Thu | Dec 3, 2020

LAST LAP - PNP, JLP confident as voting starts tomorrow

Published:Sunday | August 30, 2020 | 1:17 AM
People’s National Party President Dr Peter Phillips (right) and Jamaica Labour Party Leader Andrew Holness match wits and make pitches to woo voters in the Jamaica Debates Commission-hosted leadership debate last night.
People’s National Party President Dr Peter Phillips (right) and Jamaica Labour Party Leader Andrew Holness match wits and make pitches to woo voters in the Jamaica Debates Commission-hosted leadership debate last night.

The cookie crumbles this week. After weeks of campaigning in unprecedented circumstances under the cloud of a deadly pandemic, voters will begin casting ballots in the island’s 18th general election tomorrow before final polling on Thursday.

Andrew Holness, leader of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and Dr Peter Phillips, who heads the opposition People’s National Party (PNP), squared off last night in the final of three political debates ahead of the September 3 polls.

Both leaders declared they have clean hands in as they spoke on corruption, economic growth and broken election promises.

Phillips first made the declaration in responding to a question on his health, in which he said he was cancer free and fit to continue with public service.

“I come here with clean hands. In an earlier phase, I had the opportunity, as a very young man, to coordinate the construction of 10,000 houses in Portmore, St Catherine, to establish the JUTC (Jamaica Urban Transit Company), to rescue the Jamaican economy from the chaos. I am prepared to give service again as long as the Almighty permits it and my health enables it and as my health is in perfect condition,” he said.

Saying he was happy to hear the update on Phillips’ health, Holness said: “The truth is my hands are clean. I’ve worked hard … . I’ve presided over the construction of 22,000 houses, ... more roads in Jamaica than any other Government in recent history … .”

Holness rejected assertions that how he campaigned may have contributed to the spike in coronavirus cases in Jamaica, pointing out that he personally delivered more than 80,000 masks to people.

“We must go on with our society,” Holness said. “We are now in the phase of the pandemic where the society has to learn to live with the disease.”

Phillips accused Holness of ignoring advice from the experts, whom he said recommended the tightening of restrictions leading to the period between the Emancipation and Independence holidays, which is largely blamed for the recent massive spike in COVID-19 cases, especially in the southeastern end of the island.

Campaign promises

On the issue of failed 2016 campaign promises, including fixed elections and job descriptions for ministers, Holness said some of those remain “aspirational” while noting that internally, he’s taken steps to hold Cabinet ministers accountable.

Phillips also upset many social media users after suggesting that household duties prevented women from taking up positions in politics.

He later committed after being pushed by Dionne Jackson Miller that win or lose, half his Senate appointments would be women.

In exclusive Sunday Gleaner interviews, the leaders also gave us insight into their projections for Thursday as well as reflections on their campaigns.

The JLP is upbeat that it has delivered on its promise of prosperity, which catapulted it into Government in a stunning upset in 2016. The Labourites’ victory defied polls and relegated the high-riding Comrades to the Opposition benches with a razor-thin one-seat loss.

This time around, the JLP has set its sights on between 37 and 42 of the island’s 63 parliamentary seats, promising Jamaicans that it will drive the nation to recover stronger from the crippling pandemic, which has pounded the island’s economy, leaving several sectors bleeding amid a rising toll of sickness and death.

“We will make the investment in our people to build back stronger, given the effects of COVID-19,” promises Holness, as his party pitches a 10-point COVID-19 recovery plan.

Phillips is planning to rain on the JLP’s parade come Thursday, eyeing 40 parliamentary seats, two shy of the two-thirds majority.

A key plank in his push for Jamaica House is his party’s pledge to give 370,000 families across the island a direct deposit of $4,000 each month towards their electricity and water bills as part of a COVID-19 recovery initiative.

“We will provide immediate relief for the Jamaican people, particularly the most vulnerable and working poor,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com