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Westmoreland Eastern victor vows to work with constituents

BY ANTHONY LEWIS
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — The Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) Daniel Lawrence, who was declared Member of Parliament-elect (MP) for the Westmoreland Eastern constituency at the end of a judicial recount in the Westmoreland Parish Court yesterday, says even if his reign is short-lived, he will remain and continue to work for his constituents.

“I am here for the people and I will stay here as long as the people want me. If they try to shorten my reign, it is all up to them. I don't know what they can do about it, but I know today is a real win,” an elated Lawrence told reporters outside the courthouse.

The newcomer to representational politics won the highly coveted seat by 11 votes at the end of the recount.

He had amassed 4,862 votes in comparison to 4,851 for the incumbent Luther Buchanan of the People's National Party. Independent candidate Haile Mika'el received 36 votes.

A total of 28 previously rejected ballots were accepted on behalf of Lawrence, 18 for Buchanan, while Mika'el got two more ballots out of the 117 boxes recounted.

Following yesterday's declaration, Maurice McCurdy, the lead attorney for Buchanan's legal team, stated that the public should listen out for his client's next move.

“Whether or not there will be an encore in respect of this matter, which is largely demanded, stay tuned, but we won't disappoint,” said McCurdy.

On Monday, McCurdy had given notice that the party will be taking the recount to the Election Petition Court, as there were breaches in a particular polling division.

Yesterday, he added that “what is abundantly clear in this exercise is that someone voted in a PD [polling division] when he was not entitled to do so. And what this means is that a ballot has been accepted when it should not have been there in the first place”.

He argued that “there is a need for the strengthening of the electoral system, so as to ensure that a similar incident is not repeated in the future”.

However, the superintendent in charge of the Westmoreland Police Division, Robert Gordon, told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that following an investigation into the allegation of voter fraud, there is no evidence to substantiate such a claim.

In the meantime, Lawrence's lead attorney, O'Neil Brown, said his team is not aware of such a claim, “but what we can say is that should they decide to take the matter to the Election Petition Court, we will be ready and we will defend it”.

Brown said his team, which includes Carolyn Chuck and Martyn Thomas, was always confident that their client would have been victorious based on their analysis of the numbers. He stressed that Lawrence will make a good MP.

Lawrence told the Observer that his hard work has paid off, adding that the JLP is winning the seat for the first time in 40 years.

“I genuinely offer hope and my genuineness, and share their concerns, and they realise that I am eager to make a difference when I get the chance,” said Lawrence as he sought to explain why the electors voted in his favour.

Buchanan, who was present during the recounting of the ballots, declined to comment on the outcome of the judicial recount, asking that he instead be given some time before making a statement.

Meanwhile, Mika'el got 25 fewer votes than the 61 he received when he contested the seat in the 2016 General Election.

“I am a bit disappointed to know that people who promised to support me, did not vote for me,” said the two-time loser at the constituency level.

Mika'el said, however, that he is willing to work with, and support Lawrence, while at the same time, holding him accountable.

In addition to the two general elections, the Ethiopian Orthodox believer had unsuccessfully contested the 2012 and 2016 local government elections in the Whitehouse Division of Westmoreland.

A judicial recount became necessary following a tie at the end of the final count by the Electoral Office of Jamaica.

Both men had obtained 4,834 votes, while independent candidate Mika'el had received 34 votes. A total of 107 ballots were rejected.

As a result of the tie, the returning officer for the constituency cast the deciding vote by blindly pulling one of two ballots with the names of both candidates from a box. The ballot with Buchanan's name was drawn.