PROVIDENCIALES — Residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) vote tomorrow in a crucial by-election which could see a collapse of the Government if the governing Progressive National Party (PNP) loses.
The PNP won the November 9, 2012 general election eight to seven seats, but has been forced into a by-election, just four months into its new term, after one of its seats was declared vacant, leaving a seven-seven tie in the House of Assembly, located in the capital Grand Turk.
The by-election bears some striking features of interest to Jamaicans beyond the fact that the ruling party is called PNP. That party also has its own female Porsha, even if its spelt differently.
The Opposition People's Democratic Movement (PDM), whose symbol is the bell, is seeking to have its leader become the first woman premier in Sharlene Cartwright Robinson, an articulate attorney who came to the TCI as a child aged six from The Bahamas.
Also of note is that the elder brother of the PNP Leader Dr Rufus Ewing — Goldray Ewing — is campaigning for the opposition PDM, which last held power from 1995 to 2003. Both parties were founded by their father Hilly Ewing.
The vacant seat, Cheshire Hall and Richmond Hill, located here on the island of Providenciales, was won in 2012 by the PNP's Amanda Missick, who beat off a challenge from the PDM's candidate Oral Selver, and the People's Progressive Party's (PPP) Dr Edward Smith.
However, the country's high court last month spoilt the celebration of the PNP when it declared the seat vacant after it emerged that the third-place finisher — the PPP's Smith — held dual citizenship, which he did not declare at the time of nomination. Smith got only 58 votes, compared
to Missick's 394 and Selver's 364.
Effectively, the court believed that Smith played the role of 'spoiler' as those votes may have gone to any of the other candidates and as such called for a fresh vote.
Premier Ewing's ruling PNP is pulling out all the stops to ensure it wins the
by-election and hangs on to the 15-seat House of Assembly. But Cartwright Robinson's PDM is no less confident of winning, and believes her party will form the government, thereby ending the 10-year rule of
PNP insiders, meanwhile, believe corruption allegation against former premier and ex-leader Michael Misick, who is now exiled in Brazil, could negatively affect its chance in the poll, but they are hoping it will not be a decisive issue.
Dr Ewing, mindful what a loss could mean for his Government, pleaded with electors at a press conference, which was televised live from party headquarters here Monday night, to go out and
vote for the PNP candidate Amanda Missick.
"Without Amanda there's no us; if there is no us, life will be difficult; stay the course and fulfil the destiny that was designed for us as we continue to improve the lives of the citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands. We have done it in the past, and we will do it again," Dr Ewing said to applause from party officers and supports in attendance at the press conference.
Missick, who had earlier addressed the press conference where she outlined her achievements, told the Jamaica Observer that she was "very confident" of winning the seat based on her "proven" track record. She said, too, that she is expecting a good turnout for the polls.
The PNP, said Missick, is no stranger to by-elections, the last of which was in 2003, which it won.
At a rally held in Dockyard - a poor, depressed community with rundown houses, dusty marl roads and the absence of street lights, Cartwright Robinson also pleaded with residents to vote for the PDM's Selver, reminding them that their vote would not only mean the selection of a new Member of Parliament but a vote for a new government.
Seventy of the 953 electors on the voters' list reside in Dockyard, a community of mainly Haitian immigrants who complained about high unemployment, harassment by immigration officials, challenges to get their children in public schools, and prejudice in the issue of work permits, in a question-and-answer session after the Opposition leader spoke.
The PDM considered the Dockyard votes so important that an interpreter translated in Haitian Creole to ensure its message was not lost.
Cartwright Robinson promised to build a united TCI if her party wins the by-election and takes control of the government. "Trust the PDM and give yourself the opportunity to become a part of one TCI," she said to applause from the partisan bell-ringing crowd. "The PDM will not play games, as we are all God's children; the PDM will change things," she said.
The PDM's Selver also got ringing endorsements from colleague MPs, including Goldray Ewing. "I am on the side of the humble, grass-roots people," said Ewing, as he took a jab at his brother.
Selver himself bemoaned the high unemployment among the residents of Dock yard, saying that up to the time the PDM last held power, in 2003, a number of the community's residents had more than one job and that the area was not as neglected.
Providenciales, the largest island of the Turks and Caicos, depends heavily on tourism of which its biggest player is Gordon 'Butch' Stewart's Beaches Resorts, the largest single employer of labour, and contributor to the TCI economy.
— Additional reporting by Desmond Allen