Thu | Aug 17, 2017

New polls loom - Razor-thin majority expected to force next government into early elections

Published:Monday | February 29, 2016 | 2:00 AMGary Spaulding
Employees of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) move ballot boxes from St Thomas Western into the EOJ building on Duke Street, downtown Kingston, yesterday.
Attorney-at-law KD Knight looks on while Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) employees move ballot boxes from St Thomas Western into the EOJ's downtown Kingston building yesterday.
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Jamaica seems set to return to the polls in very short order, with indications that either of the two major parties that crawls out of last Thursday's election on top could end up governing with a majority of one in the House of Representatives.

But more worrying for political commentator Dr Paul Ashley is what he described as the 159-vote mistake by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), which, he said, has sent the electoral process into a tailspin.

Dr Horace Chang, general secretary of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), has acknowledged that an early election could be in the making.

"In our system, even a one-vote majority can function, but it would not be appropriate to maintain for any long period," Chang told The Gleaner yesterday.

He added: "Some decisions will have to be taken early, and the possibility of an early election would, in fact, arise."

He suggested that while the Speaker of the House of Representatives is empowered to cast a vote in Parliament, there would be need for a negotiated arrangement and timing for another election.

"There would be need for an arrangement and time frame," he said. "This is my view as an experienced politician."

Last night, The Gleaner was unable to reach People's National Party (PNP) General Secretary Paul Burke for comment.

Officials of both parties were believed to be locked in meetings with their legal teams, crafting their next moves in relation to the recounts.

The preliminary count of last Thursday's polls ended 33 to 30 in favour of the JLP, but the official count, which is expected to continue today, could produce an even tighter outcome, with the EOJ already announcing changes to one result.

It was revealed late Saturday night that JLP candidate Dr Norman Dunn, who had won the St Mary South East seat with 7,311 votes to Dr Winston Green's 7,184 in the preliminary count, had lost by nine votes on the final count.

With the seat count, therefore, moved to 32-31 in favour of the JLP, and suggestions that another seat held by the JLP could swing the PNP's way on final count today, it is not yet definitive which party will form the next government.

While Ashley agrees that it would pose a challenge for either the JLP or the PNP to operate with such a slim majority, he suggested that heads should roll at the EOJ for the confusion in which Jamaica has been unceremoniously placed.

According to Ashley, the drastic change in the count in St Mary South Eastern has brought into question all seats that have been won by under 150 votes.

"They will, in all likelihood, give rise to serious challenges in other seats," declared Ashley. "The man (Dunn) was declared a winner by more than 150 votes, and you re-count, and the man lose by nine votes. Something is radically wrong with that system."

He said that it, therefore, has put into question the election results in St Ann South West, St James South, St Catherine North East, and St Andrew Eastern, which had been decided by narrow margins.

Ashley warned that attention would be focused on seats with marginal outcomes even if the margins are confirmed. He predicted that challenges are likely to be launched for magisterial recounts.

"We are now faced with potential political instability, with the distinct possibility that the total outcome could be reversed," said Ashley.

"The confidence in the EOJ has been shaken."

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com