Alexis in it for the long run

The last year spent as the Opposition People’s National Party’s caretaker for St Mary South Eastern, Dr Shane Alexis has been a mixed bag in shoring up a base, while lamenting unfulfilled promises by the Member of Parliament.

Dr Alexis lost to Dr Norman Dunn of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party in a by-election to fill the void created by the death of former MP Dr Winston Green in August 2017. That by-election, held October 30, coincided with the JLP’s massive triumph over the PNP in the 1980 General Election 37 years to the day.

Contacted by the PNP to contest the seat against Dr Dunn, who had been defeated narrowly by Dr Green in the February 2016 General Election — which ushered in a court challenge over the validity of the victory Dr Alexis was soon in a deep pool of political water before he could begin his swim to potential success.

Initially contacted by PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson about contesting the seat for the party, Dr Alexis saw it as an opportunity to reconnect with the community of Annotto Bay in particular — the main town in the constituency — where he served while he worked voluntarily at the Annotto Bay Hospital through a courtesy extended by medical colleague Dr Ray Fraser, then senior medical officer of the institution, who, like Dr Alexis, studied medicine in the socialist, north Caribbean island of Cuba.

But arguments about his moral eligibility to contest the seat, he being a Canadian citizen and a member of the Commonwealth, threatened to stutter the party’s machinery; although, legally, he was qualified to run. The PNP had been too far down the pitch at that time with the selection and could not place itself in a position to be run out, hence the ‘green light’ being granted to the former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association and the Medical Association of Jamaica.

“My personal life changed immediately after I decided to go into politics,” said Dr Alexis. “It immediately put pressure on my own family. I was never into politics before. I had read Arnold Bertram’s latest book on Norman Manley, which inspired me and assured me that you can come from any strata and make a contribution in politics.

“I campaigned alongside my leader during the period, which is unlike other elections, and I had the chance to get his views on many issues relative to the party. We walked many roads as he would be in the constituency sometimes three times a week.

“Dr Fenton Ferguson was a giant in all senses. He was minister of health when I was president of the MAJ and one of the hardest-working politicians I have ever known. It was only a pity that I could not repay him with a victory as my campaign manager.”

Dr Alexis said that former prime ministers P J Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller inspired him with their presence and input on the trail, and in six weeks of official campaigning he tried to focus on being a good candidate worthy of securing a seat in the House of Representatives.

Support from the party machinery during the contest was of the finest quality, he stated, something which has said has continued following his commitment to continue to represent the party in the constituency.

Now a member of the party’s executive, with the fourth-highest number of voters garnered at the last meeting of the National Executive Council, Dr Alexis is preparing for a future political journey that will not get the attention of the party’s hierarchy — one that he will have to run largely on his own perspiration.

“It did not take me long to decide that I wanted to remain in the constituency. I wasn’t looking for easier territory, neither did I try to broker a deal to head to the Senate. Last November I formed a group of experienced persons to look at ideas of how we could develop the constituency.

“The people have remained warm to me and even though I lost the by-election they have never made me feel like a loser.”

Regarding the performance of Dr Dunn as MP, Dr Alexis, declining to itemise shortcomings, summarised the one-year tenure of the debutant MP as one in which several promises had not been fulfilled.

“Many persons enter politics wanting to win. I now recognise the magnitude of the work that South East St Mary requires. It is a mammoth task for anyone. While we would want more to be done, it is the lack of interpersonal relationship … we have to work together in the interest of development. I have not seen enough of that. I’ve never received any contact from Dr Dunn. I remain respectful of the office of MP because I want to get there one day.

“Too many promises have been made in the interest of winning an election which have not come about. I’m not talking about fixing a bridge or building one; I’m talking about people who were promised education support, agriculture support, etc, who have not got them.”

Regarding assertions that hundreds of millions of dollars were spent during the campaign, Dr Alexis, who described himself as a non-cheque book politician, said that the Opposition lacked the spending power of the Government, which he said used State resources to push its agenda.

“I’m still not yet 40, have never inherited any money or won the lotto, but I have intellect and integrity. The PNP was able to get funding to run my campaign, but a party in Government will always be able to have access to more resources than the Opposition.

“Some people called it the ‘Buy-Election’. A man you buy can sell you out, so it’s not an investment I will ever make. I never had money, so I could not depend on it to inspire voters,” said Dr Alexis, who, like others before him, argued that campaign finance reform must be seen as a national issue worthy of a discussion with the people of Jamaica.

“If we are not careful, representation will be determined by money and what you have,” said Dr Alexis, who described himself as a “Sugar Shane … a solid brand across the PNP”.

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