Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ decision earlier this month to call for the general election on 3 September -right in the middle of the pandemic – was clearly ill-judged and he needs to postpone the polls until 2021. Why the leadership of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) did not object vehemently at the time of Holness’ announcement I will never know.
Of all the priorities today a general election is the very least on Jamaica’s agenda and Holness had until next spring to call the polls.
Since the election was called for 3 September the spike in the COVID-19 has gone to panic alarming levels with even a triple digit increase over the weekend.
One of the oddest decision taken by the government was the opening up of the borders for visitors/Jamaican to come on short term visits during the summer. Meaning there was likely to be little space for any realistic quarantine steps for those landing in Kingston and Montego Bay. Here I have to question the wisdom those overseeing immigration policy.
When immigration officials see a Jamaican on a return flight from New York to visit Jamaica for 5 days does the official question the viability of any quarantine taking place by those arrivals?
No Jamaican is coming on a 5 day visit to Jamaica and staying indoors because many are here for some social festivity whether it be weddings, funerals, parties or set-up/wake etc. Some such individuals were indeed up and the down their local communities the minute they landed.
But the government and opposition PNP are going ahead with the general election. How can that be? The PNP leadership needs to be bolder and not just act like a lame duck to Holness’ every beckon call.
Even though the election date was announced on 11 August, government ministers in particular had been on the campaign trail long before then and thus attracting crowds as they traveled across the island turning on the latest installed water system, opening housing projects or ground breaking the latest building complex etc.
We have seen where tv debates have been announced and the initial names of some of those participating had to be changed due to them been in close proximity to person(s) who have tested for positive for COVID-19.
Once again the government and opposition could learn from the benchmark set by politicians in New Zealand.
In New Zealand most of the political parties agreed to postpone their upcoming elections and the daily increase in positive COVID-19 that triggered such decisive action was nowhere close to the daily equivalents in Jamaica.
Judith Collins, New Zealand’s the Leader of the Opposition (National Party), called for the election delay and was attacked by government supporters for doing so. But when the governing Labour Party’s coalition partner in government, New Zealand First (led by Deputy PM Winston Peters) also pushed for the delay, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had little choice but to move the general election from 19 September until 21 November.
The increase of COVID-19 positives was roughly 12 new community cases in New Zealand the day before Ardern announced the postponement of the general election.
Jamaican has had daily COVID-19 positives of roughly 83, 63, 116, 53 and 98 in the past 5 days. Given there is just 1.9 million persons on the Jamaican voters list, it would be a travesty if thousands (very possible now) could miss voting due to quarantine restrictions.
The COVID-19 numbers are likely to increase even further given the crowds of party supporters who swarmed the streets on Nomination Day last Tuesday, with little care for wearing a mask or keeping social distancing. It was appalling to see grown men and women – who should know better – prancing up and down near our home partying without care for their welfare and others. Then the recent rainy conditions (Hurricane Laura) would not have helped matters either.
Many have said life goes on and we should not let a pandemic prevent the decision of the people from being made at the ballot box. Really? If that is the case why are our children not in school since Easter?
My advice? Postpone the election until 2021, recall parliament and amend the legislation if necessary.
The current closure of parliament for campaigning purposes has meant that the special parliamentary committee overseeing the COVID-19 operations has not met publicly for over 3 weeks. Given the current surge that committee should be meeting this week as a matter of urgency.
So Prime Minister Andrew Holness, swallow your pride, park your green Clarks, postpone the election and recall parliament. Given the unusual circumstances I would even suggest that if the pandemic is still lurking in 2021 to keep the general election over a 2-3 day period in order to spread out the span for voters to cast their ballot paper and avoid overcrowding at or nearby polling stations.
To me the most important priority for Jamaica today – away from the pandemic – is getting those early childhood kids back into some rhythm of education at this critical stage of their young development.