Tuesday 20 October, 2020

Some intrigue behind how JLP won the west

The now toppled Victor Wright and his conqueror, Tova Hamilton.

The now toppled Victor Wright and his conqueror, Tova Hamilton.

The feeling of shock and awe continues to grip the political landscape in western Jamaica, where the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) on Thursday swept all 16 seats that were up for grabs there in the country's 18th General Elections, according to the preliminary results from the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ).

Interestingly, the final count in Eastern Westmoreland has since resulted in a tie between incumbent Luther Buchanan of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), and the JLP’s Daniel Lawrence. Lawrence was eight votes ahead of Buchanan at the end of the preliminary count.

At the end of Thursday night's preliminary counting, the JLP had bagged 49 seats overall, to decimate the PNP, which picked up only 14.

The PNP had secured none of the 16 constituencies up for grabs in the western side of the island, including their tradition bastions of West Westmoreland, Central Westmoreland, East Westmoreland, West Hanover, Northern Trelawny and North East St Elizabeth. The Opposition party had won all those seven seats, with the addition of South St James, in the 2016 General Elections. But at the conclusion of Thursday's national polls, that St James seat also did not survive the JLP wave that engulfed western Jamaica. 

But what, apart from the evidently high Andrew Holness/JLP favourability nationally would have likely contributed to the demise of quite a number of candidates who were largely viewed as sure winners ahead of the recent polls?

A close look at the polling data for the 2016 and 2020 elections, along with some intriguing circumstances that were believed to have played key roles in the results this time around, certainly presents some clarity about how the west was so stunningly swept by the JLP.

The problems for the PNP in the west included the parish of Trelawny, where traditionally the two seats there have been held one a piece by the two major political parties. 

So it was natural to expect a victory for the PNP’s Victor Wright in North Trelawny, but at the end of the day on Thursday, Tova Hamilton, one of 18 female JLP candidates, rose above the seemingly great odds to topple the Opposition's hold on the constituency. 

Preliminary results showed her receiving 8,508 votes to convincingly beat Wright, the incumbent representative, who polled 6,771 votes. An independent candidate, Genieve Dawkins, received 51 votes. 

Both parties received less votes than in 2016, a situation generally consistent with the overall national voter turnout of approximately 37 per cent – the lowest in electoral history since the uncontested 1983 General Elections. The turnout was 48.37 per cent in the 2016 General Elections.

The low voter turnout this time around is suspected to have been largely caused by the spike in COVID-19 cases across the island and widespread fear of the virus. 

Four-and-a-half-years before, Wright eked out 9,611 votes to turn back then JLP challenger, Dennis Meadows, who polled 9,162 votes.

But this time around, Wright’s desire path to another victory was said to have been severely hampered by at least one major changed circumstance on the ground.

Victor Wright after casting his ballot on Election Day.

Wright is said to have gone into the contest with two influential traditional party supporters having switched their allegiance to the JLP candidate.

The two former supporters reportedly carried much influence in the constituency, and ended up openly campaigning with Hamilton against their former party.

Some political watchers with close knowledge of the situation on the ground in fact predicted that with the two defectors working against him, Wright's chances of retaining the seat was seriously diminished, as was seemingly ultimately proven.

Over in South Trelawny, the victor, attorney-at-law Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, was seemingly not affected by the low voter turnout nationally, as she increased her tally over that of 2016, and also increased the margin of her victory over her opponent.

She polled 6,622 votes in the 2016 elections to trounce the PNP's Lloyd Gillings by 2,064 votes. 

In 2020, Dalrymple-Philibert bagged a whopping 3,972 more votes than the 2,871 votes that were secured by Gillings, according to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica’s (ECJ) preliminary results. 

South Trelawny therefore remains a JLP stronghold.

Going into the 2020 elections, the JLP had the upper hand in St James with four of the five seats in the parish. The PNP, however, had bragged about their chances of snatching West Central St James and holding on to South St James to aid in their bid to trounce the JLP's hold on state power. 

Those high goals were dashed, as at the end of the preliminary count, the JLP transformed the parish into a total ‘green land’. 

In South St James, the JLP's Homer Davis bagged 1,007 more votes than his 2016 overall tally of 6,216 votes, to trounce the PNP's Dr Walton Small, who had hoped to maintain the PNP's hold on the seat since 1989. 

Small, an educator by profession, received 5,275 preliminary votes in the September 3 polls, which was 1,003 votes less than Derrick Kellier's victory tally of 6,278 votes in 2016.

Small reportedly battled against a perceived handicap that was not of his own creation.

Dr Walton Small (left) and Homer Davis.

