Friday 30 October, 2020

August general elections could pose challenges for JLP, say insiders

Some foundation supporters of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) are of the view that general elections in August of this year could pose a ‘challenge for the party, as, among other factors, representatives of some of the seats to be contested are yet to be settled. 

The supporters opined too, that some of the prospective candidates and incumbent parliamentarians for the JLP are not finding great favour with some citizens of their respective constituencies.

Many Jamaicans had theorised that general elections were likely to be called in May or June of this year, despite the polls being constitutionally due in February 2021. However, a unique virus derailed the zealous march of Labourites on what was then broadly labelled as a ‘sure shot’ at trouncing the People's National Party (PNP) at the polls and sending the Opposition party into the proverbial political wilderness.

But since the seeming containment of the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) by the public health services, many media practitioners and political commentators have been suggesting that the general elections could be on the cards for August.

To support their predictions, they have cited a pledge from Prime Minister Andrew Holness in April that he did not intend to call an election while states of emergencies are in force in several parishes and police divisions. It was recently announced in Parliament by National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang, that all the existing states of emergencies are to be lifted on July 25.

Talk-show hosts and political commentators have since viewed this move as a clear sign that summer general elections are imminent.

However, during a recent radio interview with talk-show host, Emily Shields, Holness neither confirmed nor denied that general elections would likely be held in August.

"You could be wrong," Holness told Shields when asked about the possibility of national polls in August.

Similarly, Holness has since this week deflected from the election agenda, indicating at a function in St Mary, that his primary focus is on the post-COVID rebuilding of the economy.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Likewise, at the end of recent adjustments to the make-up of his Cabinet, Holness posited that the central focus of the Government now is economic recovery and growth following the challenges which the COVID pandemic posed.

Within the overall context, a long-time JLP supporter who asked for his identity to be withheld, argued that August general elections would be challenging for the party, as there are issues which both prospective JLP candidates and sitting Members of Parliament (MPs) are facing.

The supporter was among a number of such party affiliates who were recently spoken to in an effort to gauge the underlying internal considerations within the JLP.

One such parliamentary representative who was cited by the Labourite is Leslie Campbell, the sitting MP for North East St Catherine. It was revealed a little over a week ago that Campbell had told his constituency executive that he would not be seeking re-election, and a replacement has already been seemingly announced.

Leslie Campbell

But from reports on the ground in the constituency, the seemingly planned parachuting of Senator Kerensia Morrison is meeting some resistance in the constituency that Campbell narrowly won in 2016.

The JLP supporter declared that "(Leslie) Campbell never did a do much for the seat. People keep on calling for water and road, and there was no sign of him. He was a missing MP basically, but it never surprising (that) him ago walk away. So it even clear now that we (JLP) can't call a (general) election in August."

The supporter argued that a month would not be enough time for a new JLP candidate to establish a "good presence" in the constituency which includes areas like Guy's Hill, Troja, Glengoffe and Mount Industry.

"You can't plan to call a general election in August and then give a man (or woman) little over a month to run in a constituency that Campbell did win by just over 100 votes in 2016. That is madness and would be foolish of my JLP! People complaining of roads, water and unemployment right now (in the constituency), and trust me, it is going to be challenging for a new candidate," the male JLP supporter stated.

When asked about the date he would rather the prime minister to call general elections, the Labourite said he would welcome a date in late November.

"By that time (in November) we suppose to better organised and ready for the PNP, especially in North East (St Catherine). Holness and the party don't have to rush right now. Just keep boost the chances," the JLP supporter maintained.

Leslie Campbell, an attorney by profession, was recently appointed Minister without Portfolio with responsibility for land, environment and climate change in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

Senator Kerensia Morrison

Campbell, notably, only won the North East St Catherine seat by 122 votes in the 2016 General Elections. His PNP rival, Phyllis Mitchell, received 5,763 of the 11,648 legitimate ballots at the polls, while the JLP received the remainder to be victorious. A total of 105 ballots were rejected, according to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (EOJ).

Prominent attorney, Oswest Senior-Smith, who is no stranger to representational politics, having been defeated by the late Shahine Robinson in North East St Ann in the 2007 polls, was set to go up against Campbell at the next general elections.

