Leading up to the September 3 contest in St James Southern, both the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Homer Davis and the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Dr Walton Small were brimming with confidence.
Both men were seeking their first mandate to enter the House of Representatives. Small was throwing his hat into the ring for the first time and Davis taking on the challenge for a third time as veteran Member of Parliament (MP) Derrick Kellier, who had held the seat for the PNP since 1989, rode off into the sunset.
Small, a retired educator, confidently declaring that Davis, the twice unlucky mayor of Montego Bay, would be sent packing from the constituency.
“It will be three strikes out for Homer Davis,” Small told The Sunday Gleaner on nomination day. “I will be sending him into retirement and I would be very disappointed if I do not win by more than 1,000 votes.”
When the dust settled two Thursdays ago, Davis got the last laugh, polling 7,223 votes in the preliminary count to trounce Small (5,273) to win the seat by 1,948 votes.
Last week, a deflated Small refused to be drawn into speculation regarding his defeat.
“Nothing that took place before, during or after the election will change what the results are,” he told The Sunday Gleaner. “I have accepted the results and my focus has now shifted to addressing the shortcomings that would have been unearthed.”
However, one member of his campaign team believes money was the reason the PNP lost its 31-year grip on the constituency.
Vote-Buying ‘in Plain Sight’
“It wasn’t done in secret. It was done in plain sight … . Everybody knows,” said Kenroy Gordon, raising claims of vote-buying by the JLP. “While we were campaigning and talking to the people, what they were doing was asking the people what they wanted, and on the day before election and on election day, those promises were delivered.”
“Rubbish!” fired back Davis when The Sunday Gleaner put the charge to him.
“As I told you before, my political work was ongoing. I started my campaigning from the general election in 2016,” said Davis, the councillor for the Cambridge division in the constituency. “I did not wait to get a signal from my party to campaign. I was always in the constituency and I was always campaigning.”
It would appear money was an indeed driving votes in the constituency or that, at the minimum, there were persons willing to trade in their ‘X’ for some cash. On election day as our news team wrapped up an interview with an elderly PNP voter along New Road in the Cambridge division, a voter wearing an orange armband approached the Gleaner team asking for payment to vote.
PNP’s Scarce Resources
Orange is the colour of the PNP and when asked if the PNP had been paying for votes, Small’s team distanced itself from any such activity, pointing out that they had scarce resources.
“Let me tell you, we did not have one [big] donor, so to speak,” Gordon told The Sunday Gleaner last week. “There were a couple of persons who would give a small contribution, like $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000, but not very many … and those would be persons that would be close to myself or Dr Small.”
He added: “To my knowledge, nobody made a contribution of any significance to our campaign. It was funded out of Dr Small or my pocket and we got some funding from the party, but we promised the people that we would manage the constituency in a decent and proper way and they would get value for money. We promised them a clean, clear government. That’s what we promised them.”
“We offered nobody money because we were not even able to pay our own bills, much less to be paying off persons to vote,” the co-campaign manager said further, adding that he believed it would be useless to report allegations of vote-buying to the political ombudsman.
In analysing the heavy loss the PNP suffered in the polls, Western Mirror publisher and former St James Central MP Lloyd B. Smith told The Sunday Gleaner that the PNP had a serious financial deficit.
“ … If you are going to mobilise to win an election in these days, you have to have cash … . It takes cash to win,” he said. “No matter how you look at it, money is now playing a very critical role in electioneering and the PNP was obviously flat broke. It could hardly carry out a number of meaningful organisational activities and some candidates were literally left on their own.”