No safe seats - Tufton urges candidates to reflect on options
On November 22, 2011, when the House of Representatives met for the last time before the dissolution of Parliament, Dr Christopher Tufton, the member of parliament (MP) for South West St Elizabeth, arrived late for the sitting. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that the voters were getting ready to ensure he was absent from the Lower House for the next four years.
"Mr Speaker, I beg to give notice that at the next meeting of the House, I will move to introduce, and have read a first time, a Bill shortly entitled: The Processed Food (Amendment) Act, 2011," Tufton said during that sitting.
It turned out that Tufton, despite having won his seat in the 2007 general election by a 1,825-vote majority, was making his last contribution in the House - at least for four years.
Then West St Mary MP Robert Montague, minister of agriculture at the time, and North West St Ann MP Othneil Lawrence, a junior minister, were also in attendance at that last meeting of Parliament.
They were early for the sitting, but were also fired by the electorate.
All three Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members are now seeking reelection to the House of Representatives.
Tufton told The Gleaner that the last day in the life of a Parliament is a nerve-racking one, on which many emotions go through the minds of an MP seeking re-election.
"There is lot of anticipation, because you know you are going into a campaign. You know that there is a decision to be made by the electorate; you reflect on your stewardship to determine if you have done enough to warrant a vote of confidence," Tufton said.
TIME TO WEIGH OPTIONS
"It is a time to weigh options because you can either be re-elected or not, so the question of 'what are the alternatives?' is something that one should reflect on," Tufton said.
He told The Gleaner that back in 2011, he felt he had done enough to be re-elected and defeat was furthest from his mind.
"I was anticipating a challenge and a contest and was prepared to go in and to do what I think was necessary."
But he was in for a shock!
The People's National Party's (PNP's) Hugh Buchanan polled 9,453 votes in 2011 to Tufton's 9,440 to win the seat by 13 votes.
Tufton, who was a high-profile minister of government, fell from grace and was booted by the voters.
With the exception of seven, all 63 MPs elected in 2011 will be seeking re-election in the February 25 general election.
Those persons who will not be seeking re-election are: Michael Peart (South Manchester), Patrick Atkinson (North Trelawny), Dr Ken Baugh (West Central St Catherine), Damion Crawford (East Rural St Andrew), Raymond Pryce (North East St Elizabeth), D.K. Duncan (Eastern Hanover), and Lloyd B. Smith (Central St James).
"We wish everyone who will go [on] the hustings well. We wish for a peaceful election period. We wish for all Jamaicans to exercise their franchise free from fear and in the highest traditions of the democracy of the land," East Central St Andrew MP Dr Peter Phillips said on the motion for adjournment this past Tuesday. The Parliament will be dissolved today.
Nine persons who returned to the people in 2011 seeking election were rejected. They are Andrew Gallimore (West Rural St Andrew), Michael Stern (North West Clarendon), Laurie Broderick (North Clarendon), Montague, Ernest Smith (South West St Ann), Lawrence, Clive Mullings (West Central St James), Tufton and Franklyn Witter (South East St Elizabeth).
LESS THAN HALF AT LAST SITTING
Only 31 MPs turned up for the last sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday. One of them was the PNP's Keith Walford (South West St Ann), who left early, but, before doing so, shook hands with his colleagues on the government backbench as if to indicate he may not return.
Opposition MP Daryl Vaz (West Portland) also left early and shouted to the press box: "If you don't see me again, you know what happen."
Vaz won his seat by a margin of 829 votes, while Walford, only the second-ever PNP member to represent South West St Ann, got home by 822 votes.
"It is an anxious period," Tufton said of the days leading up to election.
In his case, he feels he had represented his people well and had brought improvements to their lives in many ways leading up to the 2011 election, but made one fatal error: neglecting his political organisation.
"I clearly miscalculated as it relates to seeing the performance side as compensating for the less-than-adequate attention to the political organisation," Tufton said.
Tufton said he learnt a critical lesson.
He said the way the electorate views the performance of the Government could impact voter turnout, and the local performance of the MP will weigh heavily in the outcome of the election. But most importantly, it is the political organisation.
"For those first-timers, it would be critical for them to ensure that their constituency organisation is ready. Know where your votes are, know how to get them out and to secure them," Tufton advised.
He said, too, that he is taking his own advice and will be taking no chances in West Central St Catherine, the constituency he will be seeking to represent. Tufton is facing off with the PNP's Clinton Clarke in a seat which has been represented since 2002 by the retiring Baugh of the JLP.
"My approach to the perception of 'safe seat' has changed. It would be a mistake for me to think that anything is safe. After 2011, as far as I am concerned, it is no longer about perception, feelings or history; it is about how you perform at that important point in time," Tufton said of the election period.