Tension in St Elizabeth NE ahead of PNP run-off

SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Tension is growing within the ranks of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) over a delegates’ list in St Elizabeth North Eastern, days ahead of an internal election to decide who will contest the seat for the party in the next general election.

Chairman of the PNP’s Region Five Kern Spencer and lawyer Zuleika Jess are the two aspirants.

There are 1,274 delegates eligible to vote during the election set for the St Elizabeth Technical High School in Santa Cruz between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm on Sunday.

Spencer, who is also chairman of the party’s region five, which comprises Manchester and St Elizabeth, told the Jamaica Observer on Thursday that there is tension, and threats, over supporters not being included in the delegates’ list, which could result in a “domino effect” leading into the parliamentary election.

“I am very confident, but as the leader of the region I have a bigger problem and concern which I am trying with in the constituency now… There are 400 delegates whose names are not appearing on the list and I am getting word that they are organising themselves to take legal action, which I am trying to defuse. Also, I am hearing that they are organising a series of demonstrations, because they are saying if they are not allowed to vote in an internal election, there is no way they and their families will vote in a general election,” 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.

On Thursday, he said he was confident going into the election with the current delegates’ list; however, his “main concern is the domino effect that is taking place across the constituency right now with the disquiet from those delegates who feel that they have been disenfranchised”.

“They are now financial members and there is presently a dispute about them being on the delegates’ list, so I am here just trying to move around the constituency to defuse it, but it is very tense right now,” added Spencer.

However, during an interview on Nationwide 90 FM on Thursday, PNP General Secretary Dayton Campbell sought to explain why groups were not added to the delegates’ list.

“… We have continued registration; you can always register a group. Groups take seven months to become financial… The groups were delivered to the party [in] December 2022, but they became financial at the beginning of June. They are not on the list because they were not financial at the time that the date for the election was set and at the time that the draft list was sent out,” Campbell said, adding that the election was first set for early May.

Two sitting PNP councillors, Everton Fisher and Audie Myers, have thrown their weight behind Jess. The other sitting councillor 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.

Fisher, councillor for the Balaclava Division and a former mayor of Black River, challenged Spencer’s claims.

“There were no Comrades left off the delegates’ list. They were not eligible to vote at the time the conference was announced… Comrade Spencer must stop that rubbish. There was nobody left off the delegates’ list. As far as I am concerned, if they want to put them on [the list] he will still get a beaten,” Fisher said.

“I am fully prepared and we are confident… We are okay. The only objective I have is to make sure that this constituency returns to the [PNP] and to give Comrade Leader [Mark] Golding his first victory out of western Jamaica,” added Fisher.

Myers, councillor for the Siloah Division, said he is ensuring that all the areas are covered as part of Jess’s campaign.

“I am in the valleys doing the work as we speak… Just a victory, but I want it big,” he said.

When asked if she has any issue with the delegates’ list, Jess said she was not authorised to speak on issues emanating from the constituency.

She, however, expressed confidence ahead of Sunday’s election.

“… We are even more confident that the delegates will reflect the views of the general people of north-east St Elizabeth and will vote accordingly to ensure that the best candidate gets the nod to represent the seat,” she said.

Jess lost to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party giant Mike Henry in the 2020 parliamentary election in Clarendon Central.

An 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.

The inclusion of Pryce in the first poll had raised concerns among some people within the party.