Politics

This is it!

Crawford, Vaz confident as they await verdict of Portland Eastern voters

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 04, 2019

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WEEKS of campaigning, millions of dollars spent, scores of public meetings and charges and counter-charges have all ended.

Now it is no longer up to the scores of campaigners, some of whom used Google Maps to find the constituency, instead it is up to the residents of Portland Eastern to determine who will be their next representative in Parliament.

The People's National Party's (PNP's) Damion Crawford and the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) Ann-Marie Vaz are vying to fill the vacancy created by the February 2 murder of the sitting Member of Parliament Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, and following weeks of trying to convince people to vote for them, both claim they are confident of victory.

Yesterday, Crawford's campaign manager Maxine Henry-Wilson told the Jamaica Observer that despite the polls projecting a defeat for the PNP's candidate, the party is confident that he will emerge victorious.

“This is an interesting by-election because it is almost a national election from the perspective of the importance and the legacy that will come from it. I really hope the people of east Portland will get the best representation coming out of this election because they deserve it,” Henry-Wilson said.

“I think we have been able to put together a very vibrant campaign machine which I expect will translate into a victory. In four weeks we have put together a machine that would normally take about four years,” said the former PNP general secretary and veteran campaign organiser.

Henry-Wilson argued that Crawford has excited people and has shown the residents of east Portland actions and possible journeys that some people might not have considered despite the poll findings.

“What I see on the ground is that people are energised, and Comrades who have not voted for years have indicated that they will be coming out to vote. I am not going to kill the messenger, but we are going to do everything to prove the polls wrong, and if Trump and Brexit are any examples of flawed polls we will be trying to join that rank,” added Henry-Wilson.

But Daryl Vaz, the Member of Parliament for the neighbouring Portland Western constituency, who has been a key member of his wife's campaign team, is adamant that the polls are correct and if anything the margin of victory could be even wider than projected by the pollsters.

According to Vaz, the JLP will win in four of the five divisions in the constituency, with the PNP coming out on top in the Port Antonio division but with a margin of victory much lower than previous years.

“There is going to be a very big swing towards the Labour Party tomorrow (today) and the only thing left is to get the ballots in the box. I am projecting that Ann-Marie will poll 12,000 votes and that will make her an easy, easy victor,” he said.

He declared that his confidence is based on the work the JLP has done and the missteps of the PNP.

According to Vaz, while the JLP campaigned on local issues, the PNP campaigned on national issues with personal attacks which turned off many of the voters in the quiet rural constituency.

“We are happy with the work that we have done, with possibly the best candidate, with the best message that the JLP has run in recent history, along with the most popular prime minister in recent history and the most united that the Jamaica Labour Party has been in recent times,” said Vaz.

“Ann-Marie has proven to be an exceptional candidate and has connected with the people, and I mean all the people. She will get a lot of PNP votes and a lot of people who have not been involved in the political process in east Portland for many, many years,” added Vaz.

Recent opinion polls have all indicated that it is advantage Vaz going into today's election with the latest Jamaica Observer/ Nationwide 94FM/Bill Johnson poll , conducted last weekend, showing the JLP standard bearer having a 10 percentage point lead over the Comrade.

In addition, most political observers say with just more than 36,300 people registered to vote today, the turnout will top the 44 per cent who cast their ballots when electors went to the polls in the 2016 General Election.

Veteran pollster Bill Johnson, who has polled the constituency twice, said he expects the voter turnout to be closer to 55 per cent and that could spell bad news for Crawford.

“If just those people who voted in the last general election turn out to vote, then our polling indicates that there would be about a five-point spread in favour of Vaz, 47 to 42,” said Johnson.

“I am estimating that the turnout will be closer to 50 or 55 per cent and, all things being equal, for every 50 additional votes, the JLP gets 32 to the PNP's 18, so basically it is a two-to-one advantage that the JLP has for those people who didn't vote three years ago.

“So one way of looking at this is that the higher the voter turnout, the better it is going to be for the JLP. People who voted for the JLP three years ago, 93 per cent of them say they will be voting for the JLP again, while only 74 per cent of those who voted for the PNP say they will be voting for the PNP,” added Johnson.

In that 2016 General Election Bloomfield, who ran on a PNP ticket, captured 8,606 votes to beat the JLP's Derron Wood who pulled in 6,330 votes.

Since then the JLP's stock has risen in the constituency, particularly in the Fellowship Division, where it turned a defeat by 650 votes in the General Election into a 365-vote victory months later in the local government elections.

But Portland Eastern has long been safe PNP territory with the party winning 11 of the 16 contested parliamentary elections since 1944.

Independent candidates have won the seat twice (1944 & 1949) while the JLP has enjoyed victory in the constituency on three occasions. The party also lost the seat in the two most recent elections when it was given the nod to form the Government (2007 and 2016).

The polls will open at 7:00 am and close at 5:00 pm. The preliminary count of ballots is expected to be completed shortly after 8:00 pm.


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