Some analysts have blamed his significant defeat to broad perceptions of relatively poor stewardship of the constituency by his predecessor, Kellier, who retired from representational politics after serving seven terms in the seat.

The analysts argued that the constituency still lacks anywhere near acceptable road and water supply conditions even after Keller's extended run at the helm of the constituency, including as Minister of Agriculture for quite some time.

Over in West Central St James, Marlene Malahoo-Forte, despite receiving 491 votes less on Thursday than she did in 2016, when she chalked up 6,635, sent economist, Dr Andre Haughton, into the losing column.

At the end of the preliminary count, the island's attorney general picked up 6,144 votes, compared to Haughton’s 4,389.

Marlene Malahoo-Forte and Dr Andre Haughton. 

This compared to four years ago when Malahoo-Forte defeated the PNP's Sharon Fflokes-Abrahams by 1,261 votes. The PNP candidate then received 5,374 endorsements.

Heroy Clarke, who tallied 6,456 votes in the preliminary count on Thursday, retained a second hold on Central St James when he sent Andre Hylton of the PNP packing.

The JLP candidate defeated his PNP opponent by 2,849 votes. Independent candidate, Ras-Astor Black, only managed a pick up 22 votes. 

Of note, Clarke, who received 6,887 endorsements in 2016 to become MP, trounced the PNP's Ashley-Ann Foster by 1,919 votes back then.

On a night when the PNP lost many of their strongholds, Tourism Minister, Ed Bartlett, made sure the JLP had no such ill-luck, as he impressively held onto his East Central St James seat. 

The preliminary count saw him receiving 7,338 endorsements, while his opponent, Michael Hemmings of the PNP, bagged on 3,206 votes, which was 2,086 votes less than the former PNP candidate, Noel Donaldson, tallied in 2016. 

Donaldson had received 5,292 votes in losing to Bartlett, who then copped 7,564 to be victorious in those elections.

JLP General Secretary, Dr Horace Chang, ended Thursday night on a high note when he got by the PNP's George Hamilton to regain North West St James. 

Hamilton's preliminary tally of 1,880 votes was way behind that of the veteran JLP politician, who chalked up 5,992 votes for an easy victory.

This was, however, 1,022 votes less than Chang's 2016 winning score of 7,014 votes over Anthony Henry of the PNP, who bagged 3,771 votes at that time.

In Hanover, the two constituencies were equally split among the two major political parties heading into the 2020 General Elections.

West Hanover was held by the PNP's Ian Hayles, and was highly considered as a PNP stronghold, as he had held the seat since his entry there in 2007, continuing the PNP dominance there. 

Hayles had won the seat in the 2016 elections by 1,471 votes. He had obtained 6,829 votes in comparison to his then opponent from the JLP, Brian Wallace, who secured 5,358 votes.

The PNP has won the seat 10 times in comparison to eight for the JLP, since 1944.

Ian Hayles... gone with the wind.

But the JLP's Tamika Davis flipped the script on Hayles this time around, and gave her party a ninth victory in West Hanover after defeating the incumbent by 1,021 votes. 

The EOJ's preliminary count in the seat suggested that Davis bagged 6,008 votes, while Hayles obtained 4,987 votes. 

As for the perception on the ground, Hyles is believed to have lost in his bid for a fourth consecutive term largely as a result of what has been described as ‘incumbency fatigue’. He was said to have, for example, not been seeing eye-to-eye with one of the PNP councillors in the constituency, as well as some traditional supporters.

East Hanover was a battleground seat that the PNP had hoped it would gain through the injection of retired West Indies cricketer, Wavell Hinds. 

The incumbent, Dave Brown of the JLP, had only won the seat by 161 votes in 2016. He received 6,386 votes to defeat the PNP's then candidate, Wynter McIntosh, who secured 6,046 endorsements. 

However, Brown on Thursday defeated Hinds by 1,595 votes, increasing his winning margin despite receiving less votes than he did in 2016. 

The preliminary results showed that the businessman obtained 5,972 votes, in comparison to Hinds' 4,377.

Long established and branded as 'PNP Country', Westmoreland was not expected to slip into the JLP's grasp, despite some of the PNP candidates noted to have been losing voter support over recent elections.  

And despite the JLP hierarchy having their eyes set on Central Westmoreland, political analysts dismissed any suggestion of the seat being successfully flipped. 

But at the end of the preliminary count on Thursday night, the JLP had entirely overturned the PNP's applecart by snatching all three seats in Westmoreland, leaving political commentators stupefied by the unexpected results. 

The JLP's decimation of the PNP in the western parish included the constituency of Western Westmoreland, a seat that was held by PNP Vice-President, Dr Wykeham McNeill.

In the 2016 General Elections, the PNP veteran polled 6,679 votes to surpass the 5,186 for the JLP's candidate, former cricketer, Dixeth Palmer. 

