Politics

PNP aspirants step forward in South East St Elizabeth

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large
South Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 16, 2017

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JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — At least four people, including former St Andrew Eastern Member of Parliament Andre Hylton, have indicated interest in the chairmanship of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) St Elizabeth South Eastern constituency organisation, impeccable sources have said.

The spot became vacant last month with the resignation of former Member of Parliament Richard Parchment, who lost St Elizabeth South Eastern to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Frank Witter by 205 votes — 9,018 to 9,223 — in the February 2016 parliamentary election.

In a swift response to the latest developments, the PNP has assigned vice chairman of its Region Five (St Elizabeth and Manchester), Hopeton McCatty, as head of an interim committee to re-establish the constituency organisation ahead of the party's annual conference in September.

McCatty, who told the Jamaica Observer that he has no personal interest in the long-term chairmanship of St Elizabeth South Eastern or in being elected to representational politics, said that his interim committee will lead the constituency organisation at the national conference. The interim committee will be dissolved and a new chairman and executive selected when the party is satisfied that St Elizabeth South Eastern is in a proper organisational state for this to happen, McCatty said.

In Jamaican politics, chairmanship of a constituency organisation usually gives the holder a favoured position to become the party's candidate when a general election is called. The next parliamentary election is not constitutionally due in Jamaica until 2021, although Prime Minister Andrew Holness does have the right to send Jamaicans to the polls before then. The JLP won the 2016 contest by just one seat in the 63-member House of Representatives.

Hylton apart, Junction-based 38-year-old medical practitioner, Dr Dwaine Spencer; who is the younger brother of former St Elizabeth North Eastern MP, Kern Spencer, environmental scientist Bevon Morrison; and Gregory Myers, a former councillor for the Southfield Division of the St Elizabeth Parish Council, are said to have expressed interest and conducted “soundings” regarding leadership of the PNP St Elizabeth SE organisation.

Myers switched sides to join the PNP in May 2014 after retaining the Southfield Division for the JLP in 2012, succeeding his father Shirley Myers, a former deputy mayor of Black River. The elder Myers was a councilor for Southfield on the JLP's ticket from 1986 to the time of his retirement from active politics in 2012.

Late last week, Spencer, a St Elizabeth native who has practised medicine in Junction since 2006 and spent his high school years at Munro College in Potsdam, Malvern, told the Sunday Observer by telephone that he considered himself well qualified to represent the interests of people in St Elizabeth SE.

Spencer said “youth empowerment” would be high on his agenda, with special emphasis on expansion of opportunities for tertiary education and skills training, as well as the redevelopment of community centres. At a wider level, he argued that residents of the mainly farming communities in the constituency only needed the tools to support themselves. “People here just want support, they don't need handouts,” he said.

Myers, 47, a teacher and guidance counsellor, told the Sunday Observer that having lived in the constituency all his life, served as councillor in Southfield, and watched political developments at first-hand, he understood better than most the needs of residents.

“I bring knowledge in terms of the residents' need for water and for youth development in relation to training and employment, and on the social side to properly organise so people can benefit from sports and entertainment,” Myers said. He identified the return of bauxite/alumina production at Alpart — now owned by Chinese metals giant JISCO — as an aspect which would be closely watched by him in the context of economic opportunities as well as environmental consequences.

Hylton, who lost St Andrew Eastern by 150 votes to the JLP's Fayval Williams in 2016 and subsequently resigned as chairman of the PNP's constituency organisation, declined to comment “at this time” when contacted on Friday.

Morrison, a former adviser to the Government and the National Water Commission, and a former board member of several public sector agencies, also declined to comment “at this time”. However, a source close to Morrison described her as someone who was driven by the need for innovative projects in St Elizabeth SE in such areas as farming, tourism and entertainment, as a way of transforming lives.

“A woman (as political representative) would add a new dimension to what we have in the constituency,” the source added.

McCatty told the Sunday Observer that his first task as head of the interim executive committee in St Elizabeth SE will be to establish “functional operations” at the divisional and constituency levels.

McCatty, who also played a lead role in rebuilding the PNP's organisation in St Elizabeth North Western in the years leading to the 2016 election, stressed that “nobody yet knows what the process will be to select a caretaker” in St Elizabeth South Eastern.

Political insiders say that the “rundown” nature of the PNP group structures in St Elizabeth SE and their low performance levels in terms of electoral work and political education means the constituency organisation is not now listed as recognised.

In such circumstances, the party hierarchy may choose “soundings” to determine the leadership of the constituency rather than rely on a vote by registered delegates, sources say.

Considered a “safe” PNP seat decades ago, St Elizabeth SE has changed hands thrice in the last decade.

It is expected that the PNP will also fill leadership vacancies in St Elizabeth South Western and St Elizabeth North Western ahead of September's annual conference.

“Under the PNP's constitution, selection of new constituency leadership has to happen before we go to national conference,” PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson told the Sunday Observer last month.

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