LITTLE LONDON, Westmoreland – The campaign manager for under-fire Ian Hayles has stoutly rejected accusations that changes to the delegates list to be used in an upcoming People's National Party (PNP) candidate selection conference give Hayles an unfair advantage.
"There's no truth in that!" Cliff Reynolds told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday.
He also said Councillor Garfield James (PNP, Sheffield Division), who had been hoping to be the standard bearer for the party in the next general election, had been integrally involved in the formation of the groups. That is a claim that James' supporters have denied.
The squabble over the list is threatening the PNP's hold on the once-safe Westmoreland Western seat.
The selection conference is scheduled for June 4 after it was pushed back from May 27.
James' long-declared interest in representing the seat was upended after a challenge by Hayles, one of the party's four vice-presidents. In voicing their objection, James' supporters had alleged that the original delegates list of those qualified to vote in the selection conference has been changed.
"People from other divisions were brought in to make up the list of delegates," former delegate Michelle A Barron told the Observer.
James' delegates, she said, were taken off the list and replaced with new people. She added that there are many groups made up of delegates and that James, who is also principal of Little London High School, will not enter a race that is flawed. Barron, though, did not say who changed the list and whether it was ratified by the constituency executive.
Barron said she is among several comrades who do not appear on the new list, which was presented a few weeks ago.
PNP insiders told the Observer that the constituency originally had more than 100 groups but that dwindled to just more than 40 during the tenure of the last PNP member of parliament to hold the seat, Dr Wykeham McNeill.
Former delegate Cleon Tomlinson, who is also a party voter variation worker, said there are approximately 1,800 electors who make up the more than 60 new group lists. He alleged that more than 200 of these electors were transferred from other parishes, mainly Hanover and St James.
"I am supporting Mr James and my name and group have been removed from the list," said Tomlinson.
Hazel Satchwell, a delegate from the Sheffield Division, said her name remains on the list but she would have preferred if the newly added delegates were divided in support for both candidates.
"I am disgruntled... Why do all of the people who are now delegates, that were not delegates [in the past] are now saying one person?" she asked.
In her view, a better approach would have been to inform James' supporters of the change and encourage them to expand their groups.
Approximately two months ago, both candidates were interviewed by the PNP's regional executive followed by talks with the National Executive Council two weeks after. Both candidates have also faced the party's Integrity Commission. James' supporters claim he is the only one who has passed all three rounds of vetting with "flying colours".
They also claimed that Hayles "failed miserably" in a poll of the constituency.
In a WhatsApp audio conversation between a member of the constituency and PNP General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell — which was obtained by the Observer — both sides rattled off conflicting poll numbers to support Hayles and James, respectively. Dr Campbell insisted that it is now up to the delegates to decide.
However, James' supporters, who include mayor of Savanna-la-Mar and councillor for the Negril Division Bertel Moore; councillor for the Grange Hill Division, Lawton McKenzie, and councillor for the Little London Division Ian Myles are of the view that the party's hierarchy has failed to be forthright with them about the selection process.
Last month, PNP President Mark Golding revealed that the party had embarked on a new process to select candidates that will give it the "strongest team" going into the next general election. Briefing journalists after the party's National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Montego Bay, he said the process includes a poll that serves as a preliminary screening of contenders for seats that are being contested internally.
"It's really a kind of preliminary sifting process to take out potential candidates who really can't move the needle and wouldn't be able to win the seat for us. If there's only one candidate, they still have to get more than 50 per cent support from the delegates to go forward in what we call a yes/no vote," Golding explained then.
The party president noted that traditionally the selection process was one in which delegates and group members in constituencies were the ones who chose the candidate. However, he said, going forward, the party has decided to go through "a process of reverification of our membership".
But Tomlinson is adamant that approximately 90 per cent of those within the constituency want to see the back of Hayles, a former three-term MP for Hanover Western who was defeated by 1,021 votes in the 2020 General election by attorney Tamika Davis.
"The party is to send him back to Hanover Western or find somewhere else," suggested Tomlinson.
As for former PNP delegate Barron, she said that if Hayles is allowed to run in the selection conference, James' supporters would simply stay away.
"We will not be working and we will not be voting. At all cost we will not," Barron vowed.
Comrades who are opposed to James, she added, are okay with the seat being retained by the ruling Jamaica Labour Party's first-term MP Morland Wilson.
"We don't have a problem with Morland Wilson because we do not want Mr Hayles in Westmoreland Western," warned Barron.
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