Election 2016 showdown: Battle for the marginal seats
Jamaica Labour Party supporters hug this People’s National Party supporter<br />during nomination day activities in St Andrew East Rural.

This is the first in a four-part series looking at the marginal seats which may heavily influence the outcome of the February 25 general election. DESPITE all the sound and fury, the upcoming general elections will be determined by the fate of 12 to 16 battle ground seats.

The first category of 12 marginal seats includes those that were won or lost at the last elections by a margin of five per cent – that is, the winning party garnered between 50 per cent and 52.5 per cent of the vote and the loser managed 47.5 per cent or more of the votes cast.

The number of marginal seats increases to 16 if the margin is extended from five to an eightpoint spread. In the first category of 12 marginals, the People's National Party (PNP) currently holds nine seats while the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) holds three. To overturn the PNP majority, the JLP would therefore need to hold all its current seats and pick up all nine marginal held by the PNP plus at least two more.

For the JLP to triumph on February 25 therefore, there needs to be a four per cent swing towards the JLP, as compared with the 2011 election results. This can either be a national swing or a swing in the respective marginal constituencies, brought about by winning what the Americans call 'the ground game'. These critical seats determining the result of the elections are the following:

CATEGORY 1 (5 PER CENT MARGIN)

Constituency Incumbent Victory Margin

St Andrew East-Rural Damion Crawford (PNP) 259

St Andrew Eastern Andre Hylton (PNP) 254

St Andrew West Rural Paul Buchanan (PNP) 237

St Thomas Western James Robertson (JLP) 317

St Thomas Eastern Dr Fenton Ferguson (PNP) 288

St Mary Western Joylan Silvera (PNP) 227

St James Central Lloyd B Smith (PNP) 98

St James East Central Edmund Bartlett (JLP) 174

Hanover Eastern Dr D K Duncan (PNP) 252

St Elizabeth South-West Hugh Buchanan (PNP) 13

Clarendon South East Rudyard Spencer (JLP) 87

St Catherine East Central Arnaldo Brown (PNP) 558

CATEGORY 2 (8 PER CENT MARGIN)

St Ann South Western Keith Walford (PNP) 822

St Ann North Western Dr Dayton Campbell (PNP) 843

St James West Central Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams (PNP) 673

St Elizabeth South Eastern Richard Parchment (PNP) 970

Each of these marginal constituencies are now examined in turn to see what 'ground game' is required by the respective party to either retain control of, or capture the seat on election day.

The abbreviations for parties are as follows:

IEWFIPP — Imperial Ethiopian World Federation Incorporated Political Party

IND — Independent

JLP — Jamaica Labour Party

MGPPP — Marcus Garvey People's Progressive Party

NDM — National Democratic Movement

PNP — People's National Party

UPP — United People's Party

St Andrew West Rural

A traditional JLP seat, this was won in an upset by the PNP's Paul Buchanan. This victory was a testament to Buchanan's mastery of the ground game.

He was able to bring out the PNP votes from the swing districts of Red Hills and Brandon Hill to overcome the JLP stronghold of Stony Hill.

He has since quietly consolidated his hold on the seat by providing and maintaining the infrastructure in the constituency, particularly roads, water and electricity.

The former allschools' cricketer is being challenged by the popular Olympian sprint star Juliet Cuthbert. She will need to add to her star quality and competitive edge a grasp of the ground game and maximise the voter turnout, especially from Stony Hill.

The turnout in 2011 of 46.5 per cent was well below the already low national average of 53 per cent.

St Andrew Eastern

In recent times, this constituency has swung between the JLP and PNP. Thought to have been consolidated as the bastion of the JLP's Ed Bartlett, the seat was captured by the upstart Colin Campbell, sending Bartlett into exile in St James East Central. In turn, Campbell was banished after two terms as the seat reverted to the JLP. Young businessman Andre Hylton managed to do what the highly touted Professor Trevor Munroe was unable to do – eke out a razor-thin majority over the JLP's candidate, Dr Saphire Longmore, in the last general election (2011).

Hylton is being challenged by financial analyst and deputy spokesperson on finance in the JLP's shadow cabinet Fayval Williams. Hylton was able to pull off his victory by overturning the JLP majority in Mona, while maximising the votes from his stronghold of Papine. The key to a Williams win would be to reverse this PNP majority in Mona and make inroads into Papine.

St Andrew East Rural

This is the largest constituency in the island geographically, with mountainous terrain. This makes it difficult to service and, as such, has probably contributed to its frequently changing political hands. The incumbent is the enigmatic young Damion Crawford. Crawford benefited from the consolidation by the constituency organisatiion of the sole urban community within the constituency, Harbour View, into a PNP stronghold, to offset the JLP support from its Gordon Town stronghold and other rural areas. He fell afoul of the organisation which he inherited and was finally replaced as candidate by former Miss Jamaica and Harvard graduate Imani Duncan Price.