Senior-Smith, who is said to be making headway in the constituency, will now obviously favour his chances to be even greater to become the next parliamentary representative, and in the process, boosting the PNP's chances of forming the next government.

However, the last time the PNP won the North East St Catherine seat was in the 1993 general elections. Phyllis Mitchell was the party's candidate at the time.

Meanwhile, another traditional JLP supporter with a close handle on happenings in a neighbouring parish, agreed with his counterpart that the party is not ready for general elections in August.

The Labourite explained his position thus: "How mi analyse the party's readiness fi a general election is by what mi ah hear on the ground. Weh mi a hear is that some want push fi August, but some candidates nah gwaan with much, and PNP candidates ah up the pressure, especially in North Central Clarendon and South East Clarendon."

In the North Central Clarendon constituency, the incumbent, Pearnel Charles Snr, is not expected to contest the next general elections, and already Parliamentary Secretary and Senator, Robert Nesta Morgan, has begun his quest to become the next parliamentarian for the constituency.

His social media platforms have been flooded with his campaign activities across numerous communities in the constituency, even during the period when the island faced extremely restrictive measures in relation to stay-at-home and social distancing orders, including sporting activities, like community cricket and football activities.

Senator Robert Nesta Morgan

But the particular JLP supporter, who does not reside in the constituency, but claimed to be in close dialogue with fellow party supports “up deh”, indicated that some Labourites in the constituency were not supporting Morgan because they had desired Charles Snr's son to be the party's representative at the next polls.

"From what mi hear, Labourites there still a carry grudge fi the party's decision to give the seat to Morgan over (Pearnel) Charles Jnr. Personally, mi think that a rubbish, because we as Labourites haffi get behind any candidate the party selects. But on the other hand, talking to the people is key, and dem should a let the people select who dem want," posited the male JLP supporter.

"Labour party can't afford fi lose a seat like that in a general election. So dem need time fi sort out the seat, and August too early fi that sort out... Mi feel Andrew (Holness) fi hold off on calling a general election right now," he added.

The PNP's candidate for the North Central Clarendon seat is long-time community figure, Dr Desmond Brennan, who has also stepped up his social media presence by highlighting his activities in the constituency. He is reportedly gaining serious traction in the area, creating panic among some JLP supporters.

Interestingly, Charles Snr was victorious over Dr Brennan by only 536 votes in the last general elections. The official votes published by the EOJ revealed that Charles Snr received a total of 6,230 votes to defeat Brennan, who polled 5,694 votes.

Meanwhile, the PNP's caretaker/candidate in South East Clarendon, Patricia Duncan-Sutherland, is reportedly gathering much favour among residents in the constituency. This, if authentic, would likely leave newcomer to representational politics, Pearnel Charles Jr, who won a by-election to become MP for the constituency on March 2 with 6,846 votes, to face real competition from Duncan-Sutherland whenever the general elections are called.

The PNP did not contest the March 2 by-election, which was called due to the retirement of veteran JLP representative, Rudyard Spencer.

Pearnel Charles Jnr

In the 2016 General Elections, Spencer managed to turn back the challenge of Duncan-Sutherland by a margin of 958 votes. At the end of the final counting of ballots, the veteran trade unionist polled 9,997 votes to his PNP opponent’s 9,039.

The Clarendon-focussed JLP supporter suggested to Loop News that "She (Duncan-Sutherland) neva leave down there (South East Clarendon), and she always there, so it going to be a battle for Charles Jnr. So, mi party leader (Andrew Holness) need to give him some time to try win over some undecided voters, and reclaim the seat."

Patricia Duncan-Sutherland

The man who claimed that he has been supporting the JLP for over 25 years, also suggested that August general elections were unlikely because the JLP is yet to settle the representation for North East St Ann.

The constituency is without a parliamentary representative due to the death of Shahine Robinson on May 29.

"That seat (North East St Ann) needs a strong representative. Yuh can't give a new representative, especially if ah nuh someone the people used to, just over a month fi campaign. To me that nuh make sense, and although is a labour seat now, mi nuh want the prime minister tek nuh chance and select someone who can't rally the Labourites like how Shahine could," the JLP supporter explained.

