Sun | Apr 21, 2019

Mark Wignall | Sweet-mouth Damion vs Action Ann

Published:Sunday | March 17, 2019 | 12:13 AM

Not since the 2001 North East St Ann by-election has there been such national attention being paid to ‘country people’ in a race to send either the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) standard-bearer, Ann-Marie Vaz, or the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Damion Crawford in the much-anticipated Portland East by-election to parliament.

Way back on a late morning in March 2001, on the day of the North East St Ann by-election, I drove down to the tourist resort town of Ocho Rios and stopped for a while at a well known watering hole and listened, observed, and drank two beers. After that, I moved on, visiting many key places of political and electoral activity.

The entire machinery of both the PNP, the ruling party at the time, and the JLP, was there. But from the JLP’s then newest find, the super-bright David Panton controlling the skies with a helicopter and radio link to the ground with Audley Shaw working beside young computer nerds paying close attention to the numbers, it was a cinch to conclude that it was the Opposition JLP that was on top that day.

As expected, the JLP won that election and flipped a seat that had long been considered safe PNP territory. Although there were many political pundits who saw that election as a time of perilous political and electoral foreboding for the PNP, while it held government under prime minister P.J. Patterson, as it moved to the general elections in late 2002, it was not enough to prove that theory right. The PNP won but with a significant swing to the JLP.

The real truth was that the JLP had, inside of its own leadership, the Kryptonite to keep it weak, impotent, and electorally uninteresting. It had its leader there, Eddie Seaga, who was a fervent believer that Jamaican voters wanted to see him there again at the helm, as he was after the October vote in 1980.

One of Jamaica’s best politicians, but the most misunderstood and hated too, Seaga never bought into the idea, first formed among the public and then the second-tier leaders of the JLP in the late 1990s, that there was no second hurrah for Seaga. It is my belief that had Bruce the Reluctant (Bruce Golding) swallowed his pride in early 2002 and all that he left on the floor in a wet splatter as he castigated his own party in 1997 (while he was the National Democratic Movement leader), the JLP would have won the December 2002 general elections.

Many of the indicators pointing to a JLP triumph, or at least a narrow victory in Portland East in early April 2019, can best be placed alongside the 2001 realities. In 2001, significant sections of the big-business class were seeing the JLP as a place to lodge political funding money.

Second, at that time the wily fox, P.J. Patterson, saw the early writing on the wall to the point that he was able to call on all of the street abilities of the PNP to energise the machinery of the PNP and get out the vote in late 2002.

In March 2019, the big-business donors are fully into the JLP. Second, unlike 2001, when the JLP was the outsider challenging for power in a by-election, today the JLP is in power, its leader is in the ascendancy of his popularity, while sadly, the PNP leader cannot even admit to himself that much has changed and that the electoral ground is shifting beneath him.

IF THE POLLS WIN, THE POLITICIANS LOSE BUT LAUGH

According to pollster Peter Wickham, operating out of Barbados, the PNP’s Damion Crawford will win the Portland East by-election and send back Ann-Marie Vaz to the bosom of her husband. At the same time, pollster Bill Johnson, via The Observer, has the JLP’s Ann-Marie Vaz swatting aside sweet-mouth Crawford for an easy 10 percentage-point JLP victory.

This, of course, only brings added intrigue, excitement, and much-needed comedy to an election.

I have been studying the politics of this country for the last 30 years, and I have yet to meet a politician who is honest enough to admit to me on the eve of an election that he is likely to lose. Based on that understanding, in every election in this country, both candidates in every election are on a winning path and will surely win. One day out from the election.

In the pending Portland East by-elections, one pollster has already sent a PNP candidate to Parliament while another pollster has seated a JLP candidate as MP in Gordon House. It really cannot get any funnier than this.

It has been established by ‘ intellectuals’ that Damion Crawford is ‘brighter’ than Ann-Marie Vaz. Intellectuals in Jamaica are usually academics who have absolutely no idea what constitutes intellectualism. One is an intellectual when one understands one’s country and tries to figure out what makes us into who we are and where we are likely to go as a people. An intellectual understands our geopolitical positions and our international possibilities.

On that note, as Ann-Marie Vaz, a country girl of ‘high colour’ faced off with a town man, Damion Crawford, proudly black skinned and dread locked to give him black authenticity plus with two academic degrees, it told us that given the guts of political grandstanding, our politicians are prepared to plumb the depths of many of the ills that have long divided us.

PETER PHILLIPS CALLING FOR A DEBATE

I must confess that in the worst of times, I will always prefer a political debate than no debate at all. The bigger possibility behind that is the real likelihood that the politician with the ‘sweetest mouth’ is likely to win the debate. That acceptance is also tied into the belief that our people, the voting public, are idiots and cannot tell patty from crust.

When I criticised Portia, more than many other columnists, for not engaging more with the press and, hiding from one-on-one interviews, many criticised me for disliking her and using the pages of a newspaper to disparage her.

The fact is, just like the present opposition leader, Peter Phillips, I never believed that Portia Simpson Miller was ever up to the job of prime minister.

The difference between us is that I supported Portia because of her possibilities in the days leading up to her becoming PM in 2006. Once I saw her poor performance, I backed away and began my criticisms.

Now here it is, Peter Phillips is calling for a debate between Ann-Marie Vaz and Damion Crawford because, to his warped way of seeing it, ‘sweet mouth’ is likely to mash down ‘pretty face’.

I fully support that debate. Since the arrival of Damion Crawford in the hills and flats of the many areas of Portland East that he is only now discovering, I want a debate to hear him talk of the imaginary plans he has for the development of that rural parish. I want to hear Ann-Marie Vaz tell the people what plans she has for stopping shale stones from falling down on people’s houses when it rains in East Portland. Maybe she has the magic to stop the rain.

Over the next week, I will be traveling throughout east Portland to discover first-hand what my people on the ground there have been feeding me as authentic information. I really need to know if the impossible can happen. If both candidates can lose and the polls will win.

In Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips calling for a debate, he is hoping for a big ‘gotcha’ moment. He is hoping that ‘country girl’ Ann-Marie will trip up because she does not lecture in tourism and have multiple degrees like those filling Damion Crawford’s pouch, or his many pouches.

 

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.