Politics

It's a Dunn deal

The St Mary South-Eastern by-election

BY TROY CAINE

Sunday, September 03, 2017



THE SAD and untimely passing of Dr Winston Lloyd Green, People's National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament for St Mary South-Eastern was indeed a shock to us all. But more so the PNP, with its one-seat deficit in the Lower House,virtually created in February 2016 by the very seat that is now vacant, which was won by just five votes and which will now require a by-poll to determine to which suitor she should cling — whether to young, dashing Andrew or to Peter the great orator.

So, from out of nowhere, St Mary South-Eastern has stolen the by-election spotlight from the two PNP garrisons of St Andrew Southern and St Andrew South-Western, and shifted the impending balance of political interest squarely to the very important St Mary constituency nestled on the north-eastern coast of Jamaica.

The PNP, I'm sure, was well poised to start the crowing about its grand performance with the expected victories in both Corporate Area seats, when sensible Jamaicans know the history of those two seats and know that even if the two Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) challengers were each given a headstart of 5,000 votes, they would still lose by a landslide.

It certainly didn't help either that on the same night when PNP President Dr Peter Phillips was on a party platform in neighbouring St Ann jiving the JLP about how one of three possible drop-outs from that side could enhance his margin in the House, then whoops (!), one of his own unfortunately became the casualty.

In the light of a very unimpressive tenure thus far, has anything at all gone right for Dr Phillips since assuming the PNP presidency? Remember that Dr Green was actually the 31st member to be declared after the general election, and 31 turned backwards is 13, largely held (superstitiously) by many Jamaicans as an unlucky number.

The PNP is caught in a very sticky situation with this very sad and ill-fated occurrence. As it now stands, the JLP would never be able to capture St Andrew Southern or St Andrew South-Western, but St Mary South-Eastern is a different kettle of fish.

In spite of the commendable exploits of Harry Douglas for over 18 years (1989-2007), the constituency has had far longer dominance by the JLP, and based on how the seat is structured geographically, electorally, historically and otherwise, it would take a mighty brave gambler to bet against what accrues from the “party-in-power-syndrome” and a rather easy JLP penalty kick. But if the penalty is saved, political analysts will be pondering about the state of the JLP and its inability to gain a seat it had lost by a mere 0.03 per cent last year.

At age 58, Dr Winston Green falls in the company of at least four political icons who died in their mid to late 50s. These include Rev Felix Veitch (59), Sir Harold Allan (58), Noel Nethersole (55), and Sir Donald Sangster (55). He also became the second incumbent St Mary MP to pass away and the occasion will, of course, generate the second parliamentary by-election in the parish.

The previous occasion was the death of another PNP MP, renowned educator Allan GR Byfield (St Mary Western) in 1978. The seat was retained in the by-election by the PNP's Vincent Edwards in a contest boycotted by the JLP in protest over electoral reform. The first of two Greens and one of the five Winstons to serve in the Lower House since adult suffrage, Dr Green was no freshman to politics when he entered St Mary, as he was also the losing PNP candidate in the Mona Division of St Andrew Eastern in the 2003 Kingston and St Andrew Corporation Municipal Election.

A dentist by profession, his marginal victories in 2011 and 2016 gave the PNP a boost in both elections, but his poor showing in the 2016 Local Government Election left him at the top of the pile of 10 PNP MPs who would have lost their seats if it was a general election, winning just one of four divisions and being swamped by a JLP margin of 1,214 votes in the constituency.

I have noted all the accolades poured out on Dr Green since his passing, but none has touched me more than the testimonial given by his 2016 opponent, the JLP's Dr Norman Dunn, to veteran journalist Cliff Hughes on Nationwide Radio one morning, not just extending condolence, but also explaining as political rivals how cordial and mature their relationship was, something that has been sadly lacking in today's politics.

I was immediately reminded of a similar situation written about the former JLP MP for Trelawny Northern, Elliston Wakeland, whose closest friend was his forever PNP challenger Cedric O Titus, a Westmorelander, pharmacist, and cane farmer who had settled in Trelawny.

Dr Green was the 20th sitting MP to leave us, but not all parliamentary deaths have led to ensuing by-elections, as there have been cases such as the proximity of time leading to the calling of the next general election. Therefore, as St Mary South-Eastern is preparing to host its first, Jamaica will be preparing for her 43rd, 44th and 45th parliamentary by-elections which hopefully will be soon and all on the same day to curb expenses and to be less of a hassle to the Electoral Office.

Precedence relating to this matter was first set by PM Hugh Shearer when he announced two by-elections for June 6, 1967 (Clarendon North-Central and Trelawny Northern) following the deaths of Sangster and Wakeland, then by PM Michael Manley in 1978 when four by-elections were held on November 23 that year — that is, St Mary Western after the death of Byfield, and in St Andrew North-Western, St Ann North-Eastern, and Manchester North-Western, following the resignations of Dr Ken McNeill, Vivian Blake and Ernest Peart, respectively.

