BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
MONTEGO BAY, St James - OFFICIALS of both the ruling People's National Party (PNP) and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) say they are pulling out all the stops to gain control of the five parish councils across the western region in next Monday's local government elections.
"We are taking this election very, very seriously," Dr Christopher Tufton, the JLP's deputy leader in charge of Area Council Four told the Observer West on Tuesday.
Dr Tufton, who was on a tour of several parish council divisions in St James to drum up support for the party's candidates, said he is pleased with the response of the supporters in the western region.
" I have been touching base with supporters in St Elizabeth and I was in Hanover on Monday and now I am in St James and I am pleased with what I have seen," he said.
The former Cabinet minister whose party suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the PNP in the December 29 General Election, added that officials of the party have been meeting with party supporters over the past few weeks.
"We have been working hard, motivating and encouraging them to go out and vote........ so we expect to do very well," he argued.
In the December 2007 Local Government Elections, the then ruling JLP took control of the Trelawny, St James and St Elizabeth parish councils, while the PNP won Hanover and Westmoreland.
But buoyed by winning 12 of the 16 parliamentary seats in the region during the last general election, PNP officials say they are hoping to make a clean sweep of parish councils across the region.
"We are going out there to win all the councils in the county of Cornwall," said PNP National Campaign Committee member, Dr DK Duncan.
The veteran politician who is also chairman for the PNP's Region Six which encompasses the parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland, expressed confidence that his party will win at least 10 of the 17 divisions up for grabs in St James.
"We are definitely going to take St James although we have just four of the 17 divisions now. We should end up with a minimum of 10 although we expect to get more than that," he argued.
He added that the parish of Hanover might not be "as easy", but his party should win at least four of the seven divisions being contested.
Dr Duncan who is also the Member of Parliament for Eastern Hanover, pointed out that in the neighbouring parish of Westmoreland, the PNP should will all the 14 divisions there.
He admitted, however, that the Petersfield and Cornwall Mountain divisions "are ones that we have to work a little harder, but we should take them as well".
Meanwhile, Dr Duncan cited "political fatigue" and the inability of the PNP administration to meet the "high expectations of the people within its first 100 days in office", as factors that might influence a low voter turnout on Monday.
Additionally, he said, the electorate usually does not see the parish council elections as that critical.
But inspite of this, Dr Duncan noted that the PNP is working feverishly to lift the morale of the voters, in an effort to get them to cast their ballots.
Local political observer Christopher Hylton believes that the upcoming polls are critical for the two major political parties.
"Both the PNP and JLP have so much to lose and equally so much to win in this local government elections, despite their lacklustre campaign leading up to March 26," he argued.
"If the JLP should lose the popular votes on March 26, it would be a clear and unequivocal rejection of the JLP by the electorate on all fronts of governance and by extension a rejection of Andrew Holiness's leadership of the party.
"On the flip side of it, if the JLP wins, it would affirm their political relevance in the country's political structure and would forcibly ensure that the PNP walks a very tight rope in how they manage and treat the business of governance in the country. A win for the JLP would also bring a level of balance to the governance structure," added Hylton.
At the same time, he said, a win for the PNP would prove that the electorate's decision to vote out the JLP in the December 2011 general election was not a mere coincidence, but rather a confirmation of their dissatisfaction with the JLP.
"However, should the PNP lose on March 26, it would clearly demonstrate that the mandate the voters gave to the party in December is extremely fragile and could be short lived. It's really a political chess game and the winner of next Monday's vote will have much to celebrate," he reasoned. One hundred and thirty candidates across the western parishes of Trelawny, St James, Hanover, Westmoreland and St Elizabeth are contesting the upcoming polls.
Sixty-one are contesting on the PNP's ticket; the JLP 62; four persons — Haile Mika'el; Paul Patmore; Wilbert Whittingham, a sitting JLP councillor; and former mayor and JLP councillor Lester Crooks are running as Independent candidates; two on the Marcus Garvey People's Progressive Party ticket-Clifford Barnett and Joseph Hilton, while Astor Black is contesting on the Jamaica Alliance Movement ticket.