PNP facing a hiding - Comrades in a struggle to keep St Mary seat from JLP after MP’s death
The tears which flowed down the faces of members of People's National Party (PNP) with the untimely death of Member of Parliament for St Mary South East Dr Winston Green last week could increase this week as Comrades face the frightening prospect of losing one of the 31 seats they hold in Parliament.
Green won the seat by five votes following a magisterial recount in the aftermath of the 2016 general election, but the victory was far from settled as lawyers representing the defeated Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate, Dr Norman Dunn, headed to the Supreme Court with an election petition.
That court challenge has died with Green, opening the gate for a by-election that the JLP, with its one-seat majority in the House of Representatives, will surely welcome more than the PNP, which has so far exhibited none of the swagger and bravado that marked its approach to two other looming contests.
Knowing that it would take a political tsunami for it to lose the St Andrew South and St Andrew South West seats which are now vacant following the resignations of Dr Omar Davies and Portia Simpson Miller, respectively, the PNP has been shouting "call it Andrew, call it". But faced with the numbers in St Mary South East, the Comrades would rather that the prime minister hold the starting gates.
In February 2016, Dunn took the Richmond division in the constituency by 156 votes, and the Castleton division by 592 votes, while Green won the Belfield division by 712 votes and the Annotto Bay division by 1,269 votes.
By the November 2016 local government election, the PNP was able to hang on to only the Belfield division while the JLP turned around the Annotto Bay division with 350 more votes than the Comrades, while increasing its victory margins in Richmond and Castleton.
Last Thursday, PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson accepted that the party would have a battle to hang on to the seat even as it moves to identify a candidate.
"We are in the process of identifying someone to contest the seat as we don't know when the by-election will be held," Robinson told The Sunday Gleaner.
"We know it will be a keenly fought contest and that is why we are looking for someone who will make an impact with the people," added Robinson.
JLP sources later told our news team that Dunn, a pharmacist, is most likely to be its representative given his strong showing in the last general election, which was his first foray into representational politics.
According to the JLP officials, who asked not to be named, the party is optimistic that the seat is there for the taking.
The JLP's optimism is no surprise to political analyst Mark Wignall. "What I am picking up in both political parties is not just the optimism of the JLP but the pessimism of the PNP people who seem to accept that the seat is already lost in all four divisions," said Wignall.
He argued that senior PNP members are worried that there has been nothing yet from recently installed president, Dr Peter Phillips, to excite Comrades on the ground to push for a victory.
"Peter Phillips is coming under growing internal pressure as he has not been seen as energising the base. Even persons who were in the Peter camp are now expressing concern that he is not someone who can take them to the promised land when elections are called in 2020.
"There are persons in the JLP who believe that being the raw political animal that he is, this victory and the margin of the win could give Andrew Holness an indication that it is time to call a snap election on the PNP. Not saying I believe he will but saying what's on the ground," added Wignall.
For 40 years, the Eastern St Mary area was Ross territory, and its flag was green. After it was first won in 1944 by Roy Lindo, an independent candidate, Andrew Ross came in 1949 and held the seat for 18 years before passing the baton to his son, Alva. By 1967, the constituency was renamed South Eastern St Mary and Ross secured victory after victory after victory, until 1989 when the PNP's Harry Douglas arrived on the scene.
Alva won four elections between 1967 and 1980, and was unopposed in 1983. But when he returned to the voters in 1989, he was booted and Douglas became the first PNP candidate to be voted in as member of parliament in the constituency.
Since then, the PNP has held the seat in every election except 2007 when the JLP's Tarn Peralto got home by 34 votes. Now the JLP seems set to take back what was once green territory.
SE St Mary victory history
1967 - JLP's Alva Ross over PNP's Lincoln Hart by 1,276.
1972 - JLP's Alva Ross over PNP's Keith Bailey by 1,627
1976 - JLP's Alva Ross over PNP's Keith Bailey by 851
1980 - JLP's Alva Ross over PNP's Derrick Webb by 1,514.
1983 - JLP's Alva Ross (unopposed).
1989 - PNP's Harry Douglas over JLP's Alva Ross by1,073
1993 - PNP's Harry Douglas over JLP's Alva Ross by 413.
1997 - PNP's Harry Douglas over JLP's Don Creary by 1,494.
2002 - PNP's Harry Douglas over JLP's Tarn Peralto by 385.
2007 - JLP's Tarn Peralto over PNP's Harry Douglas by 34.
2011 - PNP's Dr Winston Green over JLP's Richard Creary by 420.
2016 - PNP's Dr Winston Green over the JLP's Dr Norman Dunn by five votes.