Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Martin Henry | A brief history of three constituencies

Published:Sunday | October 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

On Monday, October 30, voters will be going to the polls in South East St Mary, Southern St Andrew, and South Western St Andrew. Three constituencies at once in by-elections may be history-making.

The widely expected results will be soaked in history, a history now mostly forgotten.

The JLP has already conceded Southern St Andrew and South Western, St Andrew, the PNP's two strongest zones of political exclusion, aka garrisons. With the exception of Bobby Montague, who believes South West is takeable. Breathlessly bold, but for historical reasons, not entirely mad. Just a little too eager.

But the national focus is on South East St Mary, where the by-election is a national referendum on the popularity of the Government, which was marginally elected to lead in general elections just 20 months ago, and a popularity contest between the two party leaders, Andrew Holness as prime minister now, and Peter Phillips as leader of the Opposition.

Norman Dunn will most likely take the seat. The JLP says its party poll shows its candidate 15 percentage points ahead of his opponent. But poll notwithstanding, the PNP's Winston Green took the seat by only five votes in the 2016 general election, and that only after a magisterial recount, as Dunn was initially declared the winner. Unless voters in that constituency decisively reject the Government and its leader, the power effect will play. Taking the political pulse of the country, no such stance has been detected, and SE St Mary would be an outstanding exception.

 

MARGINAL SEAT

 

In such a marginal seat, following the pattern of history, the majority will vote for the party in power for clientelistic reasons. Minister Warmington's widely condemned advice to do so is likely to do less damage to the JLP campaign than Shane Alexis' Canadian citizenship and Grenadian passport will do to the PNP campaign. While political clientelism is widely tolerated, a so di ting set, the last round of national angst over dual citizenship, which cost some MPs their electoral victory, has cast a large dark shadow over holding foreign citizenship, while offering oneself for political office, even if allowed by the Constitution for Commonwealth citizens. Daryl Vaz, who was bitten last time, has played the dual citizenship card with strong, guileful effect.

But let us begin with Southern St Andrew. This constituency was only created in 1967. Eugene Parkinson won the seat for the JLP by a mere 648 votes in the 1967 elections, putting an end to the political career of the PNP's stalwart Vernon Arnett after whom Arnett Gardens is named. Now you know.

But the area has always consistently voted for the PNP. Parts of it were once in the short-lived constituency of St Andrew East Urban & Suburban, a seat won by none other than Norman Manley in 1959 and 1962, the two elections for which it existed. Parts of it have been in St Andrew Central held by the famous Noel Nethersole, then Vernon Arnett over four of the five parliamentary cycles, for which it existed, 1944-1962.

Everything changed in 1972. Anthony Spaulding defeated the incumbent JLP Parkinson by just 102 votes. Spaulding was appointed minister of Housing and set about creating Arnett Gardens, the PNP answer to Tivoli Gardens. Towards the tail end of the JLP Government of 1962-1972, Wilton Gardens had been laid down in the area for its supporters, and today remains the surrounded JLP garrison community of Rema.

By 1976, Spaulding, 'Trench Town Rock', was winning by 10,976 votes. The JLP whitewashed the PNP in the 1980 election, taking 51 of 60 seats, but Tony Spaulding came home with a massive majority of 15,030 votes! His successor, Hartley Jones, continued chalking up landslide victories in 1989 and 1993. The 1993 election was in March. The man with the second-highest margin of victory in the Parliament was asked to resign by his party to make way for a December by-election with PhD economist Omar Davies as the unloseable PNP candidate.

 

OWN MANDATE

 

P.J. Patterson, fresh in the office of prime minister after Michael Manley's retirement and having won his own mandate in the March 1993 election, had hand-picked Davies to be his finance minister. The minister of finance by law must be an elected representative from the House of Representatives.