Robinson represented the constituency for 19 years until her death. She came to national prominence in 2001 when she snatched the seat for the JLP following the resignation of the PNP's then MP for the constituency, Danny Melville, from Parliament. Since that time, Robinson has not lost the seat.

Shahine Robinson

Since her death, several prominent names have been called as likely contenders for the seat. Among those names senators Kerensia Morrison, Matthew Samuda and Kamina Johnson-Smith.

Samuda is currently Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, while Johnson-Smith serves as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. None of the three senators, however, have publicly indicated any interest in the seat.

Rumours on social media have also suggested that Tyrone Robinson, a longstanding member of the constituency executive, is interested in representing the seat. He indicated in a media interview last week that after the late parliamentarian is laid to rest, he would consider his chances for the seat.

The PNP, which has rebranded itself as being united after close to a year of hard-hitting infighting between supporters of party leader, Dr Peter Phillips and then challenger, Peter Bunting, has selected a virtually unknown - Keith Brown - to contest the NE St Ann seat when the general elections are called.

Outside of the up-close focus on the environments within the three particular seats in St Catherine and Clarendon, the 25-year JLP supporter claimed that a united PNP will be difficult to defeat at the polls, and urged his party's hierarchy to decisively settle all its challenges before rushing to call general elections.

But in contrast, some political commentators have opined that with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the already growing economic fallout, Holness should move to call general elections to secure a second term before facing any further eventualities.

With the PNP now reportedly settling its leadership issues with the appointment of Bunting as co-campaign director and Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, some commentators have argued that Holness should call elections before his opponents are even further united.

Peter Bunting

Phillips has also announced that the PNP has settled its slate of 63 candidates for the upcoming general elections, which compares to the JLP, which is yet to settle on its full slate of candidates.

But the reality remains that Phillips has also lagged badly behind Holness in several national opinion polls, resulting in many individuals even questioning his right to lead the Old Hope Road, St Andrew-based party.

Additionally, Phillips' age and recently, his colon cancer diagnosis, for which he had a successful surgery, have been dragged into the discussions surrounding his leadership.

With these issues bedevilling the PNP, many contend that the upcoming general elections are just a mere formality for the JLP.

Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips.

The green-clad party notably won the 2016 General Elections by the slimmest of margins; 32-31 seats over the PNP, which was then led by Portia Simpson Miller.

Since then, the JLP has increased its seat count to 34 out of two by-elections which were brought about by the tragic deaths of two sitting PNP parliamentarians, Dr Winston Green of South East St Mary, who died of illness in 2017, and Dr Lynvale Bloomfield of East Portland, who was violently killed at his home in February of 2019.

In the October 2017 by-election, the JLP's Dr Norman Dunn polled 8,176 votes to defeat the PNP's Dr Shane Alexis, who amassed 7,230 votes.

Over a year and six months later, a total of 9,989 voters chose the JLP's Ann-Marie Vaz to become the new MP for East Portland. Her competitor in the April 4, 2019 by-election, the PNP’s Damion Crawford, received 9,611 votes.

As the next general elections draw closer in the minds of Labourites, Comrades and non-partisan citizens, the question is, has the JLP done enough to hold on to the 34 seats it now holds? Can the party also pull in any success from among the PNP's 29 seats?

Some political commentators and radio talk-show hosts believe that Holness has done enough to pull off a win at the upcoming general elections, despite the various challenges he has faced; the latest being the coronavirus and emerging public corruption issues.

And even in the midst of that global pandemic, Holness has come forth as a winner for his so far almost astounding management and containment of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) within the island.

This bright achievement in a time when the virus has ravaged many global economies and killed over 400,000 worldwide, could likely push Holness far ahead of his Opposition counterpart whenever the next general elections are held.

But to be brutally objective, Holness cannot take all the praise for the management of the COVID-19 challenges locally, as Health and Wellness Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton and his team at the ministry, have together worked extremely hard and purposefully to dent any extreme escalation of the virus locally, like in the United States, where over 2.4 million people have contracted the disease, with almost 130,000 dead, according to John Hopkins University data.

Dr Christopher Tufton

Here in Jamaica, Holness' clearly strong and decisive leadership has been seen from the outset of Jamaica's first set of cases when he took the early decision to close all schools, implement work-from-home orders and various curfew measures, along with ordering the closure of the island's borders to minimise the spread of the virus.

