Thu | Jun 8, 2023

PNP’s Jess trades Clarendon Central for St Bess NE

Politician denies searching for more winnable seat

Published:Monday | February 27, 2023 | 1:06 AMOlivia Brown/Gleaner Writer
Zuleika Jess.
Zuleika Jess.

Former People’s National Party (PNP) Clarendon Central standard-bearer Zuleika Jess is rejecting assertions that her exodus from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) stronghold is a result of her inability to secure a win there.

Jess, who is now eyeing the St Elizabeth North Eastern constituency now overseen by former MP Kern Spencer for the PNP, told The Gleaner that some time last year, she informed the party’s hierarchy of her decision to relinquish her chairmanship of Clarendon Central.

“It was an extremely difficult decision, but I knew that it was the right one. I didn’t decide to leave because it was a hard constituency for the PNP. Had this been the reason, then I would have left from 2016 when I had first started. I didn’t leave because I wanted a safe seat. I had been offered other seats, even while offering myself for Clarendon Central, but declined,” said Jess.

Clarendon Central is now represented by 10-term MP Mike Henry.

Henry crushed Jess’ hopes of taking the reins in the seat the octogenarian has held since 1980 by polling 6,849 votes to her 3,723 in the 2020 election.

Citing a keen interest in the constituency’s development, Jess admitted that she has been told she was “too fixated on that constituency” and was advised to venture elsewhere where she would stand a “better statistical probability of winning”.

“Nonetheless, I stayed. I didn’t leave because it was financially burdensome. Yes, it is challenging as I have personally financed the bulk of my political activities, but that was not the reason. If it were, then I wouldn’t still continue to maintain the organisation structure within the constituency, even after indicating my intention to depart,” she said, however.

Likening politics to a battlefield and speaking of her tenure in Clarendon Central, Jess said: “The fact is there are many battles that I have had to fight – some known, others not known. ... That is the nature of the politics. It truly is a battlefield, but after six years, I felt that even soldiers needed time to heal their wounds.”

She added that she was strategic in not publicly announcing her decision to leave Clarendon Central in an attempt to dodge the narrative that PNP members were “jumping ship”.

“The fact is, there were candidates working hard on the ground in preparation for the local government elections, and I felt I owed it to them not to do anything that might make their task harder,” Jess explained, adding that in spite of her decision, she still offered herself to speak at various conferences and assisted other party candidates and supporters.

“I’ve always felt that comradeship is not a conditional arrangement. For me, comradeship is a commitment through thick and thin, for better or for worse. I also thought that I could assist the movement without necessarily being a candidate myself,” Jess told The Gleaner.

According to Jess, she has received several requests to represent various constituencies, and although she felt honoured, she has always declined because she “felt exhausted and battle-worn”.

“I had just emerged from one internal party struggle, and had no appetite to embark on another. I was all too aware of the nature of the beast that is internal politics and had no desire to subject myself to the vitriolic attacks and abuse,” she explained.

The young politician said, however, that members of St Elizabeth North Eastern did not give up and remained adamant that her personality and political tenacity were much-needed boosts for the constituency.

Jess said that she has been spending time in the area, which is now represented by first-term MP Delroy Slowley of the JLP, and has been moved by the love and kindness of the people.

“I am impressed with their drive and understand their desire to see progress,” she posited.

“There is a line in our party anthem that challenges us to awake from our slumber and answer the call. After careful consideration, I have agreed to answer the call,” she added.

Jess is aware, however, that it may not be an easy feat.

“There are some for whom others will slash and burn to clear a path, [and] there are those who, by the sweat of their brow, must chart their own course. I spring from the masses for whom nothing is reserved and who must work hard to make a way. Thankfully, God has always been the biggest way maker,” said Jess.