Fri | Oct 23, 2020

Not a Dunn deal - Rival supporters differ on Alexis’ chances of St Mary South East upset

Published:Monday | August 31, 2020 | 12:19 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Residents walk on a footbridge over a gutter full of stagnant water in Annotto Bay, St Mary South Eastern. The waterway has been at the centre of contention, residents say, over who is responsible to clean it. Some say that Dr Norman Dunn, the incumbent, h
Residents walk on a footbridge over a gutter full of stagnant water in Annotto Bay, St Mary South Eastern. The waterway has been at the centre of contention, residents say, over who is responsible to clean it. Some say that Dr Norman Dunn, the incumbent, has done more to keep the gutter clean than the PNP did when their representative was in office.

Supporters of the People’s National Party (PNP) in St Mary South East are upbeat about their candidate’s chances in Thursday’s general election and are pointing to an upset win over the incumbent Dr Norman Dunn of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Dr Shane Alexis, who lost to Dunn in the 2017 by-election by more than 900 votes, will be hoping to mount a comeback for the PNP in the tough battleground seat. His uphill task will be even more difficult with a Gleaner-commissioned Don Anderson poll, conducted August 22-25, showing him trailing by eight percentage points.

Alexis’ supporters said that while they are willing to give Dunn and the Holness administration “props” for seeking to upgrade approximately 600 metres of the Junction main road – a key corridor into the parish of St Mary – their votes will be cast along party lines.

The sentiment “me a born PNP” still echoes strongly across the constituency, primarily in Annotto Bay, where the Gleaner news team recently met a man who said the incumbent is not inclusive.

“After the election, I hope Mr Dunn will be done. We can’t have no more of him,” said Marvin Bahardosingh.

He accused the ruling party of political tribalism, unfairly channelling work mainly to Labourites at the expense of constituents who are supporters of the PNP.

The JLP’s “chances of winning this seat again are based on cash”, Bahardosingh charged. “What kind of madness is that?”

That charge traces back to Opposition allegations of vote-buying in the lead-up to the 2017 by-election triggered by the sudden death of then incumbent Dr Winston Green of the PNP. Prime Minister Andrew Holness had said, a month before the by-election, that his Government had pumped “well over a billion dollars through infrastructural works in St Mary since April 2017” – with more than $600 million committed to the Junction roadworks project in the seat.

St Mary South East is among a cluster of battleground seats to watch in the September 3 election.

It was once a rock-solid Labour stronghold dominated for 39 years between father and son Andrew and Alva Ross, respectively, who represented the constituency between 1949 and 1989.

Harry Douglas and Dr Winston Green are the only PNP candidates to have won the seat in the past three decades.

Bahardosingh is not alone in venting against Dunn.

A mother and her daughter who vend along Lodge Lane in Annotto Bay admitted that Alexis had a good chance of winning this time around despite losing his party’s grip on what was a PNP-leaning division.

The women, who requested that their names not be published, said they are from a traditional JLP-voting family but believe that Alexis, a medical doctor, “deserves a chance”. They said they are disappointed with Dunn’s leadership since 2017.

The women said the incumbent had been hedging his bets on the work being done along the Junction main road, which has been hobbled by cost overruns and is months behind deadline. They claim that Dunn has neglected the hinterland communities and could face backlash on election day. But the numbers, according to the Anderson poll, are not on Alexis’ side. He haemorrhaged support in Annotto Bay and is currently trailing Dunn in the poll of 349 registered voters. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent.

Alexis, who bears the moniker ‘Sugar Shane’, was a political neophyte when he challenged Dunn in the 2017 by-election. The PNP candidate’s supporters, however, believe that with his “feet now wet”, he is poised to return the seat to the PNP column.

Nahjay Hibbert, 21, also of Lodge Lane, prefers Dunn. She said that the incumbent had done enough in his three-year stint to warrant a full term. Hibbert has been impressed by his record of accomplishments.

“Dunn is going to take it because he has done some good work around here. He fixed the gutter, and a netball court was built to keep us young ladies occupied, among other things, so he deserves to win,” said the mother of one, while reasoning that he could do more to stimulate youth employment.

Attempts to contact both candidates for comment on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Residents in Richmond, which heavily supported the JLP in the 2016 local government elections (63.5 per cent), will have to turn out in similar numbers if Dunn, a pharmacy chain manager, is to retain the seat.

That assessment was made by 71-year-old Richard (not his real name). He theorises that Alexis has the edge 55-45 and noted that for the PNP to win, they will need to turn out the vote in Richmond.

“If they can do that here and do it also in Annotto Bay, Dunn will be out,” the resident said.

JLP councillors control three of the four divisions in St Mary South East – Annotto Bay, Richmond, and Castleton – with the PNP holding on to Belfield.

“If Sugar Shane expects to win, he will only do so if he can convince people in Annotto Bay and Richmond to vote for him to go along with Belfield division that is a strong PNP part of the constituency,” said Richard.