IT was obvious from the comments among Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters in St Ann North Eastern last Sunday night that they adore Senator Matthew Samuda, probably as much as they came to love their now-deceased Member of Parliament Shahine Robinson.
“Matthew wi want,” came the demand from Labourites packed inside Marcus Garvey High School auditorium in St Ann’s Bay each time emcee Zavia Mayne started to introduce a new speaker at the constituency conference.
“You soon hear from him,” Mayne, the Member of Parliament for St Ann South Western, replied with a smile.
Samuda, who had done some prospecting in the constituency for a few months, but really hit the ground heavily in July, had not yet got to the venue. However, had he been there he would have been deeply touched as the accolades and strong expressions of support flowed like an unending stream in ‘Shahine Land’ where the mere mention of her name triggers wild celebration or expressions of respect among Labourites.
The constituency’s four councillors — Genevor Gordon Bailey (Lime Hall Division), Dalas Dickens (St Ann’s Bay Division), Michael Belnavis (Ocho Rios Division), and Ian Isaacs (Exchange Division) — were front and centre among the throng of speakers declaring what emerged as a clear consensus that Samuda is the “best person” to preserve Robinson’s legacy.
Robinson came to national prominence when she won the 2001 by-election to end the stranglehold the then governing People’s National Party (PNP) had on the constituency. She never lost an election since as she developed an extremely strong bond with constituents, the majority of whom she knew on a first-name basis.
Over the years she served in various positions in the Government, among them state minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, state minister in the Ministry of Transport and Works, and minister of labour and social security.
In 2018 news emerged that she was ailing from cancer, for which she was receiving treatment. However two years later, on May 29, 2020 she passed. The devastating news was met with heartfelt sorrow from people on both sides of the political divide.
Attorney Marsha Smith was eventually chosen by the JLP to contest the seat in the September 2020 General Election. But, although she beat the PNP’s Keith Brown by more than 4,000 votes, she fell out of favour with constituents who demanded that Prime Minister and JLP Leader Andrew Holness replace her.
Holness got a reminder of that discontent on Sunday night as he spoke of the democratic process engaged by the party to choose a new candidate, and acknowledged Smith for her efforts in the constituency.
“Noooo! Noooo!” the Labourites shouted, at the mention of her name.
“As I said, a democratic party,” Holness responded after stating that “people will express their dissatisfaction and differences without the organisation disintegrating”.
“But allow me to big up Senator Matthew Samuda,” Holness said to loud cheers.
“I consider him my younger brother. Matthew is a natural politician,” he added, then explained that before Robinson passed they both considered Samuda a good replacement.
“Yes sir,” some people in the crowd replied.
“But he was not yet ready or available at the time; but my mother always say, nothing before its time. I know he will do well here,” said Holness.
“Yes!” came the enthusiastic response from the crowd.
“First of all, he’s very well-organised. He wants to get things done,” the JLP leader continued.
“Yes!” the crowd shot back.
“And he is very eager to get it done,” Holness added.
“Oh yeah,” a woman in the crowd responded.
“He is resourceful. Is one thing to say I will do or I will try [but it] is a whole different ball game to get it done. So the organised person, the person with the ambition, the vision and the mission must also be resourceful. They must be able to mobilise to get things done — and that is Matthew Samuda,” Holness said.
“Oh yes,” came the crowd response.
“But the most important characteristic of a good representative is that he is empathetic — he can understand the suffering, the pain, the desires, needs, aspirations of the people; put together the plan, co-ordinate that plan into action; find the resources, and satisfy the needs of the people. I am satisfied that Matthew Samuda will be a very good representative for all the people of North East St Ann,” Holness declared to loud, sustained applause.