October 9, 2017, was ‘nomination day’ for three by-elections in Jamaica, which will each be contested on October 30. As is often the way with Jamaican politics, issues are a mere small part of the contest, and much more is about political positioning, name calling, and in-fighting. So, let’s have a look at that, with a little bit of whimsy.
First, political positioning and in-fighting. I’ll be brief. The major seat at issue is St. Mary SE, whose sitting MP Dr Winston Green, died suddenly. The two candidates for the two major parties are both doctors—Norman Dunn (JLP) and Shane Alexis (PNP). Dunn has the #namefortheframe, and if the result isn’t already a *done* deal then it soon will be done, the JLP hope. Alexis is trying to find a name, and his party has dubbed him ‘Sugar’. Well, the JLP wags jumped on that and happily talk about how he will get a *caning* and that his defeat will be *sweet*. Well, we know the medical profession think too much sugar is bad for your health, so whoever thought of that nickname had better go back to writing premature death notices. The seat was won by 5 votes in 2016 and the result was working through court petitions. Will it be close? Well, that old adage of ‘vote early and vote often’ seems to already have its head in the air, judging by a piece in today’s Observer about ‘pre-inked fingers rife’.
In the other two seats, St. Andrew SW, formerly held by former-PNP president and former-PM, Portia Simpson-Miller, will be contested by Angela Brown-Burke (PNP) and Victor Hyde (JLP). This is a PNP stronghold at the moment, or what Jamaicans would call a ‘garrison’, not least because many of the JLP supporters, who used to have a good showing, have ‘run out of town’. JLP won the seat four times, and PNP 9 times, since 1959. But, it’s been PNP/Portia territory since 1976 (though PNP boycotted elections in 1983), with Simpson-Miller getting well over 90% of votes every election since 1989. Hyde will hope he is not in for a *hiding* in such an unfriendly place. Hyde ran before and lost and is out of hiding again to hopefully inflict a major defeat on Brown-Burke. The JLP have started making noise that they see an upset in the making. Funnily, the seat already had an upset with the selection of Brown-Burke, who got in through some backdoor chicanery by the PNP to deny Audrey Smith Facey the selection for which she thought she had been groomed. Brown-Burke won the selection by 595-502 votes in late July. The process had been criticized by Peter Bunting, MP, a former PNP general secretary, who thought the process was not impartial. Bunting, funnily, has his finger in the pie in the other St. Andrew by-election.
The third by-election will be in St. Andrew Southern, formerly held by Omar Davies, who decided he had ‘run with it’ enough in representational politics. There, the PNP will be represented by Mark Golding, currently a senator, and former justice minister. His JLP opponent will be Dane Dennis. Both played the ‘political money’ game, with Golding paying his $3000 nomination fee with $1000 bills, which have PNP icon Michael Manley on one side, while Dennis paid with $100 bills, which carry the image of JLP stalwart Donald Sangster. They say ‘money can’t by you love’, but it does make the world go around. Golding, recently given the shadow cabinet portfolio on finance, has gotten his teeth into that and the finance minister, Audley Shaw, quickly. He’s no newcomer to that topic, and with his close ally, Bunting, has been one of the leading lights in previous successful financial ventures. While Omar, a Clarendon man, seemed to revel in getting into the mud of representative politics, rather than the erudite style of education, I’m not yet sure if Golding can pull that ‘getting down and dirty’ act off. Being educated at Oxford University has a funny way of rubbing off rough edges, if there were any 🙂 But, then again, having dealt with *dons* at… he should have an idea of how to deal with *dons* at home. Mark said he’s ‘no soft, uptown boy’, and seemed to know how to ring the chimes to get rid of his PNP opposition Colin Campbell.
The name-calling hasn’t gotten off the ground much yet, except in St. Mary, and interestingly much of the attempt to generate that has come from someone who has little to do with that by-election, Damion Crawford (PNP), who was de-selected from his seat in the last general election, which then went to the JLP. He’s since focused on his metier as a maths lecturer and ventured into the *shell* game through a liquid eggs business.
The other aspect is what government has been doing to influence the by-election. I’m sorry! It’s a piece of utter naivety for the PM to argue that the rolling out of a major road improvement project for St. Mary isn’t politically inspired. It looks like a duck. It walks like a duck. It’s a duck. It’s not the worst piece of pork-barreling we will see (excuse the mixed metaphor), but call it what it is. Moreover, the more the PM tries to say ‘it’s not a duck’, the more the web-footed waddler looks like Walt Disney’s ‘Donald’.
Well, we’ll let the Office of the Contractor General do its job monitoring the project.
Sure, the Junction road needs a major improvement, but some of the roads in Kingston/St. Andrew are also amongst the most shocking. Sadly, nothing can offer the ‘swing’ potential of the Junction road works. It’ll be interesting to see if some of the PM’s words leading up to the last election about crime and security, such as who should be elected if citizens wanted to be able to “sleep with [their] doors open” come back to haunt him. Crime is an issue that shoudn’t be politicized, but having ‘gone there’ in an effort to win a a general election, it would seem to be ‘fair game’ for a by-election. Let’s see how clean the fighting becomes in coming days.