Fewer than 20 seats to determine winner of today’s general election
(Jamaica Observer article)
After months of unofficial campaigning and three weeks of the official election campaign it is now up to Jamaicans to decide whether the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) or the People’s National Party (PNP) will form the Government for the next five years.
The Andrew Holness-led JLP will go into today’s contest with the advantage, based on national public opinion polls, but these have been wrong on many occasions, giving the Dr Peter Phillips-led PNP confidence that it will be returned to power after a four-and-a-half-year break.
Both leaders have, as expected, predicted that they will lead their party to victory, with Holness telling the Jamaica Observer that he expects to emerge with a bigger margin than the 34 to 29 seats that he ended his last term.
“The party’s machinery is intact, it is well mobilised, it is also high energy and there is a high level of vigilance with that energy as well,” Holness told the Observer as the election loomed.
Phillips was equally confident as he spoke with the Observer on Tuesday.
“Regardless of what the polls say, we are looking at what we see on the ground, and we know what our Comrades are saying and therefore we are focused on victory.”
The two leaders are well aware that it will be a handful of seats — no more than 20 — which will determine the election as the two parties start with a number of constituencies in which it would be an upset of monumental proportions if they were to lose.
For the JLP, it can count constituencies such as Kingston Western, Manchester North Eastern, St Andrew North Eastern, St Catherine Central and its leader’s own St Andrew West Central in the winning column before the first vote is cast this morning.
But the JLP knows it will have to hang on to marginal constituencies such as St Andrew West Rural, St Andrew Eastern, Hanover Eastern, St Andrew North Eastern, and the two Clarendon seats of south eastern and north central, where veteran Members of Parliament have been replaced by two relative newcomers.
The JLP could also find itself in battles in St Catherine East Central, where the incumbent Alando Terrelonge is facing a stiff fight from the PNP’s Raymond Pryce, and St James West Central where Marlene Malahoo Forte will have to beat back newcomer Dr Andre Haughton.
On the PNP’s side, it can expect its usual runaway victories in constituencies such as St Andrew Southern, Kingston Eastern and Port Royal, and St Ann South Eastern.
But the PNP will have to claw back St Mary South Eastern, which it lost in a by-election following the 2016 General Election. The Comrades will also have to take back St Andrew Eastern and St Andrew West Rural, which they lost in 2016.
The Phillips team could also find itself defending some surprising seats, including Manchester Central, where Peter Bunting, a proven winner, finds himself in an unexpected battle with the JLP neophyte Rhoda Moy Crawford.
The PNP could also find itself in major fights in three other seats that it has traditionally won — Trelawny Northern, where the incumbent Victor Wright is facing an energetic Toya Hamilton; St Catherine South Eastern, where veteran MP Colin Fagan is facing the fight of his life against Robert Miller; and Hanover Western, where regular winner Ian Hayles is seeing a surprisingly strong challenge from newcomer Tamika Davis.
Just over 882,000 people, or 48.3 per cent of the 1,824,412 individuals on the voters’ list, voted in 2016, and with rain in the forecast for many parishes today, plus the fears surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic, both political parties will have to pull out all the stops to get their support of the 1,913,410 Jamaicans registered to vote this time around.
In the meantime, the Government has given approval for people in quarantine, even those positive for COVID-19, to vote, but with strict protocols.
Under the rules people, required to remain in quarantine, other than those who are required to remain in isolation from others, may leave quarantine once to vote, during the hours of 7:00 am and 5:00 pm and shall immediately after voting return to quarantine.
In addition to wearing a mask over the nose and mouth, they are required to observe protocols of the polling station and maintain physical distancing.
They must also travel to the polling station in a private vehicle with windows open and the air conditioning switched off. The driver and other passengers should also wear masks at all times.
Similarly, people required to remain in isolation from others may leave quarantine once for the purpose of voting during the hours of 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm and shall immediately after voting return to quarantine in isolation from other people.
They are also required to notify the Ministry of Health and Wellness prior to leaving quarantine and wear a mask fitted to cover the nose and mouth, a face shield, gloves and a disposable gown.
Transportation to the polling station must be private with only a driver present in the vehicle, among other requirements outlined by the Government.
A total of 139 candidates have been nominated to contest the election with the two major political parties accounting for 126 of that number.
The electronic voter identification system, which is computer-based and requires voters to place a specific finger on a fingerprint scanner to be issued a ballot, will be used in six constituencies — St Andrew Western; St Andrew West Central; Kingston Eastern and Port Royal; St Andrew East Rural, St Catherine Central, and St Catherine Eastern.
The polls open at 7:00 am and close at 5:00 pm, with the Electoral Commission of Jamaica is projecting that a result should be available by 10:00 pm.