JLP's Smith goes after North Trelawny

BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large Western Bureau

Sunday, April 13, 2014    

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FALMOUTH, Trelawny — Prominent attorney-at-law and former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament for South West St Ann Ernest Smith is among five persons seeking to represent the party in the constituency of Northern Trelawny in the next general elections, constitutionally due in December 2016.

Smith, in confirming his application to the secretariat of the party, told the Jamaica Observer last Friday that he had responded to a call from the people of the constituency to represent them, and it was now left up to the selection committee of the JLP to make a decision on the matter.

"A clear call has come from the people of North Trelawny, and it is a call that may not be denied; it is now a matter for the selection committee of the party, but the call from the people is very clear. It's a clarion call; it's a crystal call that may not be denied," Smith said, stressing that the call is not from the JLP supporters from the constituency, but from "the people of North Trelawny".

Considered a safe People's National Party (PNP) seat, the Opposition JLP last held the constituency between 1980 and 1989.

In fact, the seat was won in the 1980 General Elections by the JLP, when the party at that time won 51 of the then 60 Parliamentary seats up for grabs.

During that contest, businessman Keith Russell defeated the PNP's Desmond Leaky by just over 1,100 votes. The PNP did not contest the snap election called by then JLP Leader Edward Seaga in 1983, and Russell continued to represent the party until 1989.

Leaky, however, turned the tables on Russell in the general election held in 1989, defeating him by over 3,000 votes.

Since then, the JLP has lost all of the five parliamentary seats contested in North Trelawny.

The most recent was in December 2011, when the PNP's Patrick Atkinson, who represented the JLP and lost in two previous general elections, trounced the JLP's Dennis Meadows by over 2,300 votes. Meadows, a former senator, later resigned as the party's caretaker for the constituency, having suffered two consecutive defeats in the constituency.

Smith, who represented the South West St Ann constituency from 2002 to 2011, before losing to the PNP's Keith Walford, stressed that he is no stranger to the parish of Trelawny.

"I have been working in Trelawny for over 30 years. In fact, I was a clerk of courts in Trelawny when I came back from England as a young barrister and I still control a vast portion of the law practice in Trelawny. In fact, I gave up some of my practice in Trelawny so others can survive," he argued.

When asked by the Sunday Observer why he decided to leave the constituency of South West St Ann, once considered a safe JLP seat, to contest what is perceived to be a difficult North Trelawny constituency to win for his party, the eminent attorney declined to give a clear answer.

"I would rather not answer that. That is in-house party business," he said, reiterating that he owns properties in North Trelawny, and that the constituency is really the "founding father of my law practice".

Yesterday, General Secretary of the JLP Dr Horace Chang told the Sunday Observer that apart from Smith, the party has received applications from urban planner Charles Ramdatt and businessman Loyal Ellis, both natives of Falmouth, Trelawny, as well as Dwight Lewis, also of the parish.

At least one other person, he said, is also interested in becoming the party's standard bearer in the constituency.

According to Dr Chang, interviews for the post are expected to commence and concluded within another three months.

He argued that despite the fact that the constituency is considered a safe PNP seat, an unusually high number of persons are showing an interest in it, presumably because constituents have become disenchanted with the level of political representation in the constituency.

"All of the persons who have applied are well known in the parish, and they believe that they can offer very good representation," said Chang.

Meanwhile, Smith has expressed confidence that he will get the nod of the selection committee, in his bid to represent North Trelawny, and will take home the seat for the JLP whenever the election is called.

"The people make me feel confident and you know I am a very confident person. Confidence is part of my personality, and if I am given the chance to contest this seat, I am going to be elected by the people of North Trelawny," he argued.

He lamented the deplorable state of the roads in the constituency, and expressed disappointment at the lack of benefits that Trelawny residents are receiving from the construction of the $7.5-billion Falmouth Cruise Shipping Pier.

Local political observer Christopher Hylton argues that although history has shown that winning the constituency has eluded the JLP for quite some time, the party in recent elections has not been able to attract a "high-profile" person to contest the seat on its behalf, and to convince the constituents that it is a viable option.

"If the JLP gets a high-profile candidate who can connect with the constituents, and one who is able to sway the uncommitted votes in their favour and put in the necessary ground work, then they can become a formidable force to be reckoned with in the electoral process in North Trelawny," Hylton argued.





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