How did the PNP nearly lose St Ann South Eastern seat?
In a massive Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) victory in the September 3 general election, reminiscent of the 1980 polls, the People’s National Party (PNP) again managed to keep one of their safest seats in Jamaica, St Ann South East, which they have never lost since the seat was created in 1959.
But the margin of victory, a nail-biting 31 votes, is a far cry from the 5,000-plus margins that the PNP had become accustomed to, a trend that began from the very first election. The margin of victory, even against the backdrop of the JLP’s 49-14 win, has gotten Comrades concerned, as the Labourites nearly wiped out what has traditionally been one of their safest seats.
The fact that they had to wait until the end of a magisterial recount to confirm victory makes it even harder to take.
Dr Ivan Lloyd started the journey, then, beating Flavius McKinley of the JLP 7,334 votes to his opponent’s 1,584, for a whopping 5,750 victory margin.
Lloyd repeated his victory in 1962 and 1967 before stepping down in 1969, giving way to Seymour Mullings, who continued the trend in the subsequent by-election, defeating Lloyd’s son, Garland Lloyd, who ran on a JLP ticket.
Mullings won subsequent elections in 1972 and 1976 by over 5,000 votes each time. With a massive JLP victory in 1980, the Labourites capturing 51 of the 60 seats available then, Mullings still managed to keep the seat, albeit with a vastly reduced majority.
Mullings returned to his own way in 1989, winning by 5,766 votes. In 1993, and again in 1997, he also won by more than 5,000 votes.
With Mullings stepping down for the 2002 election, Aloun Assamba stepped up and maintained the seat for the PNP, winning by 3,158 over the JLP’s Peter Fakhourie, who again lost in 2007, beaten this time by Lisa Hanna by 2,697 votes.
Hanna also won in 2011 with 8,996 votes and again in 2016 with 8,056 votes, beating Oneil Osteen by 4,245 and Ivan Anderson by 3,137, respectively.
Come the 2020 general election and after being forced to endure a magisterial recount, Hanna was declared winner by just 31 votes.
Hanna secured 5,150 votes to the JLP’s Leroy Granston, who got 5,119.
The numbers show that whereas the JLP gained just 200 more votes than it did in 2016, it was a massive decline in votes for the PNP, which collected 2,906 votes less than the last election, that nearly caused the upset. What could have caused this?
The Gleaner visited Claremont, the heart of the St Ann South Eastern constituency, to get an understanding from constituents about matters that may have affected voter turnout on September 3.
Among the issues identified by responders are the fractious relationship between Hanna and her councillors, with two of the three not seeing eye to eye with her. This stems from a 2016 dispute, which supporters say has never healed.
Some supporters were also critical of Hanna’s attitude towards them, alleging that her lack of communication with them has turned them off from her and, to some extent, the PNP. The lack of organisation, especially on election day, was also a major factor, some say.
But there were ardent supporters who are still sticking to their beloved member of parliament (MP), shifting the blame from her and placing it on the JLP’s “vote buying” and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID had a lot to do with it, because the older people didn’t come out to vote. They were told the older people should stay in and then they called the election, so the older people just stayed in,” one female supporter said.
“And then vote buying was another problem, because the Labour party did a lot of vote buying,” she alleged.
Her comments were supported by several other women who had gathered to hear her views, with some saying persons were paid to not vote for the PNP.
“South East St Ann a PNP country an’ nuh matter wha dem duh, South East St Ann ah go still be PNP country. Dem cyaa tek dis!” one woman declared.
The lone gentleman in the group offered a slightly different perspective.
“The timing just never right (for the PNP) inna di COVID. We know it was a plan. The older set (of people), through corona, many a dem naw come out, dem jus stay een,” he said. But he added that he had proof of vote buying in areas such as Lumsden, Ebenezer and other communities.
“An’ dem nay (never) hide,” he claimed.
One businessman, who said he has been a long-time PNP supporter, bluntly laid the blame on the MP, alleging that her attitude towards her constituents is not what it ought to be.
“Mi wen even seh mi naw vote because mi say mi naw vote fi har. In the long run, mi look an’ say, bwoy, it’s the PNP I’m voting for, is not she,” he pointed out. He claimed a lot of other persons shared his view.
NOT CONNECTING WITH THE PEOPLE
“The basic thing is, Lisa not connecting with the people. When Lisa just come here everybody love her, everybody rally to her, but (now) she just have a likkle attitude, so di people dem see har as dis person who naw connect wid di grass-root people dem. So a lot of people decide them not voting for her; simple,” he claimed.
He added: “She was kind of too comfortable, too, because through is a safe seat, I don’t see them do much campaigning, and the JLP was campaigning like hell. But she not connecting with the people them, basically.”
“Talk to the people them,” he suggested. “You don’t have to give them anything because you can’t give everybody things. The people just waa fi know she down pon fi dem level.”
He suggested that the best way forward for the PNP was to get a new candidate, as it is going to be very difficult for Hanna to regain the confidence of her constituents.
“Bring somebody else here to keep the PNP, to bring back the PNP together. She not even ah connect wid di councillors dem,” he reminded.
That connection with councillors remains relatively poor, four years after a well-documented stand-off between Hanna and Lydia Richards, councillor for the Bensonton division.
Councillor Ian Bell of the Beecher Town division maintains a healthy relationship with the member of parliament, but the same cannot be said for Lamber Weir, councillor for the Claremont division.
Richards and Hanna haven’t spoken to each other since 2016, when Richards publicly declared that she would fight to the end to oust the MP.
On Thursday, Richards declined to comment on their relationship but declared that she has continued to do her work as councillor, nevertheless. She also declined to speak on the lower-than-usual voter turnout.
“I couldn’t speak to that (the low voter turnout for the PNP) because as a councillor, I do my work in my division, and if you go there and ask the people they will tell you. Even though I’m not running back, I still do my duty that I was elected to do. Even during the election, I did what I had to do as a councillor,” Richards declared.
“It is really like a sign because, honest to God, I never dreamt that we would have gotten there. But people haffi know wha dem a do,” she warned.
A councillor since 2003, Richards said she would not be seeking re-election.
Some PNP supporters in Claremont claim that Weir, councillor for that division, could not be seen anywhere on election day.
“To be frank with you, I didn’t go out there,” Weir admitted to The Gleaner.
He said “councillor separation, in some ways,” and people being “disgusted with certain things” are among the factors that plagued the constituency leading up to the election.
“The councillors have strength in the divisions, and you will remember 2016 what took place when she brought in independents, and that still nuh heal yet, it nuh heal, and people (in the constituency) are vexed in some ways,” Weir pointed out.
“The lack of representation from her, in some ways, and the treatment. I know I am out there working very hard, but if she had worked with her councillors she would have gotten more votes,” Weir said.
Bell, who has remained loyal to Hanna throughout, declined to comment on the issues that could have led to the fall-off of PNP votes. But speaking to reporters at the St Ann’s Bay courthouse on Wednesday after Hanna was declared the winner following the magisterial recount, Bell said the party should analyse what the result is saying then “start right away with the rebuilding of South East St Ann and the PNP party in general”.
He defended Hanna’s tenure as MP, saying that although she has been MP for 14 years, the PNP party was in opposition for two terms during those years, and one term in government.
“So under the circumstances, based on the amount of work that she had done, I honestly believe that she has done very, very well,” he said.
Questioned about the closeness of the votes, Bell reminded reporters that there are some constituencies where the PNP was expected to win easily but lost.
“At least we still hold on to South East St Ann. A very ugly win is still better than a pretty loss, and I want to continue to encourage the MP to continue to work very hard and rebuild the constituency,” Bell said.