Friday 25 September, 2020

Time come to ‘call it’! House sitting expected to set election stage

Andrew Holness

Andrew Holness

When the House of Representatives hastily reconvenes on Tuesday after previously suspending sittings for the month of August, the main agenda item is expected to be the ending of the states of emergency (SOE) that are now in place in several parishes and police divisions across the country.

The move is expected to pave the way for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to announce the date of the next general elections.

Holness had previously stated that he would not announce the election date with the SOEs in place.

The emergency measure was set to expire on September 3.

With the polls not constitutionally due until February 2021, with a possible extension to June 10, analysts posit that surging cases of COVID-19 and the expectation that despite showing some amount of robustness as indicated by private sector leaders on Monday, the coming economic fallout as a result of the coronavirus is expected to be significant.

Analysts have also posited that with the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) opening up a wide margin against the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) in public opinion polls, it makes good political sense to call the elections now.

But the urgency with which Holness now appears to be going about announcing the date for the country’s 18th general elections since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944 is in stark contrast to three weeks ago, when he insisted that he was focused on rebuilding the economy, rather than an election.

The past two weeks have seen the prime minister visiting a number of parishes, where he has officially opened several projects, handed over keys to homes, and commissioned water supply systems in places where there had been no water for decades, in a clear sign that elections are in the air.

He has focused attention on the parishes of St Ann, St James, St Mary, Trelawny and Hanover, where the JLP clearly intends to hold onto the seats it won in 2016, while trying to wrest some, including Hanover Western and Southern St James, from the PNP.

The ending of the SOEs and the expected announcement of the election date on Tuesday is also an indication of the anticipated tough times ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  When Holness sought an extension to the SOEs on June 21, he initially asked the House to keep the emergency measure going until October 24. However, the PNP pushed for a much shorter period, with the House settling on September 3.

On Sunday, JLP General Secretary, Dr Horace Chang, and Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, both addressed a press conference following the party’s Central Executive meeting at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, where they both hinted that the SOEs will come to an end on Tuesday, thus freeing the prime minister to call the elections.

“There will be no elections under the SOEs, so the elections will not be announced (while they remain in place). The Parliament will convene and make a decision on that,” Chang said as he responded to journalists.

“What we can say to you is that where a state of public emergency exists, in order for it to be brought to an end, it takes place in Parliament,” Malahoo Forte added.

Holness told Sunday’s meeting that the elections will be called “soon-soon”.

Meanwhile, it is not known whether the House will debate an amendment to the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) on Tuesday that would pave the way for both the general and local government elections to be held at the same time. A joint election would save taxpayers in the region of $750 million, the authorities have indicated, thereby limiting the use of scarce public resources within the challenging times of the coronavirus pandemic.

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