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Let’s vote 2016! - Jamaicans believe early next year would be the best time to call general election

Published:Sunday | October 18, 2015 | 10:00 AMArthur Hall
A People’s National Party supporter and a Jamaica Labour Party supporter share the love in St Andrew East Rural on election day.
Jamaicans waiting to vote on election day in 2011.
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Hold those plans to call the next general election this year. That's the suggestion from a majority of Jamaicans to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller based on the latest Gleaner-Bill Johnson opinion polls.

With senior officials of the governing People's National Party (PNP) signalling that a general election is on the horizon, a majority of Jamaicans - 53 per cent - believe the election should be held next year, while only 29 per cent say it should be held between November and December.

A further 18 per cent of Jamaicans said they did not have an opinion on when the election should be held.

Of the Jamaicans who support the governing PNP, 40 per cent say the election should be held this year, while 35 per cent say the first half of next year. This is slightly different for supporters of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), with 34 per cent of its supporters saying let's get it on this year, while 42 per cent prefer the first half of next year.

"What this shows is that the PNP supporters are a little more eager because they believe they have the momentum. But, basically, both sets of supporters are saying let's decide this thing by June next year," noted Johnson.

"To add to that, 40 per cent of the respondents between 18 and 24 years old want it this year, while 31 per cent of that age group say the first half of next year, so 71 per cent of the young people want the election out of the way quickly," added Johnson.

The next general election is constitutionally due between December 29, 2016 (five years after the day of the previous election in 2011) and April 16, 2017 (within five years and three months of the date of the first sitting of the new Parliament on January 17, 2012).

However, PNP Campaign Manager Dr Peter Phillips has already signalled that the election is near.

"I am here tonight to say also to you, that you need to get yourself ready for the sounding of the trumpet because you know not the time nor the hour," Phillips said while addressing Comrades recently.

The party also used its recent 77th annual conference to fine-tune its election machinery.

"Commence election preparations. Establish campaign committees. Begin the training of campaign committees and constituency trainers. Identify and train election volunteer workers, and begin preparations of constituency achievement and candidate brochures," PNP General Secretary Paul Burke told the delegates in his annual report for the 2014-2015 political year.

"Yes, we are ready, and yes, we are in election mode. But I will remind you of the words of the founding father, the late N.W. Manley: 'Organise, organise, organise.' What you see here today is the fulfilment of that organisation," added Burke's deputy, Luther Buchanan.

He was echoing the words of the party's former president P.J. Patterson, who used a private session of the conference to urge delegates to organise to ensure victory at the polls.

 

OPPORTUNITY LOST

But political commentator Mark Wignall believes the PNP might have lost the opportunity to call the election this year.

"I actually believe, based on my experience from 1976, that the PNP will find it difficult to call the elections this year," Wignall told The Sunday Gleaner.

"The party has too many unresolved problems relating to the selection of candidates in some constituencies. Plus this prison gift from [British Prime Minister David] Cameron is really hurting the Government, and the PNP needs to wheel and come again," added Wignall.

He argued, though, that with clear indications that the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) coffers are bare, Simpson Miller might be tempted to go to the polls this year, but believes it would not hurt the PNP to wait until early next year.

"I know things can change quickly in politics, but I doubt that, given even two more months, the JLP would be able to find the money to properly fund an election campaign," said Wignall as he argued that February 2016 might be a better bet for the PNP.

 

PM'S DECISION

However, only Simpson Miller, as prime minister, has the authority to call a general election, a constitutional provision that almost seven in every 10 Jamaicans want changed.

The latest Gleaner-Johnson poll, conducted islandwide between September 25 and 27, with 1,200 respondents and a sampling error of +3.5% or -3.5%, found that 65 per cent of Jamaicans want the rules changed to have a fixed election date and not leave this to the whims and fancy of the prime minister.

Twenty-six per cent of Jamaicans believe the current system, which allows the prime minister to call the election at a time believed to be most convenient to the governing party, should remain, while nine per cent of the respondents said they did not know.

Turning to the proposal to hold both the overdue local government elections and the general election on the same day, only 31 per cent of Jamaicans back the idea, which the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) says could save the country more than $1 billion.

ECJ Chairman Dorothy Pine-McLarty has argued that this would be a progressive move, which would put the country on par with several jurisdictions.

"The Electoral Commission has no authority to dictate to the Government when elections are carried out. That remains the express prerogative of the prime minister.

"However, we strongly recommend that the necessary legislative changes be made to give the Government the choice to hold local and central government elections either separately or together," said Pine-McLarty.

But 35 per cent of Jamaicans believe Simpson Miller should first call the local government elections, which were constitutionally due by June 30, which have been postponed to as late as December 2016.

Twenty-two per cent believe the general election should be called first, while 12 per cent had no opinion on whether both elections should be held together or which should be called first.

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com