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Constituency Profile: North West St Ann

Published:Friday | December 9, 2011 | 12:00 AM
JLP seeks three straight wins

Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer

THE JAMAICA Labour Party (JLP) will be seeking to make it four wins to the People's National Party's (PNP) eight in the North West St Ann constituency when voters cast their ballots on December 29.

The first five elections after the seat was created in 1959 went to the PNP. It took Princess Lawes' victory over Arnold Bertram in 1980 for the JLP to break the PNP's spell.

The JLP won the last two elections and will be pushing for a third-straight victory in a new-look seat at the next election.

The North West St Ann constituency is one of those realigned since the 2007 general election. It lost two polling divisions from the Brown's Town electoral divisions (Friendship and Farm), which are both areas dominated by the PNP.

The Friendship and Farm polling divisions are now in South West St Ann and this could make North West safe for the JLP.

"It will impact the outcome of the elections, but not to a great extent," said PNP councillor for the Brown's Town division and former mayor, Ivan Anderson.

But a resident of the constituency, Mark Reid, does not share that view. He believes the change will ensure that the JLP wins the seat for the third-straight term.

"The JLP will get it back, because, even now, people are not sure who will represent the PNP. So anybody who comes at this stage (for the PNP) will be virtually unknown," Reid argued weeks ago.

The PNP has since selected Dr Dayton Campbell as its standard-bearer in the constituency.

Reid sees the biggest problem facing the constituency as unemployment. The economy of North West St Ann is based mostly on mining, agriculture and tourism, with the constituency boasting a bauxite plant and five major hotels.

There are three high schools, namely Brown's Town, York Castle and St Hilda's, and a community college, Brown's Town. Major towns include Brown's Town, Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay.

Voter turnout for the last five elections, dating back to 1989, averages 67.2 per cent. The last three elections in 1997, 2002 and 2007, have seen a steady decrease in this figure, the numbers being 68.3, 64.2 and 62.0 respectively.

It was L.A. Wedderburn who gave the PNP victory in the first election in 1959. Wedderburn won by a margin of 4,937 votes over the JLP's Alexander Smith.

Elon B. Wilson extended the PNP's dominance with victory in the 1962, 1967 and 1972 elections, defeating the JLP's William R. Case, Frank B. Ricketts, and Hector Wynter, respectively.

With Wilson stepping aside for the 1976 polls, Arnold Bertram represented the PNP and again brought victory to the party, defeating the JLP's Lawes.

Lawes turned the tables in 1980 with what still remains the highest number of votes obtained by a North West St Ann contestant, 8,443, to Bertram's 5,121. Lawes was to retain the seat by proclamation in 1983, after the PNP refused to contest the snap elections.

But the seat returned to the PNP in 1989 when Burchell Whiteman polled 7,684 votes to defeat Ernest Smith of the JLP 6,639.

The PNP victory was repeated in 1993, but with a vastly reduced majority.

Whiteman did not seek re-election in 1997 and Bertram returned after 17 years to contest the seat for the PNP. He regained lost ground for the party, defeating Smith, who was losing three straight. Bertram polled 8,232 to Smith's 6,632.

But as was the case in 1980 when Bertram lost to a woman, so it was in 2002. This time it was a relative newcomer to representational politics, Verna Parchment of the JLP, who polled 7,564 votes to defeat Bertram, 7,362. Parchment later crossed the floor to join the then ruling PNP, after falling out of favour with the JLP.

In 2007, two newcomers, Othneil Lawrence of the JLP and Dr Michael Whittingham of the PNP, contested the seat. Lawrence won with 8,210 votes to Whittingham's 7,346.

Former Commissioner of Police Lucius Thomas was declared PNP representative for the seat after the 2007 polls, but withdrew because of poor health. Campbell was selected to replace Thomas and will run against the JLP's Lawrence in the next election.

rural@gleanerjm.com