Regional

Rush expected for Roger Clarke’s seat after funeral

Comrades lining up

BY HORACE HINES Observer West reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 04, 2014    

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SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — Several members of the ruling People's National Party (PNP) are expected to launch their political campaigns soon, in a bid to replace former Member of Parliament for Central Westmoreland, Roger Clarke, who died of a suspected heart attack in Florida last week.

The prospective contenders are, however, said to be waiting until the late veteran politician, who was in his second term as MP in that constituency, has been laid to rest before they make their intentions public.

The funeral arrangements for Clarke, who also served as the minister of agriculture and fisheries, are yet to be made public.

The Jamaica Observer West has been reliably informed that among the persons who have already expressed an interest in becoming the PNP's candidate should a by-election be called, is Michael Erskine, the president of the Cornwall Bar Association.

But when contacted, Erskine, the Savanna-la-Mar-based attorney, who is also the chairman of the Westmoreland branch of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) board, stressed that the immediate priority is to bury Clarke, refusing to disclose whether he will be vying to become the PNP's candidate in the constituency.

"Right now we are in mourning and it is important that we concentrate our efforts and see to it that Comrade Roger Clarke gets a dignified funeral and is laid to rest in a proper and respectful manner. He deserves no less!" Erskine remarked.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Dr DK Duncan, the chairman of the People's National Party (PNP) Region Six, which comprises the parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland.

"We first have to have consultations with the constituency committee, with the parish councillors and then the leadership makes the call and decides the way forward. Because you know it is the prime minister who sets the date for a by-election. But we won't be in those discussions until after the funeral. We feel it is not appropriate for that right now," Dr Duncan argued.

Dr Duncan was speaking with the Observer West shortly after he was re-elected unopposed as the chairman of the region at the REC's delegates' meeting held at the Sam Sharpe Teachers' College in Granville, St James on the weekend.

A significant portion of that meeting, Duncan said, was dedicated to the paying of tributes to the late agriculture and fisheries minister.

Considered to be a PNP "safe seat," Clarke won the constituency for his party in the 2007 General Elections, beating the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP's) candidate Russel Hammond by over 1,800 votes and later in the December 2011 polls increased his margin of victory to 3,042 votes.

He had previously held the North East St Elizabeth seat for the PNP between 1991 and 2007.

A reliable source in the Central Westmoreland constituency told the Observer West yesterday that Erskine, who has been viewed as Clarke's heir apparent for some time now, has the overwhelming support of the delegates in the constituency.

The eminent Westmoreland attorney was a part of Clarke's campaign team ahead of the last general elections, appearing beside Clarke on several political platforms.

Apart from Erskine, Observer West sources say, former MP for the area Karl Blythe, vice-chairman for the constituency Paul Wilson and Basil Waite, an advisor to Minister of Local Government and Community Development Noel Arscott, could also enter the race to represent the PNP in the constituency.

Blythe and Waite could not be reached for a comment yesterday, but Wilson told the Observer West that "if asked to run by the party he would accept".

He emphasised, however, that the focus now is to bury and honour Clarke, as well as a "strong supporter" from the constituency who died recently.

In the meantime, Dr Duncan said although no one has so far thrown their hat in the ring to represent the constituency, he is anticipating a number of interests, eventually.

"Nobody individually has made any request to the PNP, but when the call for candidates is made we know there will be several. You know the PNP really loves a good internal fight.

"We anticipate a lot of people will show their interest because it is a fairly safe seat," Dr Duncan argued.

He stressed, however, that if a by-election should be called, the party would be working very hard to retain the seat.

"Now is 2014, more than two years since the last elections, but whether it's safe or it's not safe, we will be working hard to ensure that we maintain it (seat) with a large majority," he emphasised.

The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party recently appointed Faye Jacobs, a financial analyst, as its caretaker for the constituency.

-- Additional reporting by Mark Cummings

Ent: Michael Erskine

ERSKINE... said to be Clarke's heir apparent

Ent: Paul Wilson

WILSON... would run if asked by the party

Roger Clarke (FILE PHOTO)

CLARKE... died in Florida last week

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