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AS WE AWAIT a date, the two contending political parties in the upcoming general election have been making their rounds, particularly in the multi-seat parishes of Christ Church, St George, St Philip and St James. But they are skirting around the main event: St Michael, with a block of 11 seats. St Michael will hold the key to the 2012 (or 2013) general election result. The party that carries St Michael, much like the presidential candidate in the United States who carries Ohio, carries the election. Just before the 2008 election, I wrote: “I remain convinced that the party which carries St Michael will win, especially if it is able to hold or garner at least two of Christ Church’s seats.” I favoured the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to win eight urban seats and to carry at least two from Christ Church. The DLP did even better, winning the eight St Michael seats and four of the five in Christ Church, to comfortably carry it to the winner’s tape. From the time single member constituencies were created in 1971, St Michael, which first controlled nine seats, became crucial. Figures reveal the party that dominated St Michael, carried the election. I am reminded of the old African-American song, Michael, Row The Boat Ashore. In order to get to mainland USA, the former slaves urged Michael to keeping rowing from nearby St Helena Island. It was Michael who landed them safely. Two months before the 1971 general election, Prime Minister Errol Barrow interposed the fundamental change to the distribution of seats. He introduced single member constituencies and divided St Michael into eight separate ridings, plus Bridgetown. For the first time, seats were based on the number of voters in each defined area, and not on old parish divisions. This meant an end to the anomaly of having St Michael with 40 000 voters and St Andrew with just 2 000 both having two MPs. Under the old system, populous parishes such as St Michael, Christ Church and St Philip were under-represented. While Bridgetown and St Michael had a combined population of 43 037 voters, or 31.8 per cent of the total vote, for just four MPs, the combined five parishes of St Thomas, St John, St Joseph, St Peter and St Lucy had ten spokespersons in the House of Assembly, but only a combined electorate of 21 302. The first election under the new system saw the DLP handsomely win eight of the nine St Michael seats, the ninth going to the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) Elliott Mottley in Bridgetown. The parish now carries a third of the 30 seats in the House of Assembly. And since the demographic does not change substantially between St Michael South and St Michael North; St Michael West and St Michael East, the St Michael MP block of seats makes a substantial difference. Here’s a summary of results since then: In 1971 when the DLP won, DLP eight seats; BLP one. (St Michael had nine seats.) In 1976 when the BLP won, BLP five seats; DLP four. (St Michael had nine seats.) In 1981 when the BLP won, BLP five seats; DLP five. (St Michael increased by one to ten while the national seats went from 24 to 27.) In 1986 when the DLP won, DLP 11 seats; BLP none. (St Michael was increased by one to 11 and nationally from 27 to 28.) In 1991 when the DLP won, DLP nine seats; BLP two. (DeLisle Bradshaw in St Michael South East and Billie Miller in Bridgetown.) In 1994 when the BLP won, BLP five seats; DLP five. In 1999 when the BLP won, BLP 11 seats; DLP none. In 2003 when the BLP won, BLP ten seats; DLP one. (Richard Sealy in St Michael South Central.) The St Michael seats were not increased, but nationally they moved from 28 to 30 seats. In 2008 when the DLP won, DLP eight seats; BLP three. On the two occasions when the losing parties won few urban seats – the BLP with two in 1991 and the DLP with one in 2003 – those were won in south St Michael: Bridgetown and South East, in one instance, and South Central in the other. This suggests this southern area is capable of defying the odds, a factor to remember. Looking at the bigger picture, even in the elections of 1976, 1981 and 1994 when the winning party (BLP) did not exactly sweep St Michael, it won at least half of the urban seats. But until 1994, St Michael really favoured the DLP. That changed dramatically in 1999 and 2003 when the BLP won 11 and ten seats, respectively. The