At approximately 90 square miles or about 38 per cent of the area of the parish, St Mary South-Eastern is the largest of the three St Mary seats (in area), but the smallest in population with 32,769 (STATIN 2011 census) and a density of just 361 persons per square mile, which is 24.9 per cent lower than the parish density. Here, males outnumber females (50.8 to 48.2 per cent), and two-thirds of the population are 18 years and older in an area that is about 80 per cent rural, mostly agricultural, and largely drained by the Wag Water River and its many tributaries.

It has only two prominent towns — Annotto Bay (population 6,017) and Richmond (population 2,086), but within its location are other smaller towns and villages such as Castleton, Clonmel, Clermont, Chovey, Belfield, Scotts Hall, Rock River, Broadgate, Mount Regale, Enfield, Epsom, Devon Pen, Cuffy Gully, Water Valley, Iter Boreale, Fort George, Brainerd and many others.

The current St Mary South-Eastern constituency was geographically a major part of the original St Mary Eastern, one of the two seats allotted to the parish with the New Constitution in 1944, and still constitutes about 80 per cent of the old seat which prevailed until 1967.

The St Mary Eastern seat was first won by 34-year-old Roy Denzil Lindo, who defeated the PNP's Victor Bailey (Amy Bailey's brother) by 712 votes and the JLP's Cornelius McKenzie by over 4,000 votes in a 58.4 per cent voter-turnout when the (first) national turnout was almost identical at 58.7 per cent. A farmer, political economist and legislator, Lindo was the last Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) for St Mary (1942-1944), son of Lindo patriarch Percy Henriques Lindo, and one of the five Independents who were successful in 1944.

In 1949 when he stepped away from the political scene, the St Mary Eastern seat was captured by the JLP's Andrew V (“Charlie”) Ross, another farmer, banana agent and Independent councillor for his hometown Rock River Division since 1947, who gave Bailey another thrashing and held the seat for over 17 years until 1967 when he handed it over to his accountant son, Alva Edison (“Siney”) Ross, and when the name of the seat formally changed to St Mary South-Eastern. Along the way, the elder Ross disposed of the PNP's Willie Henry in 1955, Cleveland O Jacks in 1959 and Carl Rattray in 1962.

In 1967, Alva Ross continued the Ross dynasty with some Ross beatings of his own, drubbing the PNP's Lincoln Les Hart to become officially, the first Member of Parliament for St Mary South-Eastern, and served as parliamentary secretary to Robert Lightbourne in the Ministry of Trade & Industry.

He trounced the PNP's Keith Bailey in 1972 and again in 1976, before whipping Derrick Webb (Portia's councillor) by over 1,500 votes in 1980. Ross was elected unopposed in 1983 when the PNP boycotted the polls, and was eventually stopped by the PNP's Harry George Douglas in 1989 after 22 years of service in the Lower House as the constituency's longest-serving MP.

He also served as a Cabinet minister, 1980-1983, as the tenth Speaker of the House (and the JLP's eighth), 1983-1989, and together with his father they served for a total of 39 years of continuous representation.

With the first Harry Douglas victory in February 1989, it had actually taken the PNP 44 years to win the St Mary South-Eastern seat, and indeed it was with Douglas that the constituency really started to become a marginal seat.

After beating Alva Ross by 843 votes (6.1 per cent) in 1989, he clipped Ross again in 1993 by 413 votes (3.7 per cent), then surged to a margin of 1,494 (12.4 per cent) against Don Creary in 1997, before dropping to a majority of 385 (3.1 per cent) against Tarn Peralto in 2002, then finally lost the seat by only 39 votes (0.2 per cent) to Peralto in 2007 after 18 years of representation as the second longest-serving MP in the constituency.

By 2011 when Peralto exited the political arena, two new contenders emerged to contest what had become one of Jamaica's most marginal seats. The JLP mantle was passed on to Richard Creary (Don's brother and mayor of Port Maria), and the PNP replaced Douglas with Dr Green, who prevailed by 420 votes (2.9 per cent) in a very close contest. But the closest battle of all would come in February 2016 when Dr Green eked out the fourth smallest general election margin of five votes (0.03 per cent) against the JLP's Dr Dunn to retain the seat for the PNP, polling 7,324 votes (49.83 per cent) to Dr Dunn's 7,319 (49.80 per cent).

Largely due to the JLP dominance in the early years and the PNP strength since the 1980s, of the 24 MPs who have represented constituencies throughout the parish of St Mary in over 72 years since 1944, only six (25.0 per cent) have represented the St Mary South-Eastern seat. And so in terms of political representation, the JLP with three members amassed nearly 43 years (59.8 per cent), two PNP members served for a total of 24 years (33.4 per cent), and the sole Independent member (Lindo) served for the first five years (8.8 per cent).

