Mon | May 21, 2018

Who is Richard Azan?

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Michael Stern being carried by his supporters.
Richard Azan

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

With the Spaldings Market mess dragging on and the governing People's National Party adamant that Richard Azan will not be moved pending the outcome of investigations into the arrangements surrounding the construction of shops in the market, several readers have been asking for more information on a politician who for the most part has operated just below the public radar.

So The Sunday Gleaner has taken a look at the political life of Azan.

The long-famed Azan name was once renowned in Jamaica for its success in entrepreneurship and, to a lesser degree, horse racing - but certainly not politics.

Richard Azan changed all that when he pulled off a stunning upset in the 2002 general elections that ushered him in the nation's Parliament.

As a political neophyte, running on the People's National Party (PNP) ticket in North West Clarendon, Azan was catapulted into the House of Representatives by the voters.

Since then, his stint in representational politics has been pockmarked by other surprises - defeat, blunders, and stunning recoveries.

The PNP had dispatched the then little known figure in political circles to North West Clarendon to take on the might of veteran parliamentarian, Clifton 'Cliff' Stone, the trade unionist/politician armed with a potent national profile.

At the time, a revitalised Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), eying possible victory after three terms in the cold, oozed confidence during a mass rally in the Spaldings square in the constituency on a Sunday evening in the lead-up to the 2002 polls.

The JLP leadership boldly brought out the ageing paternal figure of George Azan on the platform - the party's V sign demonstrably formed by his frail fingers and the inevitable bell symbol of the JLP - the crowd roared.

That political signal by the paternal figure at age 99 served to strengthen belief that the Azan surname was inextricably linked to the JLP and Richard was merely an aberrant.

Accordingly, very few expected Stone to crumble under the forces of the affable newcomer, but he did - a crushing defeat that dispatched the old JLP warrior into retirement from the political landscape.

Azan grabbed the seat with 6,561 votes to 5,877 picked up by Stone, while a young Michael Stern running on a National Democratic Movement ticket had 174 votes.

In doing so, Azan, not only stunned political observers, but defiantly commanded their attention.

The aspiring politician's cousin, who bore the same first and surnames was a prominent racehorse owner and trainer at Caymanas Park.

The new politician moved quickly to convince those who either knew or were aware of the two Richard Azans that they had not crossed career paths.

"No, he is my cousin," Azan told journalists of his then better known relative, shortly after his first electoral victory in 2002.

For a while, life progressed smoothly for Azan on the political landscape. He was lauded for his representation of the people of North West Clarendon and supported Portia Simpson Miller in the 2006 PNP presidential election.

And so it was no surprise that the political neophyte was appointed as a minister of state for transport and works when Simpson Miller assumed the reins of governance.

Given his work in the constituency and new-found status as a government minister, albeit a junior one, Azan was expected to retain the North Western Clarendon seat in 2007.

But then, Azan had a falling out with some persons in the constituency and reportedly told them that they could take back their "X" that they had cast for him in 2002.

Then came Stern, riding high on the JLP ticket in 2007 and 'sternly' defeated Azan in what was for many years considered to be a safe JLP seat.

Azan actually enjoyed an increase in the number of votes with 6,895 but Stern did much better than Stone in 2002 and finished with 7,828 votes. That victory contributed significantly to the JLP's 32-28 seat triumph in the elections.

But Azan did not leave representational politics and successfully ran for a seat in the Clarendon Parish Council in the Spaldings division, which is his hometown.

Four years later, Azan was back in the House as he turned the tables on Stern on December 29, 2011.

In that election Azan polled 8,209 votes while Stern could manage only 7,310.

Public attention

Simpson Miller rewarded Azan with another junior minister portfolio in the Ministry of Transport and Works.

Soon after, Azan grabbed public attention, when he mistakenly described a project that the PNP had inherited from the JLP administration as an initiative of the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).

Azan was reported by the media as saying that the JEEP would be supervised by the National Solid Waste Management Authority and that the work would include bushing and beautification of the North Coast Highway from Negril to Port Antonio. Azan also said the programme was being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

But the Opposition was quick to point out that the programme could not be a part of the JEEP as it was already in train before the general election.

The Opposition noted that the deal with IDB was signed while it was in power, forcing the Simpson Miller-led administration to backtrack with egg on its face.

A year after the JEEP fiasco, Azan has crashed into another controversy that appears to be threatening to derail his mobility on the political landscape.

But the 48-year-old businessman has repeatedly said he is a man with a different approach to doing things and the only way to go is to maintain a level of honesty and sincerity with the people.