This contest has generated a lot of media attention, as the young daughter of former PNP General Secretary and organising legend D K Duncan launched a high-profile campaign. The JLP caretaker, Senator Alexander Williams, was quietly withdrawn and replaced by another high-profile standard-bearer, the wife of the leader of the Opposition, Juliet Holness.

Duncan Price appears to have consolidated the PNP base support behind her candidacy, but the question remains: is this sufficient to overcome the discontent over the state of infrastructure within this ecologically fragile constituency? For Juliet Holness, the question to be resolved on election day is whether she left her entry on the political stage too late and will she be able to garner enough resources to counter the financially well-connected Duncan Price.

St Thomas Western

The parish of St Thomas, and especially the constituency of St Thomas Western, is traditional JLP territory, if there is such a thing. The constituency of the legendary Isaac Barrant and Robert Lightbourne has elected a PNP representative only twice in its history – in the national landslide PNP victories of 1976 and 1989. James Robertson is seeking to continue the JLP tradition, despite stumbling and barely getting over the finish line ahead at the last election – by a paltry 317 votes.

PNP Parish Councillor Marsha Francis is putting up a spirited fight to end this tradition, if the images of public support are to be believed. The voter turnout in 2011 of only 48.6 per cent was well below the national average. The candidate who is more successful at mobilising the party faithful on election day should take home the prize. The JLP has retained its stronghold in Seaforth but has lost ground in the former stronghold of Trinity Ville. The PNP, on the other hand, has been building its own beachheads in White Horses and the Blue Mountain district of Cedar Valley.

St Thomas Eastern

The “five-star general”, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has managed to hold this former JLP bastion for the past five consecutive terms. Ferguson only stumbled over the finish line in the last elections by a margin of 288 votes and has since had a troubled tenure as minister of health. His troubles are being exploited by the articulate and garrulous communications consultant Delano Seiveright.

The PNP needs to maximise its votes in the parish capital of Morant Bay and Bath. It appears to have lost its traditional stronghold of Port Morant. The JLP needs to consolidate its growing support here and maximise its votes from its stronghold of Dalvey for Seiveright to prove that he does not just talk the talk but is able to walk the walk.

St Mary Western

JLP candidate and Chairman Robert Bobby Montague is credited with reversing the fortunes of the JLP in the parish of St Mary, capturing two of three seats from the PNP. Therefore, his was a shock defeat in 2011 when he lost by 227 votes to Joylan Silvera.

The latter had obviously observed the rules of election day organisation and managed to bring out the PNP vote to the point where the voter turnout exceeded the national average, reaching a relative high of 59.5 per cent. Silvera has been quite visible in the national media seeking benefits for his constituents. But have his efforts borne enough fruit to allow him to keep his prize, or is the fastest-rising politician in the JLP less distracted by national duties and can regain his seat of power? This is the battle of the proven grassroots organisers.

December 29, 2011

Robert St Aubyn Montague JLP 9,466

Joylan Silvera PNP 9,693

Per cent Votes 59.54

Total Voters 32,305

***First time MP***

September 3, 2007

Robert St Aubyn Montague JLP 9,022

Delano Franklyn PNP 8,255

Per cent Votes 67.04

Total Voters 25,879

October 16, 2002

Hyacinth Knight JLP 7, 347

Dr Neil McGill PNP 8, 196

Ralph Purcell NDM

Delmares White UPP 23

Per cent Votes 63.2

Total Voters 24,792

December 18, 1997

Hyacinth Knight JLP 6, 441

Terrence Gillette PNP 8, 245

Austin Lee NDM 293

Per cent Votes 66.34

LAST FOUR ELECTION RESULTS

December 29, 2011

Andrew Neville Gallimore JLP 7,479

Paul Lennox Buchanan PNP 7,716

Joan Princess Porteous NDM 43

Per cent Votes 46.48%

Total Voters 32,976

***First time MP***

September 3, 2007

Andrew Neville Gallimore JLP 9,578

Andrea Moore PNP 7,257

Mark Ranger Lathan IND 18

Lawrence McKenzie IEWFIPP 26

Per cent Votes 56.63

Total Voters 30,133

October 16, 2002

Andrew Neville Gallimore JLP 8,406

Carol Dean Archer PNP 6,640

Hyacinth Delores Bennett NDM 164

Horace Hugo Matthews UPP

Lawrence McKenzie IEWFIPP 15

Per cent Votes 54.5

Total Voters 28,170

December 18, 1997

Newlyn A Seaton JLP 6,354

Vernon Robinson Jnr. PNP 6, 802

Louis Joseph NDM 739

Vivienne Hinds-Cornish IND 57

Per cent Votes 56.44

Total Electors 24, 923

 

Dr Fenton Ferguson, the PNP incumbent for St Thomas<br />Eastern, addressing supporters after being duly<br />nominated on February 9.
The PNP’s Imani Duncan Price<br>greets supporters on her arrival in<br>the constituency of St Andrew East<br>Rural on nomination day.
BY RUEL COOKE

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