Wherever clusters of the virus were identified, the Government acted decisively to implement quarantine/lockdown orders, notably in Bull Bay in St Andrew; Corn Piece in Clarendon; the entire parish of St Catherine; and the communities of Dover, Annotto Bay and Enfield in St Mary.

The lockdowns, though met with opposition, complaints and heated criticisms from residents, the PNP and other stakeholder groups, have seemingly largely paid off for the Holness Administration, as the virus has so far been largely contained in the once lockdown areas.

The Government has again acted, as recently health officials began surveillance in West Kingston and Norwood, St James, to prevent any spread of COVID-19 after individuals in the two areas tested positive due to imported cases.

More than three months since Jamaica's first COVID-19 case, health officials continue to seemingly win the battle, as there has been a total of 728 confirmed positive cases, with 569 recoveries so far, and 10 deaths in total from the virus.

For the overall efforts to contain the island's coronavirus numbers, Holness has been widely publicly commended by citizens, talk-show hosts, political commentators and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) colleagues. He has also been recognised internationally for the efforts and the results so far, including with an appearance on CNN and in coverage by a US-based newspaper.

With the 'new COVID-19 success' added to the winning points column of the Government, many  Labourites are itching to hit the campaign trail to ensure that their ‘Brogad’ – an unconventional title given to Holness by mainly young Jamaicans as an offshoot of a popular community slang - is kept at the helm of the leadership of the country.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the JLP supporters and many other citizens who made strong assertions that they were not at all affiliated with any political party, were itching to usher Holness into a second term in office. This was due largely to the economic successes of the Administration, such as the whopping 19 consecutive quarters of economic growth, unemployment at record low levels, the booming growth of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, and several large investments mainly in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Also pivotal has been the combined impact of several major road improvement projects that were undertaken by the Administration, and others earmarked to commence, such as the much-touted South Coast Highway from Harbour View in St Andrew to Port Antonio, Portland.

The coronavirus has, however, negatively impacted the economic gains that were made by the JLP on the back of financial stability it inherited from the PNP back in 2016, as the Bank of Jamaica in May claimed that unemployment, due mainly to layoffs, could be as high as 12 per cent.

The tourism sector had also largely been shuttered by the virus for over two months, with thousands of persons being affected and some businesses closed or with significantly scaled down operations.

The budget too, has been cut, due to steep declines in revenue as a result of the COVID-19.

But with the containment of the virus in Jamaica, Holness has signalled his intent to get the economy rolling on the ‘prosperity’ agenda again as the island's borders opened to international travellers on June 15, leading to the reopening of some hotels.

Curfew measures have also been relaxed, resulting in further renewal of economic activities on the island, which can be viewed as a further positive for the JLP Gvernment.

Additionally, major crimes continue a downward trend, but realistically largely due to the implementation of several states of emergencies across a number of parishes and police divisions.

Murders, for example, are down by 3.4 per cent this year, compared to the corresponding period for last year, according to Minister without Portfolio in the National Security Ministry, Senator Matthew Samuda.

He revealed the details during his contribution to the debate on a resolution to extend the states of public emergency in the Kingston West and Kingston Central police divisions.

But many Jamaicans believe that with such wide-scale impositions of states of emergencies, the limited reductions in major crimes, especially murder, have not signified good governance in that portfolio area.  

On another notable front, it is yet to be known in full whether scandals that engulfed the country’s lone oil refinery, Petrojam, and National Energy Solutions Limited (NESOL) as well as the Ministry of Education under the Holness-led administration, will feature in the minds of Jamaicans when they decide which party will form the next government.

The scandals, particularly in relation to Petrojam and lately, relative to the St Ann Municipal Corporation, have suddenly hit centre-stage since reports and actions of the Integrity Commission have hit the public spotlight.

But amid speculations of the likely negative impacts of the emerging corruption assertions against a number of politicians from both major national political parties, the national pollsters have come up front and centre to declare that corruption is not figuring significantly on the radar of the voting public, based on their canvassing, and is not likely to hold any great sway in the pending polls, whether held in August or later.  

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