Omar Davies continued the trend of massive margins of victory over five elections. He has now retired. And Mark Golding, also earmarked to be finance minister by the current party leader, is bound to win - for historical reasons. Nethersole, who once held a part of the area, was also a pre-Independence finance minister whose statue now stands in front of the Bank of Jamaica.

Things have been a little different in South West St Andrew. Created for the 1959 elections when parliamentary seats were increased from 32 to 45, it was a JLP seat over the next four election cycles. Clem Tavares, who died young from a heart attack in 1968 while the minister of housing in the 1960s JLP Government, and Wilton Hill after him. Tavares Gardens in the constituency is named after D.C. Tavares.

David Clement Tavares won in 1959 by only 242 votes over the illustrious Frank Spaulding for the PNP, the father of Tony (PNP) and Winston (JLP). Tavares knew how to consolidate his hold on the constituency, his margins of victory increasing to 2,962 in 1962 and 3,333 in 1967. His effort to replicate adjacent Western Kingston as minister of housing was cut short as he died in his mid-40s. When the PNP blanked the JLP in 1972, 37-16, Tavares' successor, Wilton Hill, still managed to take the SW St Andrew seat, defeating Jason Gordon by 3,241 votes.

Then along came Councillor Portia Simpson. In the escalating political violence of the mid-1970s, PNP caretaker for the constituency, the defeated Jason Gordon, was shot and injured and withdrew from politics.

Miss Simpson, under the favourable conditions of the 1976 state of emergency and with organisational help from Tony Spaulding across the border, reversed and exceeded the Hill margin, receiving 13,584 votes to Joseph McPherson's 4,376, a differential of 9,208 votes.

Things would only get better. Percentage of votes for Miss Simpson grew from 75.6 per cent in 1976 to a high of 99.57 per cent in 1993 and has been comfortably above 90 per cent for all of her seven electoral victories from 1989. Even in the 1980 general election when the PNP was whitewashed by the JLP, 51-9, she came home with 79 per cent of the vote with an exceptional voter turnout of 105 per cent, the best the country has seen to date.

As a country youngster come to town middle-70s and based in the Waltham Park Road, Maxfield Avenue, Greenwich Town area, I was very aware of the violent political clashes in the war zone marked by Western Kingston, Southern St Andrew and South West St, Andrew.

With Portia Simpson Miller's retirement after 36 years representing the constituency (the PNP did not contest the 'Nicodemus' election of 1983), Angela Brown Burke has been parachuted in at the eleventh hour from an Eastern Kingston municipal corporation division to carry on the 'caan lose' tradition.

Bobby may be off, but he's not entirely mad. Over the longer run and with the normalisation of politics, the JLP could very well reassert itself in Clem Tavares' old seat, which he never got to fully organise into a JLP garrison. In this by-election, they should certainly do better than they have done over the last 40 years, especially if Montague's plan to parachute in displaced voters who are registered in the constituency works out.

Over in South East St Mary where a genuine electoral contest can be held, that constituency was created in 1967 and taken by the JLP's Alva Ross, who held it over the next four elections. Prior to that, the area was mostly St Mary Eastern and was held by Alva's father, Andrew, for the four election cycles between 1949 and 1962.

An independent, Roy Lindo, took the seat in 1944 when independents did so well, taking five of 32 seats and 30 per cent of the votes. So sorry they can't now.

SE St Mary is Ross country with a father-son dynasty spanning 40 years. Harry Douglas won in 1989, vanquishing Alva Ross by 843 votes and kept the seat with declining margins of victory until 2007 when Tarn Peralto defeated him and recaptured it for the JLP by a mere 34 votes. The late Winston Green won for the PNP in 2011(by 420 votes) and again in 2016 (by 5 votes).

While the PNP will vote in Southern St Andrew and South Western St Andrew, for reasons of history, the rest of the country will be voting vicariously in the hotly contested weather vane seat of South Eastern St Mary. Make no bones about it: The results here where all the stops have been pulled out in the intense campaign will be a judgement upon the Government and upon the two top dogs of politics.

n Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.