That is the upcoming by-election race in East Portland, Jamaica between Anne Marie Vaz of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Damion Crawford of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP). But the magnitude of this by-election race seems to be much bigger than some local political battle.
Many observers see this by-election race as a national mandate on both the JLP and PNP and the result may have major political ramifications. The East Portland seat has long been a PNP stronghold and thus if Crawford loses the by-election on April 4, then questions will be asked of the current PNP leader Peter Phillips. Questions will be also asked about young Crawford’s future given his popularity amongst PNP members.
If the JLP managed to snatch the seat from the PNP then JLP leader and Prime Minister Andrew Holness would view such a result as a ringing endorsement of his government that came to power in 2016. No doubt such a result would encourage Holness to call snap general election whilst Phillips is still the PNP leader.
On March 3rd, Crawford gave a rousing 40 minute speech in East Portland which – despite the odd “controversial” moment – was probably the finest speech I have heard from a PNP pedestal since the days of the 1970s Michael Manley. Crawford was eloquent, witty, engaging, passionate, never dull, clear and had to audience reacting to his every phrase. Crawford has something that the PNP ill afford to lose which is great charisma and oratory in abundance.
But some of Crawford’s remarks was criticised in the media and by the JLP as classist and sexist. But the JLP outragers need to stop with the fake outcry given some of the comments made by some of their own MPs over the years. The reason why some of Crawford’s comments caused such outrage was probably because the speech was carried live on national radio. But Crawford has defended his speech.
Now Crawford was a rising star of the last PNP administration 2011-2016. But Crawford’s wings were clipped and he was unceremoniously dumped by the PNP, following his silly confusing statements in the lead up to the elections in 2016.
While he was in the political wilderness after the 2016 elections, Crawford developed an egg-related company (Crafton Holdings) whilst carrying on lecturing/teaching at various educational institutions.
Crawford returned to frontline politics in 2018 when he was selected to the Jamaican upper house as a senator for the PNP. Later down in the year Crawford was elected one of 4 vice presidents of the PNP. (Why any organisation has 4 VPs I will never know?) But Crawford sounds like a man in a hurry and is keen to get back into representational politics and has been frank about his own ambitions to lead the PNP.
Is it really Daryl vs Damion?
Little is known of Anne Marie Vaz but she is popular in Jamaican social media circles.
The public know Ann Marie Vaz mainly as the wife of Daryl Vaz – MP for the other constituency in the parish of Portland (West Portland). Daryl is currently a cabinet minister who can be described as firebrand MP on the campaign trail. A straight taker Daryl is all about winning elections and was not afraid to criticize the performance of JLP leader Andrew Holness when they were in opposition.
The Jamaica Gleaner once described Daryl Vaz as “one of the most explosive political personalities in politics”. Indeed.
From Duff House in Manchester, Anne Marie Vaz (nee Lyew) attended Hampton School in St Elizabeth and Alpha Academy in Kingston. Ann Marie Vaz once said 2009 “I never wanted to anything to do with politics. It cause a lot of damage to our marriage initially”. The first time I came across Ann Marie’s name was in a 2010 article regarding the alleged sale of a FINSAC related property to her in upscale Cherry Gardens for tens of millions of Jamaican dollars below the market price.
But we all know Daryl Vaz is the voice of this by-election race for the JLP and not Ann Marie. Some will deem such a remark as sexist but according to media reports Daryl is Ann Marie Vaz’s election manager. After Crawford’s speech in East Portland the media tried to get a response from Ann-Marie over her rival’s “controversial” comments. But according to media reports Daryl declined interviews; very unusual for a politician not to seek the upper hand when their tiveopponent has made a boo-boo.
It may explain why in recent days we are now learning that the astute political operative that is Juliet Holness is now Mrs Vaz’s campaign manager. Ironically, Holness is the MP for East Rural St Andrew where the previous incumbent was one Damion Crawford.
PNP Sexism – Again
The parachuting of Crawford into this usual safe seat of East Portland continues to show that the PNP has a toxic problem with nominating female candidates. Of the 29-30 PNP MPs just 4 are female. 2 of the 8 PNP senators in the upper house are female.
It is worth noting that Andrea Moore has previously been a popular choice by East Portland PNP delegates but for the umpteenth time she has been sidelined by the PNP top brass.
It is a shocking indictment on a so-called social democratic party that recently had a female leader in Portia Simpson-Miller. I have always wondered why the PNP’s women movement have stayed silent on this subject.
