Rift rocks strife-prone JLP
Discarded NW St Ann caretaker threatens court action
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
One week before the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) holds its 72nd annual conference, Othneil Lawrence - the losing candidate in the 2011 general election in St Ann, North West - is threatening legal action to prevent the party from removing him without a vote by the delegates.
Lawrence was reportedly among a number of losing candidates from the 2011 general election who were summoned to the JLP's Belmont Road headquarters two Thursdays ago and given the boot.
But late last week, the former member of parliament told The Sunday Gleaner that he is going nowhere unless sent packing by the delegates in the constituency.
"I am going nowhere until the Jamaica Labour Party's constitution is upheld. I am prepared to go out the same way I went in. I challenged and won to be selected and anyone who wants to move me [should] challenge me and beat me," said a defiant Lawrence.
He said he received a letter by email asking him to attend a meeting at the party's headquarters to meet with the party's leader, Andrew Holness; the chairman, Robert Montague; deputy leader, Rudyard Spencer; and Area Council Three Chairman Winston Maragh.
"However, when I went there, it was only the party leader - and the general secretary, who was in and out. The chairman came in unannounced and was upset because he said he did not know anything about the meeting, and neither did the deputy leader nor the area council chairman.
"I called them and they said they did not know anything about any meeting," charged Lawrence, who supported Audley Shaw in his challenge of Holness for the party's top job in 2011.
According to Lawrence, he made it clear to Holness that he was prepared to move if he was "challenged fairly and squarely and lost, as the JLP constitution stipulates".
NOT BACKING DOWN
However, in a subsequent letter, General Secretary Horace Chang cited reports from the Operations Committee of the JLP, and meetings with different party arms within the constituency as the reasons for removing him.
"These comments came from individuals and some five meetings held between the general secretary and elements of the constituency … . We came to the conclusion that the party needs new leadership to overtake the People's National Party's candidate Dayton Campbell," said the letter.
But Lawrence is insisting that the constitution of the party should not be trampled on and is extremely offended by a section of the letter from Chang, which states: "I will meet with the constituency at an early date to chart the way forward."
According to Lawrence, he has suggested to the party that he would pay a reputable pollster to conduct a survey in the constituency and check it against the findings the party said it has.
"But the party refused. So I am resolute. And until this matter is settled, I will not be attending conference either," Lawrence insisted.
"The time has come for leaders to stop shoving candidates on constituencies. They all need to uphold the constitutions," declared the one-term MP, who defeated Dr Michael Whittingham in 2007 to win the seat, but lost to Campbell in 2011.
In the meantime, senior party officials last week dismissed claims that the North West St Ann constituency is not registered, which would give the leadership the right to impose a candidate.
"The letter that Lawrence has received from the general secretary is improper and illegal because the party chairman is the chairman of selections. Chang has no legal authority to send that letter," said one senior JLP member, who asked not to be named.
Party Chairman Montague said while there are six or seven constituencies that are not registered going into next weekend's annual conference, he could not say if North West St Ann is in that group.
"But I really doubt that," said Montague.