Long-serving MPs could be blown out of their seats
Daraine Luton, Sunday Gleaner Reporter
AN ANTI-INCUMBENCY breeze is churning across Jamaica and many long-serving and popular Members of Parliament are in danger of being blown away to the political garbage heap.
According to pollster Bill Johnson, "There is a feeling among many persons as it relates to high-profile candidates. They see them on TV, but never often enough in their neighbourhood."
This, he believes, is a good explanation as to why the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) seems to be aiming at some traditional People's National Party (PNP) seats and the PNP seriously gunning at seats, which were immediately represented by the top brass of the JLP.
"It is probably good campaign strategy. There is an anti-incumbency feeling and any incumbent candidate that is perceived to be vulnerable, they are going to go after them," Johnson reasons.
If the JLP is to win the impending general elections, it will have to retain its current 26 seats, won in the 2002 election, and win an additional five seats.
It is not that simple, though. In practice, the JLP will have to retain a majority of the seats won in 2002 and slice into the 34 seats won by the PNP.
Prior to the dissolving of Parliament, numbers favoured the PNP as two persons elected on the JLP ticket - Verna Parchment of (St. Ann North West) and Abe Dabdoub (St. Catherine North East) crossed the floor. They are of academic interest as the JLP has strong candidates in those seats and is seeking to keep them in the party's column.
One thing both parties are conscious of is that it would take a miracle to beat either JLP leader Bruce Golding or PNP president Portia Simpson Miller in their own constituency.
This, however, has not prevented either camp from making calculated attacks at either leader. Air war from the JLP has taken the form of pouring cold water on Simpson Miller's leadership abilities, with at least one advertisement suggesting that Patterson is the man running the Government.
The PNP, on the other hand, has attempted to plant a seed of doubt in voters' mind. They say Golding should not be trusted and that he has never performed well in government.
However, it is not just the leaders who have been forced to face the music. The PNP has made it clear that it intends to make life as difficult as possible for deputy leaders of the JLP to return to Gordon House as elected members.
At a mass meeting in Morant Bay, St. Thomas, in July, PNP General Secretary Donald Buchanan told comrades that "the Jamaica Labour Party has four deputy leaders and come election night, August 27, all four will be beaten candidates".
James Robertson, who is representing the JLP in West St. Thomas, a seat he won from the PNP's Anthony Hylton, is under pressure from Rosemarie Shaw to retain his seat.
Audley Shaw, who has been MP in North East Manchester since 1993, is being pressured by Paul Lyn, and the PNP feels it has him where they want him. Lyn said, "There is no mystery in North East Manchester. Audley Shaw is history."
Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson told the people of North West St. James that they should boot out deputy leader Horace Chang and install Henry McCurdy.
"I have been reading the polls and I am getting some signals and so I know that the people have recognised and confessed that they made a bad mistake and they want forgiveness. I am a man of Christian upbringing and I learned that when people want to repent, you must allow them the opportunity for forgiveness. So, if you want forgiveness, on August 27, 2007, show penance for the mistake that you made in October 2002 and send Comrade McCurdy to Parliament," said the former PNP leader.
Chang defeated the PNP's Gordon Brown in the 2002 polls by a majority of 2,650 votes. The other JLP deputy leader is Derrick Smith, who represents the St. Andrew North West seat. Many would consider it safe, especially bearing in mind that Smith increased his margin from 81 in 1993 to 1,772 in 2002.
However, the PNP, through its candidate Jermaine Martin is beaming with confidence. Last month, Phillip Paulwell said the party was banking on winning nine of the 15 Corporate Area seats But the party is now of the view that it can unseat Smith to make it 10.
Unseating top brass
The sentiment of unseating the JLP top brass has been brought up at every PNP mass meeting attended by Simpson Miller.
As recent as last Thursday, August 16, Michael Peart, chairman of the PNP's Region Four, included long-standing Labourite Pearnel Charles and JLP deputy chairman Ruddy Spencer on the list of JLP candidates the PNP is seeking to beat.
Charles, who was in the political wilderness for nine years, from 1993 to 2002, when he beat George Lyn to win the North Central Clarendon seat, is feeling the heat from Ralph Thomas.
Meanwhile, the PNP has worries of its own. Traditionally strong PNP seats have been targeted by the JLP and, based on what is being picked up on the ground, the party is fighting hard to keep those constituencies in the winning column.
Sources close to the PNP reveal that the party is finding it difficult to swallow its own findings that just about 22 seats are presumably safe in the party's column at this time.
Western and South East St. Mary, Central and South Manchester, Central Westmoreland, South St. James and South East St. Elizabeth have traditionally voted for a PNP Member of Parliament.
Harry Douglas, in South East St. Mary, is under tremendous pressure to retain his seat from the JLP's Tarn Peralto, whom he beat by 385 votes in 2002.
Health Minister, Horace Dalley, in North Clarendon, is facing the boot, likewise Richard Azan in North West Clarendon and Maxine Henry-Wilson in South East St. Andrew.
South East St. Catherine, the Portmore seat from which Dr. Paul Robertson retired, has been targeted by the JLP.