Hunt on for control of parish councils - JLP seeks to take command; PNP expects to remain in charge
In less than 36 hours, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will see if its campaign to target the most influential parish councils in the island has paid off, as Jamaicans vote in the traditionally low-turnout local government elections tomorrow.
The JLP is facing a 14-0 deficit for control, including the Portmore Municipality.
The key councils being targeted include the 40-council Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), St Catherine (41), Clarendon (22), Portmore Municipality (12), St Ann (16), and St James (17). Maximum control, though unlikely, of the named councils could see the party having more than half of the 228 divisions being sought, and in municipalities which wield the most power. Those councils, as well as Manchester, collect combined billions in revenue for central government from property taxes and fees payable to the local authority.
Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie is one of the voices of the JLP's media campaign, as well as for the party's councillors/candidates. McKenzie, a former Kingston mayor, said all councils were important.
"Every council is important to the party and the programme we want to see through for the betterment of the Jamaican people. So, no one council is more important than the other, but we have targeted some and so we are putting out efforts where we believe we will get the best returns," McKenzie said.
With an uncontested electronic and print media campaign, the JLP could be mistaken for the only party contesting the elections, except for a few orange flags in some communities.
However, the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) has nearly two councillors to every one JLP in the 13 municipalities, as well as Portmore. The PNP has 150, the JLP 76 and there are two independents (former JLP mayor of Lucea Lester Crooks in Riverside, Hanover, and Paul Patmore in Lorrimers, Trelawny South).
The numbers are not lost on McKenzie.
"We intend to go in the trenches and fight for these divisions. And we expect that barring any unforeseen circumstances the voter turnout will be low, but we are hoping that the people of Jamaica will carry us across the finish line," he said during a motorcade in Golden Grove, St Ann, just over a week ago.
Tomorrow's polls is being held under the cloud of the $600 million road-bushing controversy, which JLP General Secretary Dr Horace Chang has called a "coincidence". The programme is now being investigated by Contractor General Dirk Harrison.
The election is also being run under the veil of disenfranchisement of nearly 4,900 registered electors following the Supreme Courts' boundary ruling in St Catherine.
PNP General Secretary Paul Burke, as well as general secretary-designate Julian Robinson, said the party expects to retain majority control. Burke said the campaign has been strategic for two reasons.
"One, we have mainly ran a ground campaign based on our philosophy of our core values. Second, our campaign has been impacted by funds. Anyone will tell you that the campaign will vary from division to division and from parish to parish. And the local government elections is different from the general elections," said Burke.
He said the PNP councillors who refused to sign the Political Code of Conduct have given the party a "commitment that they will adhere to every facet of the code, but feel so strongly about those who have signed and not adhered. So they will not sign."
According to Burke, under the programme, $79 million has been spent in Kingston and $69 million in Clarendon in a totally political manner. The bushing controversy is directly linked to the non-signatory, he noted.
"I want someone to tell me if more money shouldn't be spent in Clarendon than in Kingston," he queried.
Meanwhile, Director of Elections Orette Fisher said he was confident that all would be in place for tomorrow, with 489 candidates vying for votes in the 16th local government elections.
"Voters are encouraged to check the website to see where they are supposed to vote. It is highly unlikely that the polling division where you voted in the general election will change, but there may be instances where the numbers have grown, causing a split. So that's why it's important to check," said the EOJ boss.
He said Electronic Voter Identification and Ballot Issue System (EVIBIS) will be used in the same seven constituencies as was done in the general election.
EVIBIS has been used in select locations and constituencies since 2007 and will be used in St Catherine Eastern; Kingston Central; Kingston East and Port Royal; and St Andrew Western, South East, Eastern, and West Central.