Ashley-Ann dons Gideon boots to fight for victory - Lloyd B’s replacement vows to retain seat for PNP
Having already strapped up her 'Gideon boots' in anticipation of a tough electoral battle, Ashley-Ann Foster is convinced that the People's National Party (PNP) can retain St James Central, despite the incumbent saying the constituency will be difficult to retain.
Foster, an attorney-at-law, will replace incumbent Lloyd B. Smith, who was rejected by party delegates. She beat Henry McCurdy in an internal run-off, which she says has energised the PNP base.
"What the selection has done for St James Central is to shake-up our base. We are ready to work. If there were wounds to heal we have healed them. We are very united and we stand strong and we are ready to roll," Foster told The Sunday Gleaner.
But for Smith, his replacement is going up against great odds and will need "a lot of cash" to win it for the PNP.
"The seat is predominantly a JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) seat. I am not saying it cannot be won but it is going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of cash, given the nature of the constituency," said Smith.
$15-20m to retain seat
He was quick to point out that he was not talking about vote-buying but that the PNP needs to spend "at least $15 to 20 million" to retain the constituency.
"Cash can be used in various ways. It can be used to mobilise, it can be used to sensitise. I am not saying that votes are going to be bought but I will say that, given the socio-economic background of the constituency, if you are going to run in Central, you have to come with a bag of money," said the outgoing MP.
Under election laws, no candidate is allowed to spend more than $10 million in a general election campaign, and Smith said he spent about $5 million in 2011 even though he did not make declaration to the electoral authorities, as required by law.
Smith is not playing an active role in the 'Foster for Central St James' campaign, saying that the manner in which he was removed as the party's standard bearer leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
"It is not that I do not wish to assist but no one came forward to ask for my assistance and the group of people who are there are hostile to me, so I wouldn't want to just throw myself into a hostile situation," said Smith while stating that Foster has "not in any way acted unkind towards me".
He said that a meeting has been planned with Foster and that he would be seeking to have one arranged with the constituency executive to see whether his help is needed.
"There are Comrades and people in the constituency who feel that the way in which I was shunted out was not done in the proper way," said Smith, who won the seat by 98 votes in the 2011 general election.
"It is going to be very difficult for the party to win the next general elections."
nothing will stop us
Foster told The Gleaner that while Smith was not actively campaigning with her team, "that is his choice".
"Nothing will stop this campaign; we are ready. We don't see any obstacle in our way," said the first-time candidate.
She said that if Smith is "ready to come on to the battlefield with us and put on his boots, we will welcome him".
In the 2011 election, Smith defeated the Jamaica Labour Party's Heroy Clarke 5,683 votes to 5,585 in a poll which saw 11,337 or 45.36 per cent of 24,991 electors casting ballots.
The voters' list has since increased to 27,526 and Clarke said this is primarily as result of his enumeration activities.
According to the JLP standard bearer, Foster is a far weaker candidate than Smith but he will not be taking any chances.
"Mr Smith, with all due respect, is somebody who understands Montego Bay, somewhat. Ashley is very young and she has a bit of youthful exuberance and you tend to make mistakes when you are like that," Clarke told our news team.
"She has just started and she is losing ground. She has more problem within her own enclave rather than when it comes to competing against me," Clarke said.
He said that opinion polls show him leading Foster in the constituency but said he will not take that for granted.
"I know what my pitfalls were in the last election. I am not going to let them be my downfall for this election and, therefore, since 2012, we have been working to make sure that the defeat does not occur a second time."
strategy for victory
Foster, however, believes that victory will be hers if she continues to campaign hard and to organise well until the last ballot is counted on Election Day.
"I have a very seasoned campaign team. We are using the same campaign team from the last election and the same workers. We know our strategy. The PNP's machinery and organisation should never be underestimated," Foster said.
The Central St James campaign team is being led by Noel Sloley Jr, who is the campaign director, and supported by Janet Madden and Junior Taylor.
She said that part of the strategy is to mobilise young and uncommitted persons to support the PNP.
"I am a different candidate, I am a younger candidate, I am a female candidate, and I am a bright young woman who is committed to a cause. A lot of people underestimate the positivity that a female candidate brings to the table. I will be going out there and I will be proving myself and my team will be the victor once again," Foster said.
Foster, a former member of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) affiliate Generation 2000 (G2K), charged that Clarke's losing history will follow him into the next general election.
Despite being a councillor, Clarke finished second best to Smith in his Rose Heights Division in the 2011 general election, and then lost his seat in the St James Parish Council in the 2012 parish council elections.
"Losing is not something that he is a stranger to and once you lost twice as a candidate it tends to follow you," said Foster.