Politics

Another perspective on the St Mary South East by-election

BY SHALMAN SCOTT

Sunday, November 05, 2017

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The by-election in the constituency of South East St Mary has come and gone. Dr Norman Dunn of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has been declared the winner, amassing 8,176 votes, to the People's National Party's Dr Shane Alexis with 7,239 votes resulting in a majority of 937 votes for Dr Dunn.

The voter turnout in that by-election was 61 per cent — a two per cent increase over the Feburary 2016 General Election results in that constituency of 59 per cent turnout. And the margin of victory for Dr Dunn of the JLP (52%) over Dr Alexis of the PNP (47%) is by a five per cent margin. This five per cent margin of victory in favour of Dr Dunn puts to flight the prognostication of the Trinidad and Tobago-based polling organisation Caribbean Development Strategies (CDS) that projected a 15 percentage points advantage for the JLP's Dr Dunn.

This poll result signalling a People's National Party blowout just did not happen, and political pundits are left to wonder what was the methodology employed by CDS to have arrived at such a way off conclusion in predicting the percentage margin of victory between the two political parties and their respective candidates in the by-election in St Mary South Eastern.

And further, given the cultural differences and idiosyncrasies of the people of Trinidad and Tobago in contrast to those characteristics here in Jamaica, how possible is it for a set of foreign pollsters to accurately read the sincerity of a Jamaican respondent in a political polling exercise? In other words, would pollsters Don Anderson or Carl Stone make such a huge error in respect to the margin of victory for Dr Dunn? And would they have confused the attractiveness of a candidate to mean support for his or her party?

The by-election in South East St Mary was not so much a contest between persons, but largely a contest between political parties. Accordingly, questions regarding which person would you like to see win an election is not the same as … for which party would you vote? The Trinidadian pollsters must know that within the context of the Jamaican political culture and reality, the two questions are just not the same to the average Jamaican mind.

For while a party supporter may even fall in love with a candidate of the opposite party, when voting day comes and he or she is to put a mark against a symbol that the particular party supporter has abhorred and sometimes has abused over the years, it will not happen, money or no money. And while on this point, in a constituency where voters are not intimidated and required to vote openly as in some other constituencies in the past, what guarantee does a vote buyer have that a voter, marking a secret ballot and alone behind the screen of a polling booth, will vote for a party whose agent may have given that voter monies to do so?

Under the referenced circumstances “vote buyers” need to realise that the practice has always been a “vote sellers” game. And the “buyers” and complainers of vote-buying continue to simplistically underrate the capacity of displaying the characteristic of our cultural hero “Anansi “ in matters such as political contests. Even those complaining of vote-buying against one political side are equally busy buying votes for their side. The joke in all of this is that the sellers of votes now ask for purchase from all political sides in each election. And having had a successful sale for their one vote … join with gusto, any protesting group demonstrating against vote-buying.

There is a maxim which states if you diagnose wrongly you will prescribe wrongly, which imports the following questions: Did the citizenship issue damage Dr Shane Alexis' candidacy? Were the by-election results of South West St Andrew, Southern St Andrew and South East St Mary a referendum on the leadership and stewardship of Prime Minister Andrew Holness and of Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, who has been in that post for about two months?

The Oxford Dictionary definition of a referendum states that it is a “direct vote by the people of a country on a single political issue”. In light of the foregoing definition, the claim of a referendum exercise in three constituencies out of 63 in the country is more than unthinking, self-serving, political nonsense. The last time Jamaica had one such referendum exercise was in 1961 to answer a single question of whether Jamaica should remain in the West Indies Federation. The people were required to give one answer, yes or no! Majority voted no … end of story!

On the issue of citizenship and whether it had a negative impact of Dr Shane Alexis ... that debate no doubt will continue. Sufficient to say that after a very short period of about five weeks of presence and campaigning by Dr Alexis in South East St Mary he received just about the same quantity of votes as Dr Winston Green, unquestionably a Jamaican citizen with a very long-standing relationship with SE St Mary. Both men received, by and large, party votes.

The radio and television high-visibility politicians, some within the PNP, in seeking to rationalise their loss and deflect another failure, in addition to the 2016 General Election, and specifically in that constituency by-election, have started to blame “vote-buying” by the JLP. The South East St Mary by-election was won by the JLP arising from quiet and effective organisational work and the expending of resources on the ground, and with a fixity that was unmatched by and perhaps unknown to the PNP, due to lack of specific attention.

The record reveals that between the last general election and the recent by-election, some 800 new voters were added to the list in that constituency. This is not normal without a hidden hand or set of hands. Recall that the controversial election results of the 2016 General Election in South East St Mary had gone to court — clearly the JLP prepared for every eventuality, including the possibility of an election re-run.

With the experienced hand of Daryl Vaz next door in Western Portland and others, there is no doubt that a massive effort was launched to add new JLP supporters and sympathisers to the voters' list. With Dr Winston Green being unwell and the PNP leadership failing over the 19 months to pay sufficient attention to that seat organisationally, the PNP lost the by-election at the time of enumeration of the majority of those new additions to the voters' list. It was anything but a swing of diehard PNP supporters to the JLP.

If that had happened, the Trinidad and Tobago polling organisation would not have been left with egg on their faces in respect to the percentage margin of victory predicted for the JLP. South East St Mary, arising from the by-election on October 30th 2017, still remains one of the 18 marginal constituencies in Jamaica — the majority of which determines who forms the Government.

In 2011 the PNP won 14 out of the 18 marginal seats and formed Government. In 2016 the JLP won back 11 and now another one totalling 12, and has been and remains in Government. But South East St Mary is still anybody's game going forward. Therefore no political party can claim, up to now, ownership of that constituency on the basis that it is guaranteed.

St James-based Shalman Scott is a former mayor (JLP) of Montego Bay.

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