Wed | Aug 23, 2017

2015 election would have put seats at risk - Burke

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2016 | 1:00 AMDaraine Luton
Paul Burke

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's decision not to call a general election last year may have saved the People's National Party (PNP) some seats which were in danger of being lost, the party's general secretary Paul Burke confessed yesterday.

"We are in an improved situation, as we estimated we would be," said Burke, adding that "some constituencies would have been at risk" had the general election been held last year.

"We are in a much better position," he said of the party which has 42 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives but was, in a Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll conducted last September, found to be in a statistical dead heat with the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the race to form the next government.

Burke said the fact that "a few" seats were at risk "does not mean we would lose them".

Providing that no independent or third-party candidates are elected, a party needs a minimum 32 seats to form the Government in Jamaica's first-past-the-post system.

"We were always confident that there were a certain number of seats that we would win and that number carries us over the threshold," Burke said.

Despite a general election not due until December 2016, Simpson Miller last year hinted at early polls and even set about having a series of mass meetings across the island.

However, addressing a meeting in Black River, St Elizabeth, in late November, Simpson Miller said Jamaica would not go to the polls before the publication of the latest voters' list.

"The youths of Jamaica should be given an equal opportunity to have a say in the way their country is governed," Simpson Miller said.

NOVEMBER 30 VOTERS' LIST

At that meeting, Simpson Miller said it was important that the Electoral Commission of Jamaica be allowed to publish the November 30, 2015 voters' list. Some 34,907 new names were added to the previous list published in May 2015.

Simpson Miller, who had declared she would call the elections after her 'Master' touches her, said in Parliament on Tuesday that she has already been touched. Following that off-mic comment, the PNP secretariat yesterday announced that it would be hosting the first in a series of national meetings on Sunday, in Half-Way Tree Square, starting at 6 p.m.

"The meeting is part of the party's national mobilisation effort as it prepares itself for a general election," the party said.

On the campaign trail, Simpson Miller has been using agriculture as an analogy with the PNP's time in office, and has said that "we intend to do the reaping at the right time in the new year".

Of the 42 seats won by the PNP, 15 seats were won with a margin of 1,000 votes or less, seven of which were won by less than 300 votes. Three of the JLP's 21 seats were won with less than 300 votes.

St Mary, which falls within the PNP's Region 2, is one of those areas with slim margins. Western St Mary, where Jolyan Silvera is the incumbent, was won by 227 votes and South East St Mary, which was won by Dr Winston Green, was won by 420 votes.

In addition, East St Thomas is in the marginal category having been won by Dr Fenton Ferguson with 473 votes.

Dr Morais Guy, the PNP's chair for that eastern region, said Comrades from the east would be well represented.

"We have been on the starter's bloc for some time and I think all that is necessary now is for us to present ourselves to hear when the set-and-go is going to be. We have been preparing ourselves over the past couple of months; yes, there are some issues and concerns, but we are going to work them through," Guy said.

In Western Jamaica, Ian Hayles, chairman of Region 6, which comprises St James, Hanover and Westmoreland, said the Comrades are prepared, excited and ready for an election.

"The machine is oiled and ready to go in all 10 constituencies." The PNP holds eight of the 10 seats and Hayles said "I will take any bet that we will hold the eight or pick off one or the entire two".

Ashley Ann-Foster, one of 18 first-timers who will line up for the PNP, is confident that she will win the seat despite the incumbent, Lloyd B Smith, getting home by just 98 votes in 2011.

"As a new PNP candidate, I, along with my campaign team, have so organised St James Central that we are and continue to be in a full state of readiness and on high alert as we await the directive from the party president. It is the president's mandate and we will ensure that we are victorious once again whenever the trumpet sounds," Foster said.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com