Current Affairs

Current Affairs



Portland Eastern PNP set to hit the tape

By Anthony Myers, Contributor

THIRTY-TWO CONSTITUENCIES were fixed in the new Constitution granted to Jamaica in 1944. Portland was among the 10 parishes that were divided into two constituencies and among six parishes with similarly-named boundaries -- eastern and western.

The constituency of Portland Eastern is bounded by the following:

From a point where the Guava River crosses the St. Thomas/Portland parish boundary at Macuna Hill, easterly along the St. Thomas/Portland parish boundary to the seacoast, along the seacoast to the mouth of the Rio Grande at St. Margaret's Bay and along the Rio Grande to where it meets the Guava River. It then goes along the Guava River back to the starting point at the Portland/St. Thomas boundary.

Portland Eastern featured in all of the 12 contested parliamentary general elections, 1944-1997. The PNP won seven times to the JLP's three, and an Independent candidate, two times.

Portland Eastern is the only constituency in Jamaica to have had an Independent candidate --Harold E. Allan -- winning two consecutive terms -- in 1944 and 1949. It is interesting to note that the JLP and the PNP did not contest the Portland Easter seat in 1944 and it was therefore left to two Independent candidates -- T. Adrian Gray and Harold E. Allan -- to take up the challenge. Harold Allan by polling 7,542 votes had a convincing victory over T. Adrian Gray who polled 4,067. In the 1949 general election, Sir Harold Allan again successfully contested the seat as an Independent, increasing his 1944 majority of 3,475 by 931; polling 8,714 votes to L.E. Dillon's (PNP) 4,308 -- a majority of 4,406.

In spite of running on an Independent ticket, Sir Harold Allan had the distinction of being Jamaica's first Minister of Finance, 1944-1953 during the JLP administration 1944-1955, a unique and remarkable achievement.

It is instructive to look at the voting pattern from 1944 to 1997. The PNP's victories were in 1959, 1967, 1972, 1976, 1989, 1993 and 1997. The JLP won in 1955, 1962 and 1980. In 1955, Kenneth A. Jones (JLP), by polling 8,577 votes defeated by 2,199, T. Adrian Gray (PNP), who polled 6,378. In the 1959 general election, Kenneth Jones lost the Portland Eastern seat to the PNP's Kenneth G. Wright -- PNP 7,459, JLP 6,899.

In 1962 Kenneth Jones turned the tables by dethroning Kenneth Wright, as he polled 8,105 votes to the incumbent's 6,375, a majority of 1,730. The JLP lost the constituency in the next three general elections -- 1967, 1972 and 1976 -- regaining control in 1980 when Anthony Abrahams polled 10,196 votes to the PNP's Keith Rhodd's 7,827 and Mable Phillips's (IND.) 93.

The 1983 general election was not contested by the PNP, consequently Gerald A. Tucker (JLP), was elected unopposed by acclamation. The PNP had a convincing victory in 1989, as Headley S. Lawrence polled 8,799 to the JLP's Dennis M. Wright's 6,426, a majority of 2,373. It was much closer in 1993 as the incumbent Headley S. Lawrence polled 5,300 votes to Percival Latouche's (JLP), 3,778 and Lawrence L. Robertson's (IND.), 1,387, an absolute majority of only 135. The fact that L.L. Robertson, a former PNP activist, ran as an Independent, contributed significantly to the reduced margin of victory of H.S. Lawrence.

This was consolidated in the 1997 results for Portland Eastern as Dr. Donald Rhodd, son of Keith Rhodd who won for the PNP in 1976, by polling 7,737 votes to the JLP's Samuel Roberts's 4,438, the NDM's Mernell Green Lindner's 213 and Percival Latouche's (IND.) 173, had a convincing absolute majority of 2,913.

Portland Eastern can be classified as a "weather vane" constituency. This theory is supported by the fact that the JLP lost the 1959 general election and the PNP won Portland Eastern. In 1962, the PNP lost Portland Eastern and the general election.

The 1967 general election result was the closest in terms of votes polled when compared to the period 1955 to 1962 and 1972 to 1997 -- (PNP 217,207, JLP 224,180; majority for the JLP, 6,973.) Although the PNP won the Portland Eastern constituency, the margin was a mere 68. In 1972 the PNP won the seat and the general election, only to lose both the seat and the general election to the JLP in 1980. The trend continued in 1989, 1993 and 1997 with the PNP winning all three general elections by wide margins in terms of seats and popular votes and indeed a hat trick of victories in Portland Eastern.

The PNP's support in Portland Eastern is now at its weakest since the 1980 JLP/PNP contest. The projected lead for the PNP is 1,184 compared with the 1997 victory margin over the JLP of 3,066. With the current voters' list having 23,234 electors, a 6.5% increase over the 1997 list (21,811), the PNP's support would have to nose-dive significantly over the next three to four months for the JLP to be victorious. However, politics being the art of the possible, one cannot rule out a JLP victory.

A loss for the PNP would most certainly take the party off course in its quest for an unprecedented fourth term. In a very keen contest, the PNP will hit the tape just ahead of the JLP.

Anthony Myers is a statistician and political analyst who has done work for the Electoral Office of Jamaica and for the People's National Party.