Blythe sure Vaz will retain Westmoreland Central; JLP’s Wright also confident
As the race for Gordon House enters the final stretch, the camps of the two main political parties in Westmoreland Central are oozing with confidence.
Campaigners for both People’s National Party (PNP) incumbent Dwayne Vaz and the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) George Wright are both certain that victory is on the horizon, but attorney-at-law Don Foote, representing the Jamaica Abolitionist Movement, and businessman Torraino Beckford are seeking to crash the party in the four-man sprint to the finish.
Vaz’s campaign manager, Dr Karl Blythe, is predicting that the party will improve its margin of victory and return Vaz to Parliament.
Vaz, who first won the seat in a 2014 by-election after the death of Member of Parliament (MP) Roger Clarke, is seeking his third nod in the seat. Blythe believes that his stewardship of the constituency will get him over the line come Thursday despite the PNP currently holding only one of the four local government divisions.
“I expect, without a doubt, that with the type of performance he has put in on the ground even while in Opposition that he is going to do much better in this election by retaining the seat with an even more impressive victory margin,” said Blythe, a former government minister and self-styled political professor.
According to Blythe, who served as MP for four consecutive parliamentary terms from 1989 to 2007, political pundits are delusional to think that Westmoreland Central has become a marginal seat on the basis of the JLP’s dominance in the political divisions of the constituency.
“I don’t see a swing to the JLP. The PNP has a firm position in Central Westmoreland, and that is on a foundation that was built by many hard-working MPs of the People’s National Party in the past, so I have no problem with what I see on the ground at this time,” Blythe told The Sunday Gleaner.
“I remember one year, I lost three divisions, but I still won by nearly 4,000 that year because the people regarded their MP differently from the councillor,” he added.
The PNP has held a firm grip on Westmoreland Central since 1959, when Henry Mathews first won the seat and went on to serve three terms before handing over to Walter J. Cheddesing, who served two terms, having won in 1972 and 1976.
However, PNP’s reign was temporarily halted in 1980, when the JLP’s Karam Joseph won, returning unopposed in 1983.
Blythe then regained the seat for the PNP in 1989, serving four terms before retiring and handing off to Clarke in 2007.
After Clarke’s death in 2014, Vaz polled 8,738 votes to the JLP’s Faye Reid-Jacobs’s 6,292 to win the seat. Independent candidate Ras Astor Black polled 59 votes.
In 2016, he retained the seat with a margin of 1,131 votes, polling 9,978 to the JLP’s Wright’s 8,847 votes.
Harry Morrell, the pointman for Wright’s second challenge against Vaz, is sure of victory for the JLP this time around.
“Despite all the excuses that the other side (PNP) might want to give to justify their political demise in the local government election, I am positive that these four divisions will remain in the winning columns of the JLP based on the mood of the people on the ground,” Morrell told The Sunday Gleaner.
“The state of the constituency under the PNP in the last 31 years is nothing short of sufferation and maladministration,” quipped Morrell.
“It is sad to see the promises, the unplanned communities that have never been fully resolved, the level of wealth that is tied up by the citizens in unregistered properties. It is almost an act of spite and self-sabotage that has happened from the other side,” he added. “We have, in George Wright, the right man at the right time to lead us from the dark wilderness that we have been stuck in.”
Seeking to defend the PNP’s track record, Blythe said that education and land settlements are high on its list of achievements.
“When it comes to education, the PNP delivers and continues to do so, even with an MP who has been in for the last five years. Every single child who went to high school and was short of funds, we covered those costs,” he said.
“If we are talking about the last 31 years that cover my own tenure,” Blythe continued, “certainly, I have placed more than 10,000 families on lands where they own their own home in Central Westmoreland alone. Another 300 families in George’s Plain, Water Works, downtown Savanna-la-Mar and Grotto have all benefited from these land acquisitions.”
The JLP’s Wright, who is the councillor for the Petersfield division, is targeting more than 13,000 votes come Thursday, a projection Blythe finds “laughable”.
“If he gets the 13,000, believe me, we are over the 17,000 or 18,000 mark,” the former PNP vice-president said. “You look at the record 9,000, 8,000, you don’t jump from 9,000 to 13,000. That’s not how it goes.”
Added Blythe: “If we don’t even make it in two of the other four divisions, the loss is going to be a 100 or 200. That’s the most it could ever be. In Savanna-la-Mar, if we don’t come out with 1,500 to 2,500, I would be disappointed. So any loss that is picked up in the Petersfield and Cornwall Mountain divisions (the two strongest JLP divisions) will be wiped out by one division alone in what is called North Savanna-la-Mar and or by the Savanna-la-Mar division, so I am very confident.”