Wed | Dec 1, 2021

Ready! Set! Stop!

Opposition wants MOU with PM pledging no elections for 2021

Published:Friday | October 15, 2021 | 12:10 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
PNP General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell addressing a press conference on Monday.
PNP General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell addressing a press conference on Monday.

Ahead of its 83rd annual conference this weekend, the People’s National Party (PNP) is reporting that 98 per cent of its candidates have been selected for the impending local government elections. But the party is demanding that the prime minister...

Ahead of its 83rd annual conference this weekend, the People’s National Party (PNP) is reporting that 98 per cent of its candidates have been selected for the impending local government elections. But the party is demanding that the prime minister ink an agreement not to call elections for this year.

PNP General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell, in a Gleaner interview on Thursday, said the opposition party has taken the political temperature on the ground and is repositioning itself amid the dismal findings of RJRGLEANER-commissioned polls.

Local government elections are due by February 27, 2022, following Parliament’s approval of amendments to temporarily modify the Representation of the People Act (ROPA), but the PNP trails the scandal-battered governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) by nine percentage points.

The elections were to have been held by November 2020.

“The poll findings are not something we’ve been detained by. We note the findings, and we see the things that we can change from them, and then we move along from there,” said Campbell.

Marred by infighting, which PNP President Mark Golding has identified as a factor for the woeful 17 per cent support pledged by the electorate, Campbell disclosed that the party is being guided by internal polls it has conducted.

With two campaign co-chairs in place – Dr Angela Brown Burke and Mikael Phillips – virtually all its candidates identified, Campbell wants a commitment from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that he will not hold local elections this year.

“There should be a memorandum of understanding signed between the two major political parties in that regard because it has been said before, and then he went ahead and called an election,” said Campbell, who insisted that several COVID-19 vaccination tours headed by Holness are being used for political ends.

In June, the prime minister announced that there would be no local government elections this year and not until he is satisfied that the country was on the right trajectory for vaccination.

Holness signalled on Thursday a looming “vaccine option” when the country achieves a 50 per cent take-up. Fewer than 12 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“Some of the vaccine tours taking place seem like a campaign to me with the presence of the minister of local government on all of those stops. It seems like there is a campaign on in earnest for local government,” said Campbell, “But we will be prepared.”

He also cited the pandemic as a concern for not wanting elections now, noting that the country is only just emerging from a third wave of COVID-19.

The PNP will be heading into the elections with other concerns, including the absence of firebrand councillor for the Papine division, Venesha Phillips, on its ballot.

Phillips has publicly voiced her disapproval of Golding as party president, noting a difference in ideology for the political movement

She has since announced her decision not to seek re-election.

PNP Youth Organisation Region Three representative Peta-Gaye Ferguson is expected to contest the seat for the party.

“She has been the candidate now for six months. So that matter has been settled as far as I’m aware,” the PNP general secretary said.

Despite this, he acknowledged that there are concerns about the prospects of retaining the division.

“She (Ferguson) will need to do the necessary work. Ms Phillips would obviously have good connections in the division, having been there for a while, and it is our hope that she will support the candidate that is there,” he said.

Phillips, a two-term councillor for that division and the party’s most recent standard-bearer for the St Andrew Eastern constituency, said that she would not blindly assist the party if regaining power was the only objective.

“I’m not going to go with a colour for the sake of the colour. It has to be about substantial politics going forward or Jamaica going to just collapse under us,” she told The Gleaner.

Meanwhile, Director of Elections Glasspole Brown said Thursday that the Electoral Office of Jamaica had started preparations.

He put a preliminary $1-billion price tag on staging the elections.

“That is now being reviewed, so we have not yet come up with a final cost,” Brown said.

Some 36,000 new voters’ identification cards have been issued over the last three days, he said, with a four-month window for the polls.

Several divisions remain without representatives following multiple resignations and deaths since 2020.

PNP councillor for the Whitehouse division, Valdence Gifford, resigned from the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation in March 2020, citing ill health.

He was followed by JLP councillor for the Spanish Town division in the St Catherine Municipal Corporation, Kenesha Gordon, a month later.

The deaths of the JLP’s Derron Wood and the PNP’s Yvonne McCormack in March and May of this year, respectively, left the Fairy Hill division in Portland Eastern and Greater Portmore East division in St Catherine Southern without representatives.

The Local Governance Bill 2015, Section 4, Subsection 5 (a) (b) (general election and by-election) outlines that a by-election must be held a day within three months after the vacancy has been entered in the minutes of the council; or a day within three months after notice in writing of the occurrence of the vacancy has been given to the chairperson of the municipal corporation by two people who were entitled to vote at the last election of a councillor for that electoral division.

The Gleaner could not reach Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie or his deputy, Homer Davis, for comment.

McKenzie is said to be off the island.