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Holness eyes historic return - JLP looking forward to first consecutive victory in contested polls since 1967

Published:Sunday | August 30, 2020 | 1:13 AMJovan Johnson - Senior Staff Reporter
Jamaica Labour Party leader Andrew Holness.
Jamaica Labour Party leader Andrew Holness.

With the general election just four days away, a bullish Prime Minister Andrew Holness is declaring that his ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has done enough for Jamaicans to reward it with another term in office.

“The JLP administration has put in the work over the last four year and half years that would justify a second term in the minds of Jamaicans,” Holness told The Sunday Gleaner, hours before yesterday’s debate against Dr Peter Phillips, the president of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP).

Holness is seeking to lead his party to its first consecutive win in contested elections since 1967.

“We have delivered on our commitments to the people and we believe that in recognition of this, they will re-elect us,” he said.

The JLP shocked pundits four years ago when it won the election, riding into office on a message of prosperity and the popular promise of removing income tax payments for persons earning up to $1.5 million.

This time around, the coronavirus pandemic has upended economies and growth forecasts, forcing the ruling party into a more sober campaign it has dubbed ‘recovering stronger’.

“It is true that there is still much to do,” the JLP leader admitted.

“And as we have committed to doing in our manifesto,” he continued, “we will make the investment in our people to build back stronger given the effects of COVID-19.”

The JLP’s manifesto is hinged on a 10-point recovery plan, which includes expanding the social safety net that will take in 10 per cent increase in cash grants under the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH); building 70,000 affordable housing starts, of which 10,000 will be reserved for young people up to age 35; and the construction of six schools focusing on science and technology.

The party backed up its commitment to deliver on those promises by pointing to some of its achievements over the last four years, including the reduction in the unemployment rate to 7.2 per cent, fall in poverty, the abolition of the minimum business and asset taxes and training of thousands of youth in vocational areas.

One of the biggest promises of growing the economy by five per cent of gross domestic product was not achieved and speaking at a press conference on Friday, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke appeared to back away from any such future promise.

In last Thursday’s finance debate, Clarke also said the party’s 2020 manifesto plans would cost around $30 billion, but gave little specifics on exactly how the additional funds will be raised.

Neither was there a similar outline from Mark Golding, the opposition spokesman on finance, who said his party’s plans would cost around $70 billion.

And with news from the Bank of Jamaica the day before the financial debate that the economy will contract by between seven and 10 per cent this fiscal year, critics have argued some of the plans may be unrealistic.

Nonetheless, Holness said with the work done nationally and in constituencies, “we believe the Jamaican people will renew the mandate of the Jamaica Labour Party and so the mood in the party is very, very positive”.

New ways of campaigning

Not only has COVID-19 forced changes to economic projections owing to a crushing blow to the tourism industry and mounting job losses, it has forced political parties to find new ways of campaigning.

Just weeks before the polls, both the JLP and the PNP suspended motorcades and any event that could lead to gatherings in breach of protocols such as physical distancing.

“We would have loved to be out there in the field interacting with our people,” Holness said about the changing nature of the campaign.

“I personally take great pleasure in meeting the electorate, responding to their concerns in person and learning what they want so that I know I am representing them exactly how they want to be represented.”

Holness said the party has had to adapt, but he’s satisfied progress in reaching voters was being made.

“Our candidates have been on the ground and in the field and we know they are connecting with the people. We are working to ensure our constituents are safe and that our voters feel confident in going out and voting knowing that all the protocols are in place,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Although Holness made it clear from nomination day that he would not talk about the highly favourably poll results and seat counts, a senior official in the party told The Sunday Gleaner that the party is targeting between 37 and 42 seats – the latter would give the JLP a crucial two-thirds majority in the 63-seat House of Representatives.

The JLP is currently defending 34 constituencies to the PNP’s 29.