‘If Dr Phillips resign today, ... di PNP dead’ - JLP poses by-election threat if MP steps aside
That was the sentiment of People’s National Party (PNP) supporters in Frog City to notions that the St Andrew East Central seat occupied by long-serving Member of Parliament Dr Peter Phillips could swing to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) if he steps aside, as promised, and a by-election were to be called.
But that bravado in one of Phillips’ rock-solid voting blocs, the gritty inner-city community in Maxfield Park, may ring hollow after a green tidal wave swept away the political fortifications of a number of traditional PNP seats, including Kingston Central, Westmoreland Central, and Westmoreland Western, in the September 3 general election.
There are fears that the mobilisation machinery of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, whose St Andrew West Central seat shares borders with Phillips’ constituency, could launch the ultimate by-election assault and snatch victory as the JLP did in Portland Eastern in 2019 and St Mary South East in 2017.
“No matter what people want to say, this is one seat that the Labourites will never win. Too much PNP support inside here,” Frog City resident Sheryl Williams said on Tuesday.
Once considered a safe seat for the Comrades, St Andrew East Central has been bleeding support to the JLP in recent elections.
In 2011, for example, Phillips polled 6,941 votes to the JLP’s Beverly Prince’s 4,016, and in 2016, Phillips tallied 7,017 to Prince’s 4,774.
Then in last Thursday’s election, where the PNP won 15 seats to the JLP’s 48, Phillips carried the constituency by a preliminary count of 4,963 ballots over the JLP’s Jodian Myrie’s 3,881.
The upshot: Phillips has haemorrhaged almost two-thirds of his majority over the last three elections – from 2,92 to 1,082.
While the PNP usually gets its greatest support from the Maxfield and Hagley Park divisions, the base of the JLP’s support is in Cassia Park, where in 2016 it had a 528-vote advantage even though Phillips easily carried the constituency.
While the PNP remained dominant in the Hagley Park division (1,762 compared to 1,408 for the JLP), a margin of 354 votes in 2016, it was in Maxfield that the PNP ran up the numbers for a 2,417-vote margin in 2016.
The Gleaner was unable to ascertain the breakdown of votes per division from last Thursday’s election.
Robert (name changed) said he has been displeased at the lack of housing development in Frog City but does not believe the JLP will get enough votes in the Maxfield area to mount too much of a challenge in the event that Phillips walks away.
According to him, there are too many traditional voters in St Andrew East Central that will tip the scale in the PNP’s favour.
“I think the PNP will still win the seat because they have a stronghold around here. I don’t even look for an MP to do anything for me. But he or she can pay more attention to the physical infrastructure still,” Robert said.
“We tired of people driving through here, wind up their car windows, and a look pon we like we ain’t somebody, too. Housing is our greatest issue in this part of the constituency,” he said.
In October 2018, Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke ground in Frog City for the $180-million Maxfield Park Housing project. At the time, it was the first of its kind under the Community Renewal Programme administered by the National Housing Trust.
Full-scale infrastructural work on the project was to begin in March 2019. More than a year later, work on the site appears to be at a standstill, with only some pipes laid and few mounds of gravel and sand as signs of a construction site.
Residents there said that even if the housing project is completed, their vote will remain with the PNP.
Along Hagley Park Road, however, resident Lincoln Chisholme said that even though he is pleased with roadworks development in the area, that would not guarantee any politician his vote. Chisholme said that Myrie’s close run against Phillips was perhaps linked to a bounce from the multibillion-dollar bridge-building and road-widening exercise.
“People, I suppose, are thankful, so the JLP got some votes they would normally not get in this area,” the 69-year-old said.
But the path to victory for Holness’ JLP might not rely on eroding Maxfield. A review of Electoral Commission of Jamaica data shows that Cassia Park’s pro-Labour majority grew by 25 per cent from 422 in 2011 to 528 in 2016. The PNP’s majority in Hagley Park fell by 53 per cent from 768 in 2011 to 414 in 2016.
Tracy, resident near Bay Farm Road, said the JLP would easily win a by-election because after 30-plus years of PNP rule, “there is nothing to write home about”.
“If Dr Phillips resign today and a by-election is called, di PNP dead. They cannot win, no matter who they get to run.
“Mr Phillips has done nothing for the people around here so and we don’t even see him walking the place,” Tracy said.
Vendor Nadine Baker backed up the claims of her friend, adding that she has no confidence in a new PNP candidate in St Andrew East Central.
“The JLP people look more like dem want to help the people, so that would be good,” Baker said.