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PNP takes aim at seats won, lost by low margins - General secretary says party watching numbers in targeted constituencies

Published:Sunday | December 15, 2019 | 12:34 AM
People’s National Party General Secretary Julian Robinson.

People’s National Party (PNP) General Secretary Julian Robinson says the party has taken aim at several seats won or lost by low margins since 2007 as signals get louder that an election is around the corner.

Robinson last week said some of the seats targeted will require Herculean political efforts, but will not be impossible to win.

“We are looking closely at seats that won or lost by small margins in the last general elections. Politics is a numbers game, and even as we watch the enumeration numbers, we have also targeted 20 constituencies in the middle that will be in play whenever the elections are called,” Robinson told The Sunday Gleaner.

The party would win St Mary South Eastern by the smallest majority in the February 2016 general election. Dr Winston Green won by 15 votes over the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Dr Norman Dunn. Green died in August 2017 and a by-election was called for October that year. Dunn remained the JLP’s candidate while the PNP brought in medical doctor Shane Alexis.

When the dust settled after the October 30 by-election, Dunn polled 8,169 to Alexis’ 7,246 and the JLP margin in the House increased by two seats.

A massive spending spree, via a debushing campaign estimated at a minimum of $800 million, caused howls of unfair play by the opposition, to no avail, even after a probe by then Contractor General Dirk Harrison pointed to worrisome findings but did not name anyone culpable.

‘We are prepared’

Robinson said it would be foolhardy for anyone to believe the party is not preparing for election, despite murmurs that its election machinery is on life support.

“We are prepared for the election anytime, and we have been doing our work. Some seats will require Herculean effort, although not impossible to win, and of course there are others that will be very difficult to take from the JLP. But we have candidates in all, except about 10 seats, and those are seats that are very strong for the ruling party…” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

The St Mary South Eastern constituency added 550 new electors since the November 2018 voters list – 202 last May and 348 in November this year.

Robinson would not comment on the strategies being employed by the party at the local level, but said: “... We know the seats we have to win and we encourage candidates to build up their profile in those constituencies.”

The Christmas season is a good time to build on their profile, he added.

Another seat narrowly won by the PNP is St James Southern, where less than 50 per cent of the 26,000 eligible voters exercised their right to vote.

The constituency added 617 new voters to the list over the two six-month periods – 355 in May and 262 in November. Both sides tried to claim the seat in February 2016 as early results saw it changing between the green and orange columns representing both parties.

Eventual winner Derrick Kellier initially beat the JLP’s Homer Davis by nine votes.

But after the official and magisterial recounts Davis had secured 6,216 votes to Kellier’s 6,278, meaning Kellier’s margin increased to 62 votes, giving him a seventh consecutive term serving in representational politics.

The veteran politician was the only hold-out in St James as the JLP took four of the five constituencies in the parish.

Kellier has now retired from representational politics and will be replaced by former Wolmer’s Boys’ School principal Dr Walton Small.

‘Political migraine’

One seat that sources say is giving the party a “political migraine” is St Catherine South East, which was won by 528 votes. Incumbent Colin Fagan has been winning by a reduced majority over the last two elections, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ protégé, Robert ‘Big Rob’ Miller, is set to be the JLP’s candidate.

Sunday Gleaner sources say the PNP will remove Fagan, who was a supporter of Peter Bunting’s failed Rise United leadership campaign and has been reportedly described by constituents as one of the poorest performing members of parliament. He is expected to be replaced by Damion Crawford, who lost to Ann-Marie Vaz in the Portland Eastern by-election last April.

Sources have also suggested that Crawford could be moved elsewhere in St Catherine “as Fagan may not be so easy to dislodge”.

Robinson would offer no comment on the Crawford-Fagan issue.

“There is continuous assessment in the seats and it is on the basis of this that we make decisions. No seat is taken for granted. But resources must be concentrated where they are needed most,” the general secretary said.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com