No ordinary By-election
Central Westmoreland voters vow to set tone for national poll
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
The rising sun had just come over the hills in Bird Mountain in Central Westmoreland and found its way over the unpainted tomb, the final resting place of Roger Clarke.
Not far away, at the gate leading to Clarke's eternal home, is posted a glossy poster of Dwayne Vaz, a 33-year-old businessman who served as Clarke's assistant while he was the constituency's member of parliament (MP) before his untimely death in August.
Central Westmorelanders have long woken up to the reality of Clarke's demise, and some are now gearing up to choose a new MP in a by-election on December 1.
Stacy Wilson, a People's National Party (PNP) delegate, says it's a forgone conclusion that Vaz will beat the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Faye Jacobs in the polls.
"It is a matter of the margin," he said.
Tapping Clarke's tomb while Comrade Nathan Cunningham adjusts wreaths that have been disfigured by the elements, Wilson sought to assure the former MP that the constituency would be in safe hands.
"Comrade Clarke, we putting in a young, strong colt to replace the red poll. Dwayne Vaz, sah! He will pick up the baton and carry for yuh. Young, fresh colt; you groom him," Wilson said.
EYEING BIGGER MARGIN
"To honour the late great Roger Clarke, we want to surpass his margin," Wilson said, noting that Clarke defeated the JLP's Marlene Malahoo-Forte by 3,042 votes in the December 2011 general election.
"We want him to get 15,000 votes," Wilson added, while stressing that the polls would be used to demonstrate that the PNP had not lost its base. According to Wilson, voter turnout could be higher than 70 per cent.
In the last election, Clarke polled 11,564 votes to Malahoo-Forte's 8,522 as 53.8 per cent of 37,543 electors voted.
For Wilson, the PNP's machinery is not only well-oiled, but with the Roger factor and the Portia magic, Central Westmoreland will remain PNP territory.
But Shawn Bailey, one of the more than 140 registered electors in Bird Mountain, a small, rustic farming community that overlooks Williamsfield, where Clarke was born and raised, said Wilson might be banking on votes that would not make their way to the ballot box.
Of the 73 people in Bird Mountain who voted in the last election, 64 cast ballots for Clarke and eight for Malahoo-Forte. Instructively, Clarke had got 72 votes to the JLP's Russell Hammond's 11 in the 2007 election when 65 per cent of the residents voted.
"No water nuh deh a Bird Mountain and we want to know how di water a go go. Water has never been in Bird Mountain through pipeline," Bailey told The Gleaner.
He was among a group of residents who had gathered at a shop in Williamsfield square to socialise.
With election fever in the air, Bailey noted that residents had chosen to exercise their franchise election after election. He does not blame them for doing so and shifts some of the burden to the MPs, who have failed to ease their water woes.
"The people have been talking about it for years and years, and all we get is that we are going to get water after election," was Bailey's lament.
Asked how likely it is to affect what he does on December 1, Bailey was forthright.
"No vote nah go gwan. We affi si likkle pipeline business first," he said.
OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE
Unlike Bailey, Robert Campbell, a staunch supporter of the JLP, can't wait for the polls to happen. He sees December 1 as an opportunity to get rid of PNP leadership, which has held the constituency since 1989.
"We need changes; we tired of one thing. Decades dem people yah a run and we nuh see nuh improvement inna di community," Campbell said.
He claimed that Williamsfield had produced three MPs for Central Westmoreland - Jim Thompson, Dr Karl Blythe, and Clarke - yet it lacked basic infrastructure.
According to Campbell, the road was only repaired after Clarke died and because it would have been embarrassing to have the funeral procession travel along the bad road. In addition, he claims that a post office and a bank that were in Williamsfield have been relocated to the neighbouring Fort Williams.
"We have three former MPs and we still nuh see nuh improvement. We are not educated like some people, but we still intelligent, and we know good from bad. We tired of the ginalship," Campbell said.
The JLP supporter, who claimed he was born in a PNP household, said the catchment tank at Bird Mountain is polluted with insects and bird droppings and is also home to several frogs.
With suggestions from some community members that Vaz might be the man to finally take water to Bird Mountain, Campbell said he would rather put his money on the banker, Jacobs.
"We get people from in here to represent us and we still nuh get nuh water up there. Me nuh know if this poor likkle yute going get it up there. Mi nuh know if him much smarter dan dem," Campbell said.
Despite his condemnation of the PNP's record in the constituency, Campbell concedes that the JLP could be swimming against the tide in Central Westmoreland.
"Dem people here a die-hard. If you put a man inna mortar and if the person fool, even if yuh beat him and tek him out, him wi do the same thing. Dem wi just die for PNP," Campbell said.
NEED BETTER ROADS, WATER
One Rastafarian who calls himself 'Iyah B' said that all that the people are asking for is water and better roads.
"Politicians come to Bird Mountain, tek out dem phone and start to chat to dem pocket and order a whole heap a pipe because Bird Mountain needs water. And then the pipe dump on Bird Mountain road, and after the election, the pipe tek up and gone," Iyah B said.
For Wilson, however, the PNP has a strong record of performance in the constituency. He pointed to the recently refurbished health centre and the repositioning of the Roaring River attraction as examples of projects being led by the Government that would redound to the benefit of the people.
"Things have happened, things are happening, and at the same time, it should be happening much faster," Wilson said. He argued that with Vaz as the next MP, the constituency "can move forward".
"We are putting in a potential prime minister," Wilson said.
He said that in addition to the party's record, operatives were going all out to ensure that a strong message is sent to the JLP.
"The polls show that the PNP is behind, so we just want to destroy that poll, tear it up, and dismantle it; show that it's a lie. The PNP is solidly in control. We understand what the IMF (International Monetary Fund) agreement is about; we understand that we have to pass the IMF tests; we understand the fiscal policies … . PNP are not idiots. We are intellectuals; we understand how Government operate," Wilson said.
"This is a referendum. This is no ordinary election," he said, while suggesting that the sun could set on Jacobs' political career as soon as it begins.
"Is one of the biggest margins of victory yuh going see," another PNP supporter said. "This is the only legal garrison in the country. It is just the margin of victory, and everybody love the young yute and say dem a give him a try."