The largest margin ever scored in the area was the JLP's “No” vote of 3,197 (32.5 per cent) in the 1961 Referendum. Others of note were: 2,377 (21.5 per cent) by Andrew Ross against Rattray in 1962, and 1,627 (20.3 per cent) and 1,514 (14.1 per cent) by Alva Ross against Bailey and Webb in 1972 and 1980, respectively.

Historically, the voter-turnout in the constituency has been quite high, displaying an apparent reluctance to indulge in the political apathy so much more in vogue in the urban areas, and with figures that have exceeded the national turnout in all but six general elections. Its average voter-turnout since 1944 is 70.2 per cent, compared to the national turnout of 68.8 per cent over the same period. The highest was 88.5 in 1980 when the national turnout was a record 86.9 per cent, and in 1989 both the constituency and the national turnout tied on 78.4 per cent.

In the 2011 General Election, when only 53.2 per cent of eligible voters turned out at the polls nationally, the seat had a 64.4 per cent voter-turnout, and in the 2016 General Election when the national turnout plunged to 48.4 per cent, St Mary South-Eastern's voter-turnout was 60.0 per cent.

The birthplace of notable natives such as Horace Clarke, Andrew Ross, Alva Ross, Brigadier Dunstan Robinson, Fr Richard HoLung, Beres Hammond and JLP candidate Dr Dunn, St Mary South-Eastern has never been represented by a woman, except in the north-western areas around Belfield, Water Valley, Clermont, etc which fell in the former constituency of St Mary East-Central that was represented by the JLP's Dr Joan Chung, 1983-1989.

And although female representation at the parish council level has also been relatively scarce in the constituency, only the PNP's Cislon Wellington-Campbell, who represented the Belfield Division for nearly 21 years, and the JLP's Luleta Nugent, who was the councillor for the Castleton Division for 17 years, have truly stood out, the latter having succeeded Herbert B Anderson (JLP) whose 25-year service to the Castleton Division is still at the top of the longevity standings in the constituency.

However, there is very little doubt that this upcoming by-election in St Mary South-Eastern will be the kind of humdinger (that neither St Andrew Southern nor St Andrew South-Western can ever be), perhaps reminiscent of the March 2001 encounter in St Ann North-Eastern when the JLP's Shahine Robinson obliterated years of PNP domination by only 473 votes over the orange maiden, Carol Jackson, and which felt more like a 4,000 margin, given the scope of her victory.

Others which come to mind include the October 1967 contest in St Elizabeth South-Eastern following the death of B. Coke when Vivian Blake came quite close to losing Coke's traditional PNP seat to fellow lawyer, the JLP's Glen Mitchell, and scraped home by only 387 votes (4.5 per cent); the St Andrew Central battle in May 1959 between two political gladiators, the PNP's Vernon Arnett and the JLP's Clem Tavares which ensued after Noel Nethersole's passing; and perhaps the most exciting and the most competitive of all, the February 1954 by-election in Hanover Eastern which occurred because of the unseating of the JLP's JZ Malcolm, which attracted five contenders but had no formal JLP candidate.

In a 52.8 per cent voter-turnout, the PNP's Dr Eric Campbell won the seat with only 1,802 votes (26.8 per cent), defeating Whylie D Hastings of the Farmers' Party who polled 1,571 (23.3 per cent) and lost by 231 votes, but he was only slightly ahead of Winsbert M Grubb representing Ken Hill's NLP-TUC who got 1,364 (20.2 per cent), followed by Arnold S Jackson (Ind) who received 1,240 (18.4 per cent), and even Austin Taylor (Ind) who was fifth with 681 votes picked up over 10 per cent of the total ballots cast.

By-elections have not really had an impressive record of reversing results of the previous elections in the related incumbencies. In the 42 parliamentary by-elections held thus far, only four (9.5 per cent) have achieved that feat, and only one in favour of the JLP. This is mostly because some 32 (76.2 per cent) of those 42 by-elections have been held in die-hard seats, held by either of the two major parties, thereby consolidating the political status quo in those seats, and by sheer co-incidence, at least 21 (65.6 per cent) of those 32 by-elections have been held in what are generally known or regarded as safe PNP seats.

The four by-elections which reversed the previous results have been: Trelawny Southern, January 1947, from JLP (Matthew Thelwell) to Independent (Cecil Neita); Hanover Eastern, February 1954, from JLP (JZ Malcolm) to PNP (Dr Eric Campbell); St Andrew Western, February 1956, from JLP (Rose Leon) to PNP (William Seivright); and St Ann North-Eastern, March 2001, from PNP (Danny Melville) to JLP (Shahine Robinson).