DLP 2008 margins are worth examining. With the exception of Freundel Stuart versus Noel Lynch in South, no one was above the DLP national swing of eight per cent. All others were won by margins of between 1.3 per cent in St Michael West Central (James Paul vs. Rommell Marshall) and Kenny Best vs. Trevor Prescod at 6.2 per cent in St Michael East. Because of the negative DLP swing estimated at six per cent in the September CADRES/NATION poll, the DLP seats come into play. Seven of the 11 urban ridings will see return contests which make it easier to draw conclusions: Bridgetown, St Michael South, St Michael South Central, St Michael East, St Michael North, St Michael North East and St Michael West. Of these, the BLP holds two in North East and North, which, with a swing towards the BLP, favours them to win. Of the vulnerable ones with margins of 4.3 and 5.2 per cent, South Central, West and Bridgetown are located in the south where we know they tend to buck the trend. We will see new BLP candidates in three narrowly won and bordering DLP seats – West Central and North West, where the margins were 1.3, 2.9 and 2.9 per cent, respectively; and in Central where Steve Blackett won by 5.6 per cent.East, where Best won from Prescod by 6.2 per cent, should be a close contest as should South East which is a special case because we have two new candidates and the imposing personality of the retiring MP Hamilton Lashley who has won the seat running for both parties. He won by a much reduced margin in 2008, and the DLP recorded its biggest tally ever with or without Lashley. Those results were:2008: Lashley (BLP) 2 426; Undene Whittaker (DLP) 2 271.2003: Lashley (BLP) 3 416; Undene Whittaker (DLP) 1 116. 1999: Lashley (BLP) 3 542; DeLisle Bradshaw (DLP) 908.1994: Lashley (DLP) 1 918; DeLisle Bradshaw (BLP) 1 845. In the last four elections, the BLP had average support of more than twice that of the DLP in this riding. (BLP averages 2 807 votes per election compared with the DLP’s 1 301.) In pre-Lashley elections – except 1986 when Dr Erskine Simmons won it for the DLP – it has been won for the BLP in 1976, 1981 and 1991 by DeLisle Bradshaw. These names and numbers suggest South East can be regarded as a BLP seat and a Lashley seat. Now that he has changed sides a third time and is supporting the new DLP candidate, Patrick Tannis, against the BLP’s newcomer Santia Bradshaw, daughter of former triple MP DeLisle Bradshaw, interest will be over the BLP and Bradshaw influence versus the DLP and Lashley effect. Fascinating. In coming to a conclusion about which party is best able to carry the important St Michael block at this point, I am of the view that among the DLP’s candidates the return contests in St Michael East, Bridgetown, St Michael West and St Michael South Central are the weakest, given their low margins in 2008. Thus, I am inclined to start by giving the BLP two of those seats where the margins were below five per cent – West (Atherley), and West Central (Gooding-Edghill). In the absence of a major swing against the DLP, I expect both North West (Sinckler) and South Central (Sealy) to retain their incumbency because history suggests they are DLP seats, plus Sinckler’s appeal as a national leader (public opinion poll). On a similar basis, I see the St Michael race playing out as follows: North East (Mottley), South (Stuart), North (Toppin), South East (Bradshaw), North West (Sinckler), West Central (Gooding-Edghill), East (Best), South Central (Sealy), Central (Blackett), Bridgetown (Todd), and (West) Atherley. That gives the BLP six and the DLP five. In order to win the general election, the DLP should seek to hold on to at least two more urban seats – possibly West (Carrington) and West Central (Paul) – and retain three of its present four Christ Church seats. For the BLP to win the election, it has to capture more vulnerable DLP seats like South Central (Sealy) and Bridgetown (Todd), or upset East (Best), North West (Sinckler) or Central (Blackett) or improve its Christ Church showing by taking three seats But these are early days yet. The picture will become much more clearly defined when the campaign is fully joined, public meetings are being held, final canvassing has been undertaken and manifestoes have been distributed. And yes, an election date has been chosen! • Harold Hoyte is Editor Emeritus of the Nation Publishing Company.