Candidates confident ahead of by-election
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Despite Central Westmoreland being seen as safe territory for the People's National Party (PNP), its general secretary says the party will not be complacent with its campaign activities, as it seeks to get Dwayne Vaz elected as the constituency's next member of parliament (MP).
"We will work as hard as we can because I take no election for granted," PNP General Secretary Paul Burke told The Gleaner.
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) last won the Central Westmoreland seat in 1980 and flew a green flag over the constituency until 1989, when Dr Karl Blythe won the seat which he held until 2007. He then gave way to Roger Clarke, who served as MP until his untimely death on August 28.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has named December 1 as the date for the by-election.
history in the making
Faye Jacobs, the JLP standard bearer, told The Gleaner that based on the feedback, "history is in the making" for the Labour party.
Jacobs noted that history would show that Central Westmoreland has been a "touch seat", but said there is growing discontent toward the PNP and the people are ready to turn their backs on the governing party.
She said that, mainly because of unemployment, Central Westmoreland residents are frustrated with the leadership the PNP has given to the constituency.
"I have been doing quite a bit of work. I have been doing some walk through, and the response is overwhelmingly good in my mind, in spite of the fact that it is designated a PNP territory," Jacobs said.
"I have a good feeling that this time, we are going to make history in Central Westmoreland," the banker added.
Clarke polled 11,567 (57 per cent) of the votes in the 2011 election to win the seat by 3,042 votes over Marlene Malahoo Forte who managed 8,525 votes.
always working hard
Vaz told The Gleaner yesterday that the PNP's machinery is oiled and has been doing house-to-house visits to ensure victory.
"We always work hard in this constituency, whether or not we are regarded as favourites. We are always on the ground to ensure we are up to date with what is happening to the new voters, [and] what is happening with those we have already," he told The Gleaner.
The JLP has won the last five parliamentary by-elections dating back to 2009. Those elections were held as a result of incumbent JLP parliamentarians being in breach of the Constitution by having dual allegiances.
The first of those winners was Daryl Vaz in West Portland, who beat the PNP's Kenneth Rowe by 2,294 in an election in which 72 per cent of the electorate voted.
Voter turn-out for the next by-election, this time in North East St Catherine, was 53 per cent. The JLP's Gregory Mair won by 2,660 votes over the PNP's Granville Valentine.
The PNP then decided against contesting the three other by-elections which were held in North West Clarendon, North East St Ann and South West St Catherine.
The JLP won all three easily. Voter turn-out for the three elections averaged 22 per cent.
The last time the PNP won a by-election was in 2006 when Luther Buchanan defeated Don Foote in Eastern Westmoreland to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of P.J. Patterson.
With the last Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll indicating that the PNP has lost its appeal among Jamaicans, Vaz said Central Westmoreland would serve as a good yardstick to assess the party.
"Normally when you have by-elections in the middle of the term it gives an indication as to how things may be going forward. It is important that we send a signal here as this is one of our strong areas," Vaz said.
"Winning here would signal that the Comrades are still onboard and that people still have confidence in the party," he added.