Tuesday 20 October, 2020

'Good politics on both sides' - analysts on SE Clarendon by-election

The JLP's Pearnel Charles Jr and the PNP's Patricia Duncan Sutherland.

The JLP's Pearnel Charles Jr and the PNP's Patricia Duncan Sutherland.

Good political strategy on both sides. That’s the view expressed by noted political commentator, Michael Burke, about the move by the prime minister to call a by-election for South East Clarendon and the subsequent decision by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) not to contest the March 2 polls for the seat which became vacant on Tuesday.

Prime Minister and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader, Andrew Holness announced the date for the by-election on Wednesday, a day after Speaker of the House of Representatives, Pearnel Charles, announced the resignation of four-term Member of Parliament, Rudyard ‘Ruddy’ Spencer, from the JLP seat.

Senator Pearnel Charles Jr will contest the by-election on the JLP ticket.

However since the announcements, the PNP has indicated that it will not contest a by-election with a general election believed to be mere months away. The PNP also argued that Spencer’s resignation was not triggered by an emergency and has described the exercise as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Since then, political analysts and commentators have been offering their views, and Burke has offered his take on the matter.

Burke... brands it "good politics" all around.

“There is a history behind that kind of thing, and by-elections have been contested and not contested according to the political climate," he said.

“I think it is good politics on the part of the JLP for what they did (trigger a by-election) and good politics on the part of the PNP for what they did too (not contesting),” Burke told Loop News on Thursday.

Burke noted that the JLP, in parachuting Charles Jr into South East Clarendon, “avoided a quarrel and they found a way to deal with that by getting Mr Spencer to resign”.

The quarrel referred to by Burke relates to the tensions that were brewing between Charles Jr and his fellow Senator, Robert Morgan, over who should replace Charles Jr’s father, Pearnel Charles Snr, in North Central Clarendon.

Tensions over that seat, which has been held by the senior Charles since 2002, first arose in 2018 when both Morgan and Charles Jr expressed an interest in representing the constituency. At 84 years-old, Charles Sr is bowing out of representational politics and will not be contesting the next general election. His son had expressed a desire to succeed him in the seat. However, the party gave the nod to Morgan, who’s also parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister and who is also from North Central Clarendon.  Morgan is also very close to Holness.

O'Brien-Chang... There’s no reason for it.

According to Burke, “The JLP was trying to kill two birds with one stone by trying to build up divisions in the PNP but the PNP say eh eh, eh, eh. I not falling for that”.

“So I think it is good politics on both sides as, quite frankly, if it suited the PNP to contest the by-election they would, but it doesn’t suit them and they’re not doing it,” Burke stated.

And, he said that while the JLP is still ahead in public opinion polls, “there’s a turnaround in the tide, the PNP is catching up with the JLP nationally”.

He also argued that it would be pointless for the PNP - which he said traditionally has less money than the JLP to spend on elections - to spend money on a by-election now, when a general elections is expected sometime this year.

Additionally, he said it could also be seen as a waste of taxpayers’ money as, if independents decide to make a contest of the by-election, then funds would have to be expended. Indications are that the by-election could cost up to $30 million.

When contacted for comment, political commentator Kevin O’Brien Chang said “I think that it’s just naked politics. There’s no reason for it (the by-election) to happen”.

“I think it’s really politics because the man (Spencer) is not sick, he’s not dead so why couldn’t they have waited? There’s no reason why they could not have waited a little longer and so save the taxpayers’ money so I think it’s naked politics,” O’Brien Chang emphasised.

He said he understands the decision of the PNP not to contest the by-election in light of the fact that the Opposition party is going up against a powerful government with a popular prime minister. He also noted that the JLP won the seat comfortably in the 2016 election with a little over 950 votes, with Spencer defeating the PNP's Patricia Duncan Sutherland, who is still the party's standard bearer in the constituency.

He has a suggestion for the PNP.

“They should bring a motion to parliament setting a fixed time after an MP retires or dies; let’s say 45 days, a reasonable number. Say an election must be held within 45 days so that, for the future, it’s not up to the prime minister to just do whatever he wants. Because, if you have a law that allows the prime minister to do whatever he wants and he does what suits him, then you have no argument”.

At the same time, O’Brien Chang suggested that the prime minister should be mindful that he is not sending mixed signals about when the general election will be called.

“Everything seems set up for a post-budget election so why drop a by-election now”? he asked.

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