SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Lawyer Zuleika Jess gained the majority support of delegates to represent the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) in the next parliamentary election after triumphing over Kern Spencer in Sunday’s internal election here.
Jess, who polled 73 per cent of the voter turnout at St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS), said she was “absolutely thrilled”.
“I am overjoyed to have received more than 70 per cent of the vote, it is even a number that exceeds our own canvass… what it says to us is that the people of North East St Elizabeth are serious about getting quality representation and that they are willing to put their bet on people who are willing to advance the cause and to move the constituency forward,” she said.
Director of the election Wensworth Skeffery told journalists that Jess polled 569 to Spencer’s 209 votes.
“We had a voter turnout of 61.2 per cent, representing 780 delegates who voted. Two ballots were rejected,” he said.
There were 1,274 delegates eligible to vote.
Long considered a stronghold of the PNP, St Elizabeth North Eastern was lost to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Delroy Slowley in 2020 — among the shock results of that election which the JLP won by a landslide.
“The race is over. We must now get rid of Slowley and the JLP, not each other,” Skeffery told PNP supporters and delegates.
Spencer, who is also chairman of the PNP’s Region Five, comprising Manchester and St Elizabeth, was still disgruntled that approximately 400 people had not been added to the delegates’ list.
“It is no big surprise… the fact of the matter is that those are delegates that I knew would have supported me [and] I would have needed. Remember, I was out of the system for over 10 years, so coming back there would have been existing groups on the system that would have been loyal to persons who would have been current in the political operation of the constituency,” he said.
“… I think what the party would have wanted was to have a good pulse from as wide a pool of delegates as possible, and when you don’t allow 400 delegates to participate then you really limit the pulse that you want to take of what’s happening,” added Spencer.
There were verbal and physical clashes on Sunday between supporters of Jess and Spencer at the entrance to STETHS and on the Santa Cruz main road.
Jess said she is willing to unify the supporters and delegates by working with Spencer.
“[He] is a Comrade and there is always a place for him within the [PNP] and in particular North East St Elizabeth under my leadership. My doors are open. We are one family and we are going to remain united and move forward,” she said.
Spencer said his role as Region Five chairman will assist in unifying St Elizabeth North Eastern.
“It is what it is, and I appeal to the supporters for calm as we go forward… There is a lot of healing that has to take place, in terms of the constituency,” he said.
Spencer, who had won the seat for the PNP in 2007, was forced to walk away from competitive politics in the build-up to the 2011 General Election following corruption charges — which were eventually dismissed — relating to the Cuban light bulb scandal.
Jess said her focus is now on regaining the constituency in the next parliamentary election.
“I am ready to do the job that I was brought here to do, which is to bring victory to the people of North East St Elizabeth and to return the constituency to the [PNP] and to give Mark Golding his very first electoral victory,” she said.
“Contrary to popular belief, the constituency has not been divided in the way that people would like to portray it to be. The people of North East St Elizabeth are united around a common cause and that is to ensure that the people see progress, that the constituency becomes developed…” she added.
Jess said access to education and water are among her priorities for the constituency.
She expressed gratitude to the delegates for her victory.
“They have carried me on their backs and they have carried me in their hearts — it is quite an emotional victory, because this is a victory that was won only because we had the support of the people, and there is no better victory than one that is powered by the people, so I am feeling extremely happy,” she said.
“… The people in North East St Elizabeth have spoken in a very clear way and they have made their choice known. They have protected me in a way that I could not have even expected,” added Jess.
She said she will be targeting young people in her campaign for the next parliamentary election as well as the Santa Cruz Division in the local government election.
“We are making it very clear that we are going to be appealing to that demographic (young people) that persons have thought that the [PNP] no longer appeals to, and I am taking this opportunity to serve notice that we are coming back for the Santa Cruz Division, and when the next election is called we are going to be taking all four divisions,” said Jess.
Councillor Audie Myers (PNP, Siloah Division) said Jess has created history for the constituency.
“A woman with integrity, honesty, decency, loyalty, and commitment. A humble 33-year-old successful person and the first female going forward for the [PNP] in North East St Elizabeth,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we are one [PNP]… I will always be for unity. I might have my side that I support, but at the end of the day I am a strong [and] committed Comrade and anything for the [PNP] I am with it,” added Myers.