Jamaica prepares to vote as corona cases spike

Bert Wilkinson | 8/27/2020, midnight
Jamaicans are preparing to vote in general elections next week Thursday, Sept. 3.
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Jamaicans are preparing to vote in general elections next week Thursday, Sept. 3, in what is just the latest of nearly a dozen such contests already held or scheduled to be held in the Caribbean in this, a record-breaking year.

The vote is taking place just three weeks after voters in Trinidad re-elected the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley for a second consecutive five-year term and as the year comes to a close, their colleagues in Belize and St. Vincent will be facing the polls before Dec. 31, as exhausted regional electoral monitoring teams prepare to muster the strength to work in two more jurisdictions in the coming weeks.

As the dust settles in the other nations which faced the polls in 2020, Jamaicans are preparing to vote in an island nation which has been seeing a worrying spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, hampering traditional voter campaigning activities.

The spike in cases has forced Prime Minister Andrew Holness and other top officials to suspend house-to-house and street corner campaign meetings as the island’s political ombudsman on Sunday placed a clamp on such activities.

“No person shall enter the dwelling house of any citizen elector campaign. This decision is because of the increase in COVID-19 positive growth of persons and areas under quarantine, breaches of social-distancing laws, and rules on the campaign trail,” Ombudsman Parchment Brown said in an announcement.

On Sunday, Aug. 23, health officials revealed the island’s one day record for positive cases, announcing that 116 new infections were recorded, taking the tally to 1,529.

The PM’s Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) is facing up to the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) which has been lagging in the polls by double digit percentage points and is expected to remain on opposition benches for another five years.

PM Holness said he had called elections six months before constitutionally due because of fears that the pandemic would lead to a low voter turnout that could possibly favor the opposition.

But veteran PNP comrades like Gerard Mitchell have told the Jamaica Observer newspaper they fear that younger voters are leaving the party in droves for the JLP because of younger and more energetic leadership. PNP Leader Peter Phillips is 70 and a cancer survivor while Holness is 49 and seen as highly energetic.

“The momentum is not with the PNP and it probably has to do with leadership. The PNP was there in power for 18 years and people still believe that they want to see a younger person in leadership. That’s why so many people are gravitating to him, Holness. It’s not because he is good. It is just because of age, people prefer to see a younger person,” said Mitchell, a former deputy mayor of Montego Bay, Jamaica’s tourist capital.

A total of 139 candidates will line up next week Thursday for the 63 seats in parliament. Jamaica has in recent years added three seats to its previous 60 to avoid a tie and a constitutional crisis of sorts as had happened in Trinidad nearly 20 years ago. And 13 independent candidates have also decided to throw their hats in the ring. This week Monday, security forces and other essential workers whose services will be required on election day voted separately from the general population to free them on Sept. 3rd.

The elections commission said this week it is almost ready for the battle and will print 1.9 million ballots while ramping up training of staff.

“We are doing a simulation with our staff to make them more comfortable with the election day machines and interacting with potential voters,” said Chief Glasspole Brown. “We have recruited close to 30,000 persons to assist us in the process,” he said.