SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Following recent complaints of irregularities and inconsistencies in a poll commissioned for St Elizabeth North Eastern, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has decided to re-poll the constituency where two aspirants are ramping up their campaigns.
Chairman of the PNP’s Region Five Kern Spencer and lawyer Zuleika Jess are vying to represent the party in the constituency for the next parliamentary election.
On Thursday, PNP General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell, in responding to a Jamaica Observer query regarding the selection process for the party’s representative in the seat, shifted from an earlier decision to have a delegates’ vote following the initial poll.
“The constituency of North East St Elizabeth will be re-polled, as others [constituencies] to ask a question that wasn’t asked before. In all our polls we polled all the divisions within the constituency, so all the divisions will be polled,” he said.
Party sources told the Sunday Observer that the initial poll commissioned for St Elizabeth North Eastern showed Spencer with 32 per cent, Jess with 24 per cent, and Raymond Pryce with 22 per cent. Pryce hasn’t publicly declared his interest in the seat.
Jess, during a Facebook Live last month, urged her supporters not to be misled by “fake polls”.
When asked about the applicants for the seat, Dr Campbell made no reference to Pryce.
“Two applicants are there in the constituency of North East St Elizabeth, Kern Spencer and Zuleika Jess, those are the persons who will be in the polls,” he said.
The inclusion of Pryce in the first poll had raised concerns among some elements within the party.
Two sitting PNP councillors, Everton Fisher and Audie Myers, have thrown their weight behind Jess.
Fisher, councillor for the Balaclava Division of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation, and a former mayor of Black River, believes that the inclusion of Pryce caused “confusion” in the poll.
“The last time I think Mr Pryce split some of the votes and this time the people will be decisive in their decision. I think once the people are clear on who the persons they are voting for, which was not the case, because Mr Pryce did not apply and for some unknown reason the party had put him in the poll, it had brought some confusion to persons, because being a former MP he would have had some level of support on the ground,” said Fisher.
He added that Jess’s team was preparing for the delegates’ votes, but is still confident about the outcome of the re-poll.
“I welcome any poll…whatever the outcome of the poll, we are ready. I believe good sense will prevail and the people will understand the quality of a candidate [Jess] that we have, so I am confident that the people will decide,” he said.
“The truth is that we were gearing up for the delegates to decide until we learnt of this new poll, but we are not perturbed. We are confident that she will beat him [Spencer] and I think the confidence is very high,” added Fisher.
Myers, who represents the Siloah Division, opted not to comment.
The other sitting councillor (Brae’s River Division) aligned to the PNP in the constituency, Donovan Pagon, who is also the party’s chairman for St Elizabeth North Eastern, had previously said he could not comment on the matter “[because] I am on the selection panel for the region and it wouldn’t be fair to comment”.
Efforts by the Sunday Observer to get a comment from Jess were unsuccessful.
Jess lost to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) giant Mike Henry in the 2020 parliamentary election in Clarendon Central.
Spencer, who won St Elizabeth North Eastern seat for the PNP in 2007, suggested that he wasn’t perturbed by the move to have a re-poll.
He was forced to walk away from competitive politics in the build-up to the 2011 elections following corruption charges — which were eventually dismissed — relating to the so-called Cuban light bulb scandal.
“The first poll that was done where I came out ahead of everybody would have been indicative of what is happening on the ground in terms of the support for me. There is no doubt in my mind that the people of North East St Elizabeth, the masses out there from the length and breadth of the constituency is fully behind me and it played out in the recently done poll, it wasn’t surprising for me that I came out comfortably ahead, because this follows on a poll that was done last year, where it was showing that the [PNP] has its strongest support in St Elizabeth,” said Spencer.
“It is in line with what I am feeling on the ground when I go in the town of Santa Cruz [there is] overwhelming support [also] in Balaclava, Siloah, Brae’s River,” he added.
Asked about concerns of irregularities, with Siloah reportedly not being included in the previous poll, Spencer explained his view of the poll.
“… There are persons who have told me from going around that they were polled. Remember when pollsters, for example, goes into the town of Santa Cruz, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are polling people who live in Santa Cruz. On a Friday or a Saturday, you will have persons from Siloah, Balaclava, Brae’s River coming in the town to do business, so I can’t speak to what the [pollsters] did, but I know that there have been persons from Siloah who told me that they were polled,” he said.
Spencer credited the organisational work of Region Five for rebuilding the PNP’s political machinery in Manchester and St Elizabeth.
“Nobody can deny that over the last two years the region has done a lot of work and in particular St Elizabeth…” he said.
The PNP retained only one of the eight constituencies in Region Five, Manchester North Western, in the September 3, 2020 General Election.
“We have persons who have signalled that they want to represent the party in all eight seats and it is a testimony of the work that we are doing,” he said.
He said that Region Five had become “attractive”.
“… It is not by chance now that you are seeing people from outside the region, outside of constituencies, outside of the parish [in] like North East St Elizabeth. It is not surprising that persons now want to leave all the way from another region, another constituency, another parish to come now. It is the attractiveness of North East St Elizabeth and the winning position that we have put it in over the last two years,” said Spencer.