Wednesday 22 January, 2020

Day of destiny for East Portland

Contestants Ann-Marie Vaz and Damion Crawford

Contestants Ann-Marie Vaz and Damion Crawford

What is being described as one of the most consequential by-elections in the country’s recent political history is to be contested on Thursday for the East Portland seat in the Lower House of Parliament.

The polls are set to open at 7:00 a.m., and close at 5:00 p.m.

When the final ballot is counted sometime Thursday evening, the country should know whether Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) have extended their narrow majority in the House from three to five.

Alternatively, the country will know whether Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, and his People’s National Party (PNP) would have stemmed the tide of recent by-election defeats, thus preventing the now popular prime minister from expanding the electoral map in his party’s favour.

The highly anticipated election is being held to fill the East Portland seat that was left vacant by the February 2 murder of the sitting Member of Parliament (MP), the PNP’s Dr Lynvale Bloomfield. The election will see the JLP’s Ann-Marie Vaz going up against the PNP’s Damion Crawford. Vaz is the wife of the popular West Portland MP, Daryl Vaz, while Crawford, a PNP vice president and businessman, previously represented the PNP in the East Rural St Andrew seat in Parliament.

The Vazes intend to turn the entire parish of Portland ‘green’ (the colour of the governing party), while the firebrand and often controversial Crawford is aiming to keep it the eastern portion ‘orange’ for the PNP.

Both sides are expressing confidence that they will emerge the victor at the end of Thursday’s proceedings. The JLP is strongly favoured by public opinion polls, with three of them finding that Vaz will win, while one that was commissioned by the PNP is reported to be pointing in the opposite direction.

However, history favours the PNP in the seat, which it has held for the last 30 years.

According to the most recent RJRGLEANER-Don Anderson poll, Vaz holds a 6.7 percentage point lead over Crawford.

The Observer/Bill Johnson poll has Vaz leading Crawford by 10 percentage points, while the Derrick Ramsamooj poll commissioned by the JLP shows Vaz leading Crawford in favourability by more than 20 percentage points.

The Vazes being admired by the Holnesses.

The polls have found that women and young people support Vaz in greater numbers than Crawford, as do first-time voters.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted on behalf of the PNP by Caribbean Development Research Services Inc (CDRS) in early March, showed that 53 per cent of respondents gave the PNP the thumbs up, with the JLP trailing more than 25 points behind.

CDRS was described by the PNP as the leading regional polling organisation which correctly predicted election results in Barbados, Antigua and Grenada.

Despite the JLP’s dominance among the pollsters, the PNP could yet pull off a victory despite the obvious odds against it, based on its history in the constituency. East Portland was long considered one of the safest PNP seats in the entire country. This is obvious by its 30 unbroken years of representation – a virtual Fort Knox which, however, could be breached on Thursday.

Of 16 contested general elections in the seat between 1944 and 2016, the PNP have won 11, the JLP three, while independent candidate Harold Allan won twice in 1944 and 1949.

The PNP with then Opposition Leader, Michael Manley, boycotted the 1983 elections, ostensibly because of a ‘dirty’ voters’ list. Therefore, the last time the JLP won a contested general election in the constituency was during its landslide victory in October, 1980, nearly 40 years ago.

At the end of the February, 2016 General Elections, the JLP had a one-seat majority in what was the closet election in the country’s history. The party has since won the 2017 by-election in South East St Mary that was held by the PNP’s Dr Winston Green at the time of his death through illness.

Thursday’s keenly watched by-election has many a sub-plots: It has an element of youth (Prime Minister Andrew Holness) versus the old guard (Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips). It involves a popular government seeking to widen its narrow majority in the House of Representatives, and an Opposition intending to keep the seat count at the current 33-30, while proving that it has not lost touch with the people.

Damion Crawford in a good mood on the campaign trail.

One sub-plot that has been injected into the election is the ‘beauty and the brain’ syndrome, with Vaz the supposed ‘beauty’ and Crawford, the university lecturer, the supposed ‘brain’. It also involves tradition versus change. According to reports on the ground, younger voters, regardless of political affiliation, are likely to vote for whichever party they believe will make their life better, and not based on party loyalty.

The campaigning which ended Tuesday, has been often contentious, with accusations of all types flying back and forth between the two parties. It has been relatively violence-free, despite a couple of shooting incidents, including one death, which threatened to mar the proceedings, and which heightened tensions between the two political parties.

In the meantime, the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) has reported that all is in place for the by-election.

Voting will take place in 127 polling stations across 49 voting locations.

Come 5:00 p.m., persons in lines will be allowed to vote. The preliminary counting of ballots will then follow.

There are 36,315 registered voters in Eastern Portland, according to the EOJ, which has reminded electors that only those registered to vote in the constituency will be allowed to do so on Thursday.

Electors are also being reminded to take their voters’ identification cards to the polling station, and that the use or display of cell phones and cameras is not allowed inside the polling stations.

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