PNP challenger Clarke warns Jamaica against writing him offSaturday, January 16, 2016
Although the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has dominated the constituency of St Catherine West Central and remains the strong favourite to retain the seat in the next General Election, don’t tell that to the People’s National Party’s representative Clinton Clarke.
"Some people believe that it is a foregone conclusion that Tufton will win, but they are in for a surprise. I am going to give it my best shot in trying to ensure that Tufton goes home empty-handed. The time is perfect to make the change," Clarke told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.
Presently the manager in charge of communication at the State-run Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) Clarke, who lost to incumbent Dr Ken Baugh in the December 29, 2011 General Election, maintains that he is well positioned in the race to secure victory, and create what would be considered by many who follow politics to be the mother of all upsets.
Clarke polled 4,575 votes in 2011, to Dr Baugh’s 6,431 in a voter turnout of 45.9 per cent. The JLP has always dominated the seat since it was formed in time for the December 1976 General Election.
The seat has in recent times been thrown in the spotlight, following the decision by Dr Baugh to leave elective politics this year. A selection exercise between the now declared candidate for the JLP, Dr Tufton, and councillor for the Point Hill division of the St Catherine Parish Council, Devon Wint ended in Wint beating the nationally popular academic, but the JLP hierarchy removed Wint, replacing him with Dr Tufton late last year, arising from unsubstantiated reports, according to the police, that Wint had acted irregularly in a particular matter.
Wint is expected to mount a legal challenge against the JLP and has retained the services of high-profile attorney-at-law KD Knight to handle the legal push.
"West Central St Catherine has been neglected and Dr Baugh has not even been a reasonably good MP," Clarke told the
Sunday Observer. "The people are tired of the fool-up, fool-up politics and the fallout with Wint has not gone down too well in the JLP camp.
Every time there is an election in this constituency the people are given things like pigs, chicken, animal feed, etc, and then they don’t see their representatives again. The schools are in a terrible state, plus there is only one high school in Tacius Golding [High], the general infrastructure is terrible, the clinics are in poor condition ... nothing seems to be happening," Clarke said.
West Central St Catherine is one seat that the JLP have ticked off in the winning column, according to those close to the organisation. But with the latest discontent, there is a feeling among political observers that, should the ruling party step up the campaign in the seat, the chance of a victory could be more of a reality than fantasy.
The Sunday Observer also learnt that within days, an influential JLP figure will be lending support to the PNP in its bid to prevent Tufton’s victory push.
In eight contested polls, the JLP has won the seat seven times. The PNP’s only victory came in the general election of 1997, when Alethia Barker shocked the nation by defeating Dr Baugh, who had left St James to contest the seat for the first time. A total of 5,724 people voted for Barker, with Dr Baugh getting 5,198.
Before that, the seat was seen as the virtual verandah of now JLP veteran Enid Bennett, who swept to five consecutive victories up to 1997, including being returned unopposed in the uncontested General Election of 1983.
Bennett, now a JLP trustee, started the party’s commanding run with victory over the PNP’s Mel Woodfine in 1976, securing 6,518 votes to Woodfine’s 3,040. Bennett widened the gap four years later in the bloody election of 1980. She got 8,771 votes, which represents the most by any candidate, while Woodfine managed only 1,698.
After the no-contest of 1983, Bennett (6,340 votes) easily beat attorney-at-law Enoch Blake (5,250), with the now deceased Blake claiming, among other things, that Bennett used various tactics, including threatening voters with obeah, that caused him to lose. Blake even reported the matter to the police, but law enforcers said that there was no evidence to support his claim.
Bennett shook that off to remain unbeaten in the 1993 election. She triumphed narrowly by 85 votes in securing 3,070 ballots over the PNP’s Trevor Dewdney — 2,985 — in not only the closest contest in the history of the seat, but Bennett’s most narrow victory.
Perhaps getting an indication from the voters that her time was running out, Bennett retired from elective politics shortly before the 1997 election, when the PNP made history in the seat.
However, Dr Baugh’s loss saw him returning five years later to beat Barker. In getting 6,948 constituents to vote for him, Dr Baugh avenged the loss to Barker, who could only bring out 4,244 voters. Dr Baugh stepped up the pace in 2007 with 7,321 votes in a victory over the PNP’s Homer White (5,073), but he lost ground in 2011 in the fight with Clarke.
Interestingly, a constituency poll conducted by the highly respected Don Anderson-led Market Research Services Ltd, which was made public five days before the election, had Clarke leading Dr Baugh by three percentage points, and highly tipped to create the second upset in the seat.
But the JLP oiled its electioneering engine with a major last minute mobilisation of its supporters that led to Baugh coming out on top of his opponent, who at the time cited limited resources to complete the job.
Dr Baugh made it no secret that he backed Wint over Dr Tufton, which may have been caused, in some measure, by a disagreement that arose when Tufton served as minister of agriculture during the first period of the JLP administration of 2007 and 2011. The tension was not wiped away when Tufton decided to back Audley Shaw over incumbent Andrew Holness in the contest for Leader of the JLP. Dr Baugh supported Holness.
Dr Tufton is the former MP for St Elizabeth South West. He won the seat in 2007 over Rev Stanley Redwood, but lost to the PNP’s Hugh Buchanan by 13 votes in the 2011 election.
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