What was expected to be a smooth run-off between incumbent Jamaica Labour Party caretaker for Eastern Westmoreland Don Foote and contender Pete Manborde, ended in a brawl when supporters of both men clashed in Bethel Town Sunday.
Mr. Foote emerged the winner with 74 votes to Mr. Manborde’s 60 votes from a total of 134 votes cast in four polling divisions in Darliston, Leamington, Bethel Town and Whitehouse.
The first seeds of discord were sown when a prospective voter, Novelette Haughton, turned up at the Leamington Division to cast her ballot. She was, however, told by the indoor agents that she was not on the voters’ list and so was prevented from voting. A fracas ensued and an agent was accused of sabotaging Mr. Foote’s prospects of victory.
Onlookers intervened to quell the dispute and appealed to the persons involved “not to bring the party into further disrepute.”
A few minutes later, Mr. Foote drove onto the compound, gospel music blaring from loud speakers in his sport utility vehicle. He then asked that Ms. Haughton be allowed to vote but the request was denied by the election administrators who said this would violate the party’s constitution.
The Gleaner news team then visited Bethel Town where the final counting was taking place. At this point, Mr. Manborde’s supporters could be seen venting their anger over Mr. Foote having again received the party’s green light.
Anger mounted among Mr. Manborde’s supporters who then turned on members of the press, demanding that recording equipment be turned off and put away. Evadney Bryan-Smalling, Mr. Foote’s campaign manager, telephoned him, warning that if he should attempt to address the gathering, he should be accompanied by the police, none of whom could be clearly identified at the location at the time.
Joslyn Powell, a supporter of Mr. Foote, was in discussion with the disgruntled supporters when one man walked up to him and punched him in the face. Draped in a green gown, he landed spreadeagled in the middle of the road. Several onlookers rushed to his aid and he was quickly taken away for treatment.
Andre Franklin, JLP’s deputy general secretary, told The Gleaner that he had never witnessed such an event but insisted that the party would move forward.
“Overall, we had a good day. Mr. Foote has retained the chairmanship. The party will now move to consolidate all groups within the constituency to ensure that they work together for the victory of the party in Eastern Westmoreland,” he said.