Four-and-a-half-years years later, a new JLP candidate, Morland Wilson, increased his predecessor's tally by 930 votes to break the PNP's hold on Western Westmoreland. 

Wykeham McNeill

The EOJ's preliminary count revealed that Wilson received 6,116 votes to unseat McNeill, who gained 5,069.

Interestingly, there is a theory behind McNeill’s likely defeat, save for the JLP wind of favourability.

The incumbent reportedly worked mainly outside of the Westmoreland Western constituency, and was said to have been cited for not spending enough time in the constituency, which reportedly worked in Wilson’s favour at the polls.

The PNP's Dwayne Vaz, the incumbent for Central Westmoreland, also lost his seat to the JLP in the form of George Wright, who was also his challenger in 2016. 

Back then Vaz won the seat by 1,131 votes. The official count saw him receiving 

9,978 votes to defeat Wright, who polled 8,847 votes.

The script was flipped in the 2020 polls, which concluded on Thursday with Wright toppling Vaz by 1,228 votes. 

Dwayne Vaz

The preliminary results showed Wright bagging 8,428 votes, compared to Vaz's 7,200. Two independent candidates in the race, Torraino Beckford and Don Foote, received 28 and 22 votes, respectively.

But despite the general perception going into the 2020 polls, it appeared that the writing was on the wall for a JLP victory in the heart of ‘PNP Country’.

Notably, in the last Local Government Elections, the JLP won in all four municipal divisions across the constituency, and it was widely viewed locally, that it would be a daunting task for Vaz to beat George Wright in the general elections this time around.

Another political shocker occurred in Eastern Westmoreland, where only eight votes separated the eventual victor, the JLP's Daniel Lawrence, from incumbent, Luther Buchanan of the PNP, on election night, with the drama still not at an end.

The preliminary count gave Lawrence 4,831 votes to unseat Buchanan, who bagged 4,823. Independent candidate, Haile Mika'el, secured 30 votes.

In contrast, Buchanan had beaten his JLP rival, Andrea Walters, by 2,873 votes in the 2016 elections. She received only 3,802 votes. 

Heading into the 2020 polls, the JLP held three of the four constituencies in St Elizabeth. The other seat, North East St Elizabeth, was considered a PNP bastion that was expected to remain among that party’s winning column.

The last time the JLP held the seat was following the 1983 snap elections, which were not contested by the then Michael Manley-led PNP. 

But with the swing among the PNP's fortresses in western Jamaica going decidedly in favour of the JLP, North East St Elizabeth was not spared.

Delroy Slowley... the new 'big man' in Santa Cruz.

The JLP man to achieve the impressive feat of beating the PNP in one of its strongest den was Delroy Slowley, who bagged 7,029 votes to clobber the chances of the PNP's Basil Waite. The latter grabbed just 6,524 votes, according to the EOJ's preliminary results.

Basil Waite... continues to stumble over political hurdles.

In the 2016 polls, however, then MP, Evon Redman, who did not seek re-election this time around, amassed 7,733 votes, which was 1,209 votes more than his PNP successor's preliminary results on Thursday. 

The JLP's candidate at that time, Dr Saphire Longmore, polled 6,209 votes, which was 820 votes less than Slowley's 2020 preliminary votes.

Frank Witter, who only managed to capture the South East St Elizabeth seat by 205 votes over then PNP candidate, Richard Parchment, in the 2016 General Elections, increased his victory margin in the September 3, 2020 polls. 

He received 8,995 votes to dismiss first-time political representative, Dr Dwaine Spencer of the PNP. The latter secured 6,349 votes, giving Witter a victory margin of 2,646.

Of note, Witter had gained 228 more votes in 2016, when compared to his 2020 tally, while the then PNP candidate had polled 2,669 more votes in 2016, when matched against Spencer's 2020 tally. 

In South West St Elizabeth, Floyd Green retained his seat by decimating the PNP's Ewan Stephenson by 2,106 votes. 

Green obtained 9,212 votes in comparison to his opponent's 7,106. 

But in 2016, the JLP candidate had trounced his then PNP opponent, Hugh Buchanan, by 2,057 votes. Officially, Green bagged 10,152 to Buchanan's 8,095 endorsements at that time. 

As expected, JC Hutchinson ran home victorious in North West St Elizabeth, a seat he has held since 1997.

He bagged 4,834 votes to dismiss the attempts of the PNP's Ryan Keating, who polled 2,163 votes. 

Both candidates fell short when compared to their party's 2016 votes. Hutchinson had then tallied 5,896 votes, compared with then PNP candidate, former cricketer Daren Powell's 4,951.

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