Regional

Labourites face off in Trelawny

BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large Western Bureau cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 15, 2014    

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FALMOUTH, Trelawny — The next general election is not constitutionally due until December 2016, but the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is moving to fill a number of vacancies in the party's Area Council Four, which encompasses the parishes of Trelawny, St James, Hanover, Westmoreland and St Elizabeth.

Today, just over 200 JLP members living in the constituency of North Trelawny are expected to gather at the Hague Primary School, on the outskirts of Falmouth, to decide who will be the party's representative in the area, whenever the national poll is called.

Prominent attorney-at-law and former JLP Member of Parliament for South West St Ann Ernest Smith and consulting engineer Dwight Lewis, an oil and gas expert, are the two aspirants seeking to get the nod of the voters.

Veteran politician and leader of the JLP Area Council Four JC Hutchinson will oversee the two-hour long polls, which is scheduled to begin at 3:00 pm.

Hutchinson told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that everything was in place for the polls.

"We are all set. Everything is in place. The aspirants have been to the selection committee, they have been given the voters' list and the permission to campaign," he stated.

Over the last few weeks both aspirants have been moving across the constituency courting the delegates in a bid to get their stamp of approval.

Smith could not be reached for a comment yesterday, but said in a recent interview with the Sunday Observer that he had responded to a call from the people of the constituency to represent them.

When asked why he decided to leave the constituency of South West St Ann, once considered a safe JLP seat, to contest what is perceived to be a difficult North Trelawny constituency to win for his party, the eminent attorney declined to give a clear answer.

"I would rather not answer that. That is in-house party business," he said, pointing out that he owns properties in North Trelawny, and that the constituency is really the "founding father of my law practice".

Meanwhile, a confident Lewis said yesterday that he is very pleased with the outcome of his campaign.

"The campaign has gone very well. There has been a lot of resonance with the people, the party base, the party well-wishers and supporters, and especially the party members who are going to vote," he said confidently.

"The confidence that I have is based on the message and the proposition for the Trelawny people that aligns with their values and their best interest. We received a resonating endorsement and feedback from them. They are truly ready to turn the corner on the traditional arguments and genuflecting that goes on in political representation. The people are ready to move on with their lives, they are tired of leadership that has no confidence in winning the seat and only go through the motions of electioneering and campaigning as a task - no long-term vision for the party, its membership and the development of the area and Jamaica," Lewis argued.

Considered a safe People's National Party (PNP) seat, the Opposition JLP last held the constituency of North Trelawny between 1980 and 1989.

Since then, the party has lost all of the five elections there contested for the parliamentary seat.

The most recent was in December 2011, when the PNP's Patrick Atkinson, who represented the JLP and lost in two previous general elections, defeated the JLP's Dennis Meadows by over 2,300 votes. Meadows, a former senator, later resigned as the party's caretaker for the constituency, having suffered two consecutive defeats in the constituency.

Local political observer Christopher Hylton argues that the delegates in voting must decide which of the two aspirants has demonstrated and committed himself to the restoration of hope and prosperity for the constituency.

"There are fundamental questions that the two aspirants must answer to in the JLP internal election on Sunday," Hylton said yesterday.

"Also, Mr Smith must tell the delegates and the people of Trelawny why he decided to walk away from his St Ann constituency which was considered a safe JLP enclave before he lost in 2011, and is now seeking political refuge in North Trelawny. He must also tell them whether he is prepared to remain in North Trelawny and help in the political rebuilding process should he be the loser in Sunday's exercise," Hylton added.

He said also that Lewis should advise the delegates whether he is committed to assist in the rebuilding of the JLP's base in the constituency, should the party lose in its bid to wrest the constituency from the ruling PNP.

Hylton argued that since businessman Keith Russell (between 1980 and 1989) last represented the constituency, the JLP has not fielded a formidable candidate in the seat who can stand up to the PNP election machinery.

"The hard, cold fact is that the JLP has not shown any real interest in winning that seat since 1989. Just look at the quality of the candidates the party has fielded over the years to represent it," he said.

Hutchinson told the Sunday Observer, however, that the party this time around is taking every seat, at least in Area Council Four, very seriously.

"We are taking the constituency very seriously and that is why we are putting up good quality candidates," he stressed.

Interestingly, the PNP and the JLP have won the North Trelawny seat eight times each in the 16 times that it has been contested.

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