However, for a constituency that has been so marginal and competitive, St Mary South-Eastern's post-election enumeration exercise has been extremely tardy. In the nine months between the February 2016 General Election and the November 2016 Local Government Election, the voters list increased by just 264 new voters (1.1 per cent), and from an electorate of 24,517 in February 2016, it has gone up by only 734 new voters (3.0 per cent) on the current list of 25,251 (at May 31, 2017), which will be used for the by-election if it is held before November 30, 2017. It should be interesting to observe which side will be most affected by this lack of robust voter-registration.

Their desire for a young, educated and dynamic candidate to come and represent the seat, as gleaned from its constituents in recent interviews, has not quite been in tandem with their voting pattern in the last election, as the voter-turnout of the broadest group of the youngest voters in the constituency (age 18-34) was only 45.8 per cent. An impressive post-election statistical report done on the details of the national voter-turnout of the 2016 General Election by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica revealed that in St Mary South-Eastern the gender vote was virtually 50-50, with females 50.2 per cent and males 49.8 per cent, a trend which occurred in 52 of the 63 constituencies.

But the seat's highest voting block was the 24-34 age group which, at 22.3 per cent, was only surpassed by Kingston Western and St Catherine South-Western. And its smallest voting group at 13.5 per cent were actually its youngest, those 18-24, although slightly higher than the national trend of 12.1 per cent. Fortunately, the PNP's Dr Shane Alexis, at age 34, and Dr Dunn in his late 40s can be regarded as young men.

For the PNP, it will be an extremely steep task and almost insurmountable to successfully defend a margin of just five votes in a constituency like St Mary South-Eastern when the JLP is in the ascendancy of both Parliament and Local Government. Then there is the vivid revelation that in the wake of also being relegated to one-term status only 18 months ago, not much has changed regarding the disunity, the disorganisation, its lack of serious leadership and vision which were largely what influenced the party's defeat in the first place.

The last smallest general election margin in a constituency that was successfully defended was 191 in Trelawny Northern 50 years ago, attained by Elliston Wakeland when he won a third term in the February 1967 General Election and died two months later. In the ensuing by-poll in June 1967, which saw a voter-turnout of 82.9 per cent (the highest ever in a by-election), Allan Douglas, Snr (a former JLP member for the seat, 1949-1959) came back to retain the seat for the party, defeating Titus by 1,156 votes (13.0 per cent), no doubt heavily influenced by both the “sympathy syndrome” and the “party-in-power syndrome.”

Both the timing and the voter-turnout are going to be crucial to this impending by-election in St Mary South-Eastern. The prime minister and the JLP have a glorious opportunity to establish a three-seat majority in the Lower House, which is not much, but three is always better than one, and it would clearly confirm the people's confidence in the Administration.

He also needs to call the election soon and keep all three by-elections on the same day to save money, time and stress. It will also be a decisive test for both major parties, especially the PNP which is struggling to find its true identity and urgently needs a political revival. If the PNP is defeated, it will be a serious blow to Dr Phillips' presidential tenure, which is already plagued by his rather lacklustre performance that could engender more division and disunity in the party. But if triumphant, the party could re-assert itself as a strong Opposition with not much to worry about, except the possibility of the next set of by-elections in St James Southern and St Catherine North-Western which could emerge before the next general election.

I was a bit surprised that as their candidate, the PNP selected Dr Shane Alexis, a political freshman, young, full of political exuberance from the days when such things were relevant and trending, and not a more experienced individual to carry the party's banner in such a competitive seat. He will be up against a seasoned JLP campaigner in Dr Dunn, who lives and works in the constituency, is well-known, popular, gave a good account of himself in the last two elections and will actually be starting as the big favourite in this contest which should be intense.

With the JLP comfortably controlling three of the four divisions in the constituency, the outcome is pointing more and more to the inevitable, and truly a Dunn deal to this political venture.

PARLIAMENTARY TENURES OF ST MARY SOUTH-EASTERN MPs

1 Alva E.Ross (JLP), 1967-1989……………22 yrs ……………(30.2)

2 Harry G Douglas (PNP), 1989-2007…… 18 yrs & 7 mths… (25.7)

3 Andrew V Ross (JLP), 1949-1967………. 17 yrs & 2 mths… (23.5)

4 Dr Winston L Green (PNP), 2011-2017…..5 yrs & 8 mths…..(8.0)

5 Roy D Lindo (Ind), 1944-49……………….5 yrs……………..(6.9)

6 Tarn Peralto (JLP), 2007-2011 ……………. 4 yrs & 3 mths…..(5.7)

72 yrs & 8mths (100%)

Troy Caine is a political historian and analyst

trodencorp@gmail.com

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