Wed | Nov 22, 2017

Mark Wignall | Who is hotter in SE St Mary?

Published:Sunday | October 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM
The damage to this placard located across from the Castleton Police Station and bearing the image of Jamaica Labour Party candidate for South East St Mary, Dr Norman Dunn, and party leader, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, was discovered last Sunday, according to the police.

If it's an accurate reflection of the energy, political savvy, and determination that the then opposition JLP brought to the by-election in North East St Ann in mid-2001, we can safely remove the present PNP Opposition from the heater and call it overburned toast in South East St Mary come tomorrow.

On the other hand, if the PNP's desperation has forced it into a new, energised, and even cosmetically united party to bring out all of its 2016 votes (highly unlikely) and 10 per cent of the JLP's, there will hardly be anything for the JLP to smile about.

Much of the energy of the PNP is focused on giving its leader, Peter Phillips, a competent technocrat, a viable political reason to go on and prove his upfront leadership mettle. A loss for the PNP, now seen to be more likely than a win, will energise men like Phillip Paulwell and Peter Bunting and other dark horses to begin the next phase of their plans to dislodge Phillips, and, in the wake of a by-election loss, to render him electorally unviable.

It's called politics. The case for a JLP win is centred on Dr Norman Dunn being a more familiar factor and fixture in the constituency than the PNP's Dr Shane Alexis. If, as some have said, the matter of Alexis' non-citizenship of Jamaica (he qualifies to run as a Commonwealth citizen) has given him free advertisement and more name recognition, it can also be said that he has attracted some negatives in this respect, and by contrast,

Dr Dunn has now been seen as the 'born yah' genuine article.

Of course, we may never know exactly how the likely voters of SE St Mary are thinking, but if we are to be guided by the JLP's internal polls, significant numbers of them see negatives in Alexis' citizenship status. Based on those same polls, not much has been discussed on likely turnout (problematic to determine in by-elections), but, if the pollster is as successful as he was in the days leading up to the general election of 2016, not even a good scrape will clean up the PNP's burnt toast.

"I am expecting good things. Anywhere between 750 to 1,000 votes ahead," said Daryl Vaz, the West Portland MP and JLP minister who has temporarily taken up 'residence' in SE St Mary when we spoke last Thursday. Efforts to determine if the PNP has commissioned a poll, and, if so, what the findings are, have proven difficult for me.

It would have been expected that the PNP would have announced a poll, if not releasing its detailed findings, and identified the polling organisation that conducted the poll and skilfully highlighted the best of poll findings positive to the party's chances in SE St Mary.

That, at the time of writing on Thursday, the PNP has not done so has essentially one of two basic meanings. First, it knows that Alexis is new to the rough and tumble of running a political campaign, and his chance of losing is much better than 50 per cent. Second, it wants to keep its cards close to its chest and is planning a huge surprise for the JLP.

 

WHICH FACTORS WILL SHOW UP?

 

"Look what happen in

St James right after the zones thing in Mount Salem," said a school principal to me recently after we had finished discussing the matter of some schools poaching the student athletes of lesser-known institutions.

"It's almost as if the criminals have thumbed their noses at the Government and the security forces. It's as if they are daring the Government to do its worst to them and knowing they, the criminals, will always come out on top," he said.

After our conversation, I began to reflect on the SE

St Mary race and wondered if the rural voters in the constituency were prepared to carry national matters like crime close to the top of the agenda of items that would influence their votes.

South East St Mary is not a rich constituency like, say, either North East or North Central St Andrew. Its concerns would be the perennial ones of unemployment and only low-wage jobs available to its adult population, especially those in the under-40 age grouping.

Much of the constituency, like so many others across the face of Jamaica, is significantly below its development potential, so there is a lot on the plate for politicians to promise and promise, and promise some more. A few BPO outlets in the constituency would go a far way. Relying on farming beyond subsistence agriculture is a fool's dream. One hurricane season and it's back to square one.

It is more likely than not that the people will vote pragmatically, that is, they know that the MP who is attached to the Government in power has a better chance of steering national resources and attention to the constituency than an MP belonging to the opposition PNP.

Although I have not been shown the details of poll findings, one person in the constituency who I have known for nearly two decades said to me recently: "I know that a poll was done here some time in October by some people. I have many contacts at all levels. I think another poll was done by another company, but don't hold me to that."

It is not far-fetched to be told by my JLP friends in high places that recent polls have shown the JLP numero uno and PM, Andrew Holness, way out in front of Phillips as the person best suited to lead the country, even if the party positions may be closer.

 

STARK CONTRAST

 

Many times over the last six months and more, I have been present at various places at street level and heard people making comments about Phillips and Holness. The contrasts could not be more stark. Holness stands out as "him trying" and "deserves his chance", while it is obvious that the PNP is more popular than its leader, Dr Peter Phillips.

As I have said before, the de facto PM while Portia Simpson Miller was head of Government in the 2011 to 2016 PNP administration was Dr Peter Phillips.

Since the PNP's smooth leadership change, one is not so sure that Phillips has carried enough leadership credibility on his own to fully prove to the voters of this country and in places like SE St Mary that he is the right man for these troubled times.

"Mi nuh like how him talk," said a 22-year-old youngster to me last month. He was referring to a section of a speech made by Dr Peter Phillips and carried on radio.

Jamaica has moved quite far in its politics from the days of the 1970s and early 1980s when the leaders of the respective political parties were the absolute bosses. During the election campaign in 1980, all Seaga needed to do to ensure that a weak JLP candidate cantered home to victory on October 30, 1980, was have one mass meeting in his constituency.

Many likely voters in places like South East St Mary would like their roads fixed, if even to give public and private transport operators easier access to their communities. Plus, many small farmers who would like to transport their produce to Kingston in a bid to fetch higher prices also have much invested in seeing their constituency with better roadways.

Increasingly, the Government's ZOSO is likely to earn negatives before it has a chance of working, and since all politics is local, voters in SE St Mary are much more likely to buy into the political pronouncements of the candidate who seems more in touch with their local plight, even if the immediate solutions are not as plain as the promises to fix the problems.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.