Labour is hoping that its “Royal Lady” as she was called during the 2010 campaign by her party, would again deliver the constituency, which is the biggest in the entire Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. But Labour’s Marcella Liburd is expected to have a massive challenge this year, from Jonel Powell, who is new to the arena, but is already being described as the man who will regain the seat lost by his party in 1995. It will be quite a contest though, as anyone who knows the politics of St. Kitts and Central would admit. However, there seems to be some strong reason that is giving much hope to PAM and the growing number of ‘Jonel Powell supporters’, as opined by one party official. They claim that his support is across party lines, with many traditional Labour supporters indicating their desire to see him become their representative.
Now that Powell has cleared the first hurdle and was on Tuesday 19th February, 2013, declared the official candidate for the district, members and supporters of the People’s Action Movement, are jubilant and excited about their chances of victory in Central.
It is therefore not surprising that his biggest cheerleader is his mother, Mrs. Alicia “AL” Herbert Powell, sister of the founder of PAM, William “Billy” Valentine Herbert. Though Jonel is her son and no doubt would like to see him succeed in this new and tough career path, Mrs. Powell is already signaling her intention to ensure that candidate Powell, does not stray too far from the principles of integrity that have been the hallmark of his upbringing.
In a recent exclusive interview with MiyVue.com, Al Powell stated that the best advice she could offer Jonel at this stage is to “do the right thing”. “He has always been honest, decent and grew up with integrity; and as long as he can carry those three characteristics with him, for the rest of his political career, he would have achieved everything that I think I would want him to achieve.”
When asked if she thought her son could defeat the incumbent from the Labour Party, Mrs. Powell remarked, “Oh certainly! I think Jonel has the ability to do it and I do not think the incumbent has done very much in the constituency to endear herself to the constituents. I don’t even think there is one thing, anybody in Central Basseterre…and don’t forget, I lived in Central Basseterre for most of my life, and I just do not see anything that she could point to, that she has done to uplift the people in Central Basseterre.”
When Jonel was announced as the candidate, after many months of primary activities against the Party Chairman, Selwyn “Rusty” Liburd, Mrs. Powell admitted with a motherly touch, “I am happy, but concerned, because I know that politics in St. Kitts is not something nice, but it is something absolutely necessary. We have brought up our son to be decent, honest and to have integrity and if he lives up to our expectation, I therefore expect great things from him.”
Mrs. Powell said her son wants to bring a new brand of politics to Central Basseterre. “He knows the people he has grown up with in McKnight, and he wants to be able to see them achieve whatever they put their minds to achieve. Hopefully he can do something in the constituency that will make the whole constituency better, and the country as a whole.”
Mrs. Powell told MiyVue.com that the best quality that she knows exists within her son, and one that would make him a good and successful candidate, is that Jonel is a people’s man.
“Jonel can mix with anybody; from the Governor General to the drain cleaner. He mixes with everybody, he knows everybody. Jonel is from McKnight, he grew up in McKnight, he knows all those guys in McKnight. He has played in the alleys of McKnight. Yes, he has done reasonably well for himself. He has graduated as a lawyer, but he has never forgotten where he has come from. Even before he decided to get into politics all of those guys in McKnight would tell you, Jonel is still around with them all the time.”
In a strange way, Jonel Powell is a quiet man but when he gets started, his friends would admit, he has an opinion on everything, especially when the topic is Central Basseterre and politics generally. But his quiet disposition did not fool his mother nor did it camouflage that political thirst that lingered internally.
“I first started to see signs of interest in politics very early in his life. And when he first told us he wanted to go to study law, I think we realized that he wanted to do something meaningful, something that he knew he could give back to the country.”
Mrs. Powell was asked about when her son first discussed, specifically with them, his intention to enter politics, this cycle.
“When we saw the signs this cycle, to be honest, I begged and pleaded with him not to get involved. I reminded him that our family had gone through a lot because of politics in St. Kitts. And I didn’t particularly want to see my son have to go through it. As a mother of course I am concerned about him. But he came to his father and I one night and he said daddy, mommy, I have thought long and hard, but I have to put my country and my constituency before family. It was a hard pill to swallow but we told him straightaway, Jonel, you do whatever you have to do, we are going support you a 150%,” revealed Mrs. Powell.
According to Mrs. Powell, she believes that Jonel was inspired by his uncle Billy. “Most people know Billy was the founder of the People’s Action Movement, and he was also a lawyer. People claim that he looks something like Billy as well. But I think he (Jonel) realized that he has a lot to offer as well, and if he could do what he wants to do (which is ) bring this new brand of politics to the constituency, to St. Kitts, we could see a better St. Kitts; and a better St. Kitts to what it is today.”
Central Basseterre is perhaps the most difficult constituency to win in St. Kitts and Nevis. It has no real partisan loyalty to either PAM or Labour. And it is a feeling of “independence” relished by all proud constituents. Both PAM and Labour have held the seat for long periods at various points in recent political history.
But when the people of the district are ready, they tend to shift support, depending on what is happening in the country. It was also the constituency that opened the doors of Government to PAM, when the seat was won for the first time in 1979 by Dr. Kennedy Simmonds, (now Sir Kennedy). From here, his party managed to stage other victories in East Basseterre and Cayon/Conaree/St. Peters (Constituency Number Eight). Therefore, for PAM, Central has a strong emotional significance. This, officials explain, is partly why there is so much excitement and hope about the prospects of the young lawyer, turned politician, Jonel Powell.
It also explains why Jonel, as shared by his mother, also looks at Sir Kennedy Simmonds, the country’s First Prime Minister and former Central Basseterre Representative, as a great role model. Mrs. Powell revealed that even before he made the official request to be a candidate, “I know he discussed it with Dr. Simmonds, got his blessings and he felt well, I am on the right road, I can go further than that.”
No date has been set for the election but given the current political crisis facing the country, said a PAM official at the announcement of the new candidate, citizens can expect a poll anytime soon.
However, Liburd, who, like Powell, is a lawyer, is also well known in the constituency and supporters of her party are confident that their candidate would manage a second term as the official Representative. Powell feels however that Liburd has lost touch with the people and that is why the tide is changing. Powell said he intends to win back, what he called Dr. Simmonds’ seat, for the party that Simmonds helped to form with his (Powell’s) uncle Billy.