Thu | Dec 3, 2020

NO REGRETS - PM defends calling election amid COVID-19 surge

Published:Wednesday | August 19, 2020 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter
Despite supporting two different parties, Aggi (left) and his good friend, Abba, enjoyed a few beers outside the Chapelton courthouse on Main Street in Clarendon South East on Tuesday, August 18.
Despite supporting two different parties, Aggi (left) and his good friend, Abba, enjoyed a few beers outside the Chapelton courthouse on Main Street in Clarendon South East on Tuesday, August 18.
People’s National Party supporters outside Mona High School use brooms to ‘sweep out’ the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) out of office shortly after Venesha Phillips was nominated as a candidate for the St Andrew Eastern constituency on Tuesday.
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Prime Minister Andrew Holness has declared that he does not regret calling a general election amid the latest coronavirus spike, arguing that the institutions of democracy cannot be allowed to fail.

The polls are being held on September 3, six months before they are constitutionally due. The Constitution allows for a further three-month extension beyond the set due date.

But as the political temperature rose in the weeks leading up to the August 11 announcement, the country was starting to experience an uptick in its coronavirus count.

On June 1 when Jamaica started opening up its borders, 588 cases were confirmed, with nine deaths. On August 11 when the polls were announced, the new total was 883.

The Ministry of Health reported 1,129 positive cases with 734 recoveries and 14 deaths up to August 17. Sections of Clarendon and St Thomas are now under quarantine.

Several members of the Opposition People’s National Party, including its Clarendon North Western candidate Richard Azan, have criticised the prime minister for calling the election.

But on Tuesday, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader said: “I think we can move ahead safely.”

“No,” he said, when asked whether he regretted calling the election for September.

That confidence was buttressed in his view that the virus outbreak here was being managed well by his administration.

Citing New Zealand, which this week went under stricter lockdown after a spike pricked its three-month run without a COVID case, Holness said that Jamaica does not have the financial capacity to follow suit.

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zeland prime minister, also pushed back to October 17 the general election that was initially planned for September 19.

“New Zealand has reserves; they can go into extended lockdown. That’s their decision. Jamaica can’t,” said Holness after being nominated to seek his sixth consecutive term as the member of parliament for St Andrew West Central.

“Right now as we speak, there are people planning to demonstrate because we have taken a health decision regarding ensuring that the Resilient Corridor is maintained. Two different political considerations. We have made a health decision; we have to move ahead,” the prime minister said of the sterile zone for tourist occupancy.

Earlier, Holness argued that containing the virus spread was difficult and that Jamaica could not forever close borders, which he said would cripple the economy.

“We are transitioning from the containment phase into a phase of learning to live with COVID. So, you have to go on with your life,” the prime minister told journalists.

“You can’t allow your institutions to collapse. You can’t allow democracy to fail because of COVID,” he added.

And though clad in his party colours and pushing for another term in office, Holness said he was not being “political” in asserting that Jamaica was better off with his JLP managing the crisis.

“If you were to just look at the track record of the PNP in managing crisis, I worry, because the truth is, were it the PNP managing the country during COVID, it would be much worse, and nobody can question that,” he said, pointing to the chikungunya and ‘dead babies’ scandal that rocked the previous Portia Simpson Miller administration.

The announcement of the election coincided with at least two public opinion polls that have given the JLP and its popular leader significant advantages over the struggling PNP.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com