Just 7 of the 33 JLP MPs are female, which still is below average for a democratic nation like Jamaica. Maybe an 8th JLP female MP is on her way to Gordon House. Judging by levels of advertise spending so far then Ann Marie Vaz is miles ahead in the publicity stakes.
Remembering Dr Bloomfield
This intense campaigning in this by-election race was uncalled for given how the seat became vacant. Dr Lynvale Bloomfied – the incumbent MP – was found murdered (multiple stab wounds) in February at his home. Despite having a suspect in custody we still are not aware of the motive behind the killing. In fact there has hardly been any public statement/press conference by the police on such a very high profile killing. Very strange.
Only a week before his death, Dr Bloomfield was on tv news (very rare for him) begging the government to upgrade the infrastructure in his constituency. He wanted answers on the whereabouts of funds that was provided by Japan specifically for the refurbishment of a local school in his community.
My hope was – given the nature of Dr Bloomfield’s demise – that the JLP would have allowed the PNP to run an uncontested candidate to finish out the term won by Bloomfield. Similar to what occurred in the UK when Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in 2016. In the subsequent by-election, the main political parties (including UKIP) did not challenge the Labour Party candidate.
Within hours of Dr Bloomfield being laid to rest the political party machinery went into full campaign mode and it has just never stopped. The thrust of the current by-election campaign just did not feel right. It was as if Dr Bloomfield’s brutal murder was now a side-show and both parties could not wait to move on in this undignified manner. Yes, life must go on but how did we get here?
Crawford’s JLP side
Despite all the political animosity on the platforms in East Portland, Crawford has close links to the JLP. His uncle Ransford Braham is a government senator. During Crawford’s initial hiatus from politics – after the 2016 elections – he hosted brilliant political show on Nationwide radio. There listeners gained an insight into Crawford the person. Crawford admitted on air he was probably closer to the younger members of the JLP. Some of those said JLP politicians such the PR chief Senator Matthew Samuda would co-host the show.
(JLP Senator Don Wheby, head of Grace Kennedy, is said to be assisting Crawford with the distribution of his eggs overseas.)
During the short period Crawford hosted his radio show it was refreshing. He covered local politics in a unique and mature fashion. Crawford did upset some of his PNP listeners who probably had high expectations of a partisan approach to the show.
Indeed, one of the most acrimonious radio debates in recent times was when Crawford got into a heated discussion with his colleague Paul Burke, (PNP) General Secretary. The discussion revolved around why the PNP lost the 2016 general elections. It was the mother of all debates. It was like a verbal fist-fight. It was radio gold.
There is something quite distasteful on the news that Ann Marie Vaz will be hosting a public free birthday concert in Portland just days before the by-election where some of Jamaica’s top artistes are slated to perform. Having such a concert in the middle of general election is fine. But for a by-election? How does a “new” candidate afford to book the likes of Queen Ifrica, Teejay, Christopher Martin, Bounty Killer and Sizzla? Unless the artiste are performing free of charge. I hope this story is fake news.
But as an election looms is it high time that candidates declare their assets, liabilities and incomes before polling day?
Show dem the Money
In 2019 we have had comments from senior political figures from both main parties of the corruption that has enriched the political class.
- The PNP Senator K.D. Knight spoke with disgust – in parliament recently – at the number of politicians he has seen transformed their financial fortunes once they became elected officials.
- During February Delroy Chuck, Justice Minister, in a speech said “When I came into politics a certain contractor who had a contract in my constituency asked me (for) my bank account. He said ‘we always give 10 per cent to the MP‘; I was shocked, but that was what the contractor said to me”
- The Jamaican Gleaner recently reported MPs have been regularly not declaring their incomes, assets and liabilities “with the Integrity Commission on time or ignoring requests for additional information” the Gleaner reports goes on “including that of then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness,.. were not cleared due to inadequate responses to queries”. Nine declarations, including those submitted by current government ministers Delroy Chuck and Daryl Vaz were not cleared in 2014 and 2015 for the same reason.”
So light of these recent revelations and statements (plus other corruption scandals); which politician will be brave enough to propose a private members bill that demands politicial candidates declare all their wares including their expenses online for the electorate to scrutinize before any local and general elections? Don’t hold your breath.
If Mrs and Mr Vaz manage to politically lockdown the parish of Portland by April 4 then the general election bells will get louder for JLP supporters. Especially following the recent barnstorming budget statement made by Finance Minister, Dr Nigel Clarke which impressed the business community and gave some political observers goosebumps.
But from the outset, Prime Minister Andrew Holness should have raised the political bar (during a very dark moment for Jamaica’s political history) and opted not to contest this by-election in East Portland. Given how the incumbent MP met his demise.