(JAMAICA GLEANER) — Prime Minister Andrew Holness last night dramatically announced March 25 as the day constituents of East Portland would go to the polls to select a new member of parliament in what is shaping up to be a titanic showdown.
Holness made the announcement at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) mass rally in Port Antonio Square after an hourlong defence of his administration’s performance since 2016 and a sharp tongue-lashing of the People’s National Party (PNP).
“There comes a time when you have to now stop talk and just do something. The eighth of March is a very important day. The eighth of March is Lady Bustamante’s birthday, and if I am not mistaken, was when Shahine won her seat,” said Holness, before confirming that as nomination day.
“The 25th of March will be Action Day,” he continued, “the date of the by-election,” sending the crowd into a frenzy. He added that “people tired of the sweet talk and tired of trickster businesses”, taking a jab at the PNP’s prospective candidate, party Vice-President Damion Crawford.
Ann-Marie Vaz, dubbed ‘Action Ann’ on the hustings, will represent the JLP on the ballot.
The announcement had been highly anticipated and an elaborate stage set-up was a clear indication that the mass meeting was to herald the election date.
On the tick of 8:30 p.m., both Holness and Vaz arrived in dramatic style to bell ringing and the popular political refrain “Showa”.
But if there had been any doubt that the by-election would have been announced, it was quickly dispelled as the massive crowd that swamped the streets of Port Antonio would have held the prime minister to ransom.
Holness told the massive gathering that East Portland needed strong representation to unlock its full potential.
And to that end, he said Vaz was the right person to represent the constituency.
“I am sure that Action Ann is committed. I am sure that Action Ann is passionate, respects the people, and I’m sure that Action Ann is more creative than Daryl ‘Action Man’ Vaz,” Holness said, in reference to the West Portland member of parliament, a fellow Labourite.
Ann-Marie Vaz, addressing the throng last night, said there was no other place she would rather have been than in Portland, and promised much action and “not a bag of mouth”.
In outlining her plans for the constituency, big on her agenda was improving East Portland’s irregular water supply.
“When I do house-to-house, you know, and I reach a section where I can turn on water, I want to dance, and that should not be,” Vaz said.
Throughout her presentation, Terror Fabulous and Nadine Sutherland’s hit song Action blared from speakers that were attached to the stage.
Vaz pledged that she would take Portlanders on a “prosperity walk”.
“Better days are coming. The problems are many, but I stand here believing that together, we can overcome those problems,” she said, adding that she would tap government resources.
“I stand here with love in my heart, energy in my body … . Thirty years of neglect, we will chip at it. Believe it. I believe it,” Vaz urged.
A by-election became necessary following the February 2 brutal killing of Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, the then member of Parliament.
The PNP has not lost the seat in 30 years, and it would take a mighty effort to overturn the more than 2,000-vote margin the party currently enjoys.
But JLP insiders are adamant that a green tide will halt the PNP’s reign in the constituency.
The possibility of the PNP losing one of its safest seats could spell trouble for Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, who took over as president of the party following its bruising defeat in the 2016 general election.
On the other hand, a win for Phillips could ease the pressure he is under to gain traction among segments of the society, providing him with a platform to launch a political assault on the Holness administration, which has been mired in allegations of corruption over the past several months.