minister Dwight Nelson.

It was not until much later in the evening that music could be heard in Frankfield, and the NDM candidate was nowhere to be seen.

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