BELL TO TOLL FOR SEPT POLL
Prime Minister Andrew Holness is expected to call the general election for the week before the new academic year starts on September 7. Party insiders say the likeliest dates are September 2 or 3 in the narrow window to avoid interrupting the return of students.
That equation takes into consideration the minimum periods before and after nomination day and the tradition to not stage elections on a weekend.
Some highly placed party insiders, however, put September 10 as the outer band for D-Day.
Holness, leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), will be casting a worrying eye on the surge of coronavirus cases locally that shot past the 1,000 mark, as well as the danger of hurricane winds blowing off course his electoral advantage as cited in multiple opinion polls.
Under its official slogan, ‘Recovering Stronger’, the JLP is now in full campaign mode, though with a more sobering message of rebuilding amid the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the triumphalist rhetoric of ‘Prosperity’ in 2016.
Holness has signalled to the country to pay attention to what happens in Gordon House on Tuesday as anticipation grows for the date of national polls.
“Tuesday, PM?” The Gleaner asked Holness on Sunday as he combed the packed Grand Ballroom of the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James for Dr Horace Chang, the party’s general secretary, after a meeting of the Central Executive.
“We can look to an announcement Tuesday?” this reporter repeated, to which Holness nodded, smiled, and said, “We ready.”
It was not quite a unanimous confirmation, however, as several of the prospective candidates and party officials with whom this newspaper spoke gave the impression that they were in the dark.
Speaking at a press briefing later, Chang said that Holness told the meeting in which the media were not allowed that an announcement of the election date would be soon.
“And, in this case, ‘soon’ means ‘soon-soon’,” added Marlene Malahoo Forte, attorney general and MP for St James West Central, one of the marginals party insiders say is being watched keenly.
Two very senior officials who did not want to be named said that the election could be held as early as September 2.
On why those dates, they declined to answer, saying: “Watch the green man,” an apparent reference to Holness and the party’s official colour, which is green.
Legislators who have been on summer recess have been summoned to a sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, where new measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus will be proposed and likely approved.
Chang also reiterated the administration’s position on elections and states of emergency, with one further clarification.
“There’ll be no election under the SOE, [and] elections will not be announced within that, and the Parliament will convene and make decisions on that,” said the general secretary.
But he declined to confirm that the matter would be dealt with on Tuesday.
On July 21, Parliament approved five emergency powers resolutions to extend the current states of public emergency (SOEs) until September 3.
The threatening second wave of the coronavirus outbreak in Jamaica is being viewed by some JLP officials as a key reason why the prime minister must get the polls out of the way before more restrictive measures are required.
Chang and his counterpart from the Opposition People’s National Party, Julian Robinson, are expected to meet to agree on coronavirus protocols to guide the election campaign.
The Central Executive meeting was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Sunday but did not get under way until more than an hour later. Holness arrived near noon after attending a service at the Mt Carey Baptist Church.
In a statement, the JLP said that the meeting was convened to sharpen the party’s readiness for the upcoming general election due by March next year and local government polls due in November 2020.
It said that Holness started his presentation by asking those in attendance: “Is it time, and if so, are you ready?” to which, reportedly, there was resounding affirmation and applause.
Holness also referenced the Bible and particularly, Ecclesiastes 3, which opens: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
“No seat is immune from loss, and indeed, no seat is unwinnable,” Chairman Robert Montague told the meeting, according to the statement.
Very few party supporters attended the meeting, which, for the most part, saw compliance with COVID-19 protocols such as mask wearing and hand sanitising.
As officials gathered for the start of the meeting, some formed groups, discussing, in hushed but audible tones, potential dates for elections. Some senior party figures enquired of their colleagues the state of play in their constituencies.
“How you stay?” Pearnel Charles Sr, the outgoing MP for Clarendon North Central, asked Phillip Henriques, who will be seeking to unseat the PNP’s Richard Azan in Clarendon North West.
“I am putting in the work. I don’t call winnings before election,” Henriques said before the two put sufficient distance between them and this reporter.
There was one mini skirmish as a councillor whose name was not on the list of the first screening got irate and labelled his fellow Labourite a “come-around”, which party representatives close by said meant a person whose appearance was seasonal.
Holness took the party’s election machinery to the west over the weekend, visiting most constituencies in Trelawny, St James, and Hanover.
The PNP and the JLP have now confirmed representatives for all 63 constituencies.