Davis, Small gear up to replace MP Kellier in St James Southern

Davis, Small gear up to replace MP Kellier in St James Southern

BY MARK CUMMINGS
Editor-at-Large

Monday, July 13, 2020

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ANCHOVY, St James — There could be many surprises when Jamaica's 18th general election since universal adult suffrage in 1944 is contested to elect representatives to fill the 63 parliamentary seats across the island.

When the polls will be held is uncertain, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness is yet to name a date, but it is widely believed that roughly 1.9 million registered voters will be asked to exercise their franchise later this year.

However, amid the many uncertainties and surprises usually associated with elections, at least one thing is certain — the constituency of St James Southern will have a new Member of Parliament (MP).

The seat has been held by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) since the 1989 General Election when the party swept to power, winning 45 of the then 60 parliamentary seats. Voter turnout was 78.4 per cent.

At that time PNP MP for the constituency Derrick Kellier, who two years ago announced that he would not seek re-election, won the seat, defeating the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) Ephraim Morgan by 4,122 votes.

Kellier has since won the seat six more times, and is commonly referred to by Comrades as the “seven-star general”. In fact, Kellier and former PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill are the only two sitting Members of Parliament who have the distinction of being voted in seven consecutive times in parliamentary elections.

Pickersgill, the 77-year-old MP for St Catherine North Western, too, will not be seeking re-election when the polls are held.

Kellier, 73, who served as minister of agriculture, minister of labour and social security, and is also a former chair of the then powerful PNP Region Six — which comprises 10 constituencies across the parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland — has cited ill health as his reason for stepping aside.

In his last three electoral outings in the constituency of St James Southern the veteran politician's margin of victory has declined.

In fact, in the 2011 national polls he won the seat by 1,072 votes, and, five years later, held on to it by a mere 62 votes in a magisterial recount, giving rise to speculation that it would be very difficult for him to retain the seat in the upcoming polls against Homer Davis, the JLP's standard-bearer, whom he defeated in the last two parliamentary elections.

Now, local political pundits believe that the battle for the seat will be a nail-biting finish, as Davis, who is also chairman of the St James Municipal Corporation and councillor for the Cambridge Division in the constituency, squares off with former principal of Anchovy High School, which sits in the constituency, Dr Walton Small.

The constituency of St James Southern, which consists of two small towns — Anchovy and Cambridge — and many farming communities, including Maroon Town, Mocho, Garlands, Catadupa, and Mafoota, is divided into four divisions:

1) Cambridge, which has been represented by Davis since 2003;

2) Maroon Town, represented by Everes Coke (JLP);

3) Welcome Hall, represented by Gregory Wint (JLP); and

4) Catadupa, which was represented by the PNP's Gladstone Bent up to June, before he was relieved of the position at last month's regular monthly sitting of the St James Municipal Corporation due to his absence from three consecutive meetings.

The constituency, which is geographically the largest of the five in the parish of St James, is bordered by the constituencies of St James East Central and West Central, Hanover Eastern, Westmoreland Eastern, and St Elizabeth North Western.

Both Davis and Small expressed confidence in securing the seat for their respective party when theJamaica Observercaught up with them campaigning in the constituency late last week.

“I am confident that I will retain the seat for the PNP,” Small said as he and a small group of supporters were observed doing house-to-house campaigning in the Richmond Hill area on Wednesday.

The former Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association president, who is also a former principal of Wolmer's Boys' School, said he entered representational politics as he is convinced that it's the best platform on which to lobby for meaningful changes to the political system and for improvements to people's lives.

The programmes and policies of the PNP, Small argued, are more in line with his beliefs, especially as it relates to education, and St James Southern, he added, is the ideal constituency for him to serve the people.

“I am a product of the constituency having spent 10 years as principal of the Anchovy High School, and I currently have many family members still residing throughout the constituency. During my walks doing house-to-house visits the responses from the residents have been warm and welcoming,” he said, adding, “I have been getting 100 per cent support from Mr Kellier.”

“Simply put, he [Kellier] has been my greatest advisor, and, as for me, a newcomer into representational politics, I could not have had a better person,” he stressed.

Like most rural constituencies, there is a need for water and better road conditions in St James Southern. Additionally, the area is in dire need of training opportunities, especially for the youth.

“My immediate plan on assuming the role of MP will be to lobby for the improvements in the primary infrastructure of the constituency, particularly water and roads, the diversification of agriculture, job creation through training and certification, especially for the youth, affordable housing, and addressing the whole business of education and sports to include special attention to early childhood education,” said a confident Dr Small.

And Davis, who has been working in the constituency in various capacities for more than 15 years, said: “I'm very confident more than any other time in putting the seat in the winning column of the JLP whenever there is the election.”

“Probably the last two times, and especially the last time, things were meant to be the way in how they panned out, because I became the mayor of Montego Bay and I showed the people of not only Montego Bay, but St James, in general, the capacity of my leadership, the capacity of someone who has the appetite to get things done.

“I am a no-nonsense person. When I put my head to a task, it must be done, and I am very confident that I will become the next Member of Parliament,” said Davis, who added that his campaign “is always an ongoing activity”.

“I don't have to get a signal from my party to campaign. As long as I'm in the constituency, I am campaigning — and I'm in my constituency very, very often. I am in my division two, three, four days a week, because I know that if you ask people to put their confidence in you then you will have to make yourself available for them,” he said.

Davis stressed that his campaign is progressing very well.

“I am very comfortable this time. The signs that we are seeing on the road are encouraging. Persons who didn't vote the last time have agreed to come and vote this time around. Our canvass is showing us doing very well. Election is won on election day, and so we are in the process of putting our best team forward. We will be commencing our worker training, we will be strategising how we're going to pull out the votes, and what we are now doing is to meet every voter, one to one, and ask them for their support, even if they voted for me the last time,” he explained.

He also emphasised that he is fully cognisant of the needs of the constituency.

“When I am elected, I don't have to look at what needs to be done, I know the needs of the constituency. I have been here for 15 years. I have been a political organiser for the constituency, then I became a councillor about 13 years ago, so I am fully aware of the problems,” he argued.

“The crime situation is not as bad as it used to be; it could be better, but it is not as bad as it used to be. I know what needs to be done to harness more water. There are some existing sources, some of them really are under severe challenge as a result of damage, but there are others where you can harness water for a population of about 600. What I have got done from my own representation is to recommend major rainwater harvesting projects to the Rural Water Supply Limited for the Anchovy Primary School, the Roehampton Primary School and the Roehampton Basic School. Now, more needs to be done. I will also be tracking the poor road conditions, get more assistance for the hundreds of farmers, and provide better opportunities for the youth,” he said.

According to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, at November 30 last year, there were 27,248 electors on the voters' list in the St James Southern constituency — 941 more than the number on the list that was used in the 2016 General Election.


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