Sat | Sep 26, 2020

SEPT 3 GREEN LIGHT - Holness seeks second mandate in 23-day election sprint; nomination day August 18

Published:Wednesday | August 12, 2020 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness addresses parliamentarians during a sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, August 11.
St Andrew South Eastern Member of Parliament Julian Robinson playfully clenches his fist – the iconic symbol of the People’s National Party – while bantering with his Jamaica Labour Party counterparts showing the V-sign in Gordon House on Tuesday. Jamaica will head to the polls on September 3.
Did someone say Clarks? Prime Minister Andrew Holness enters the House of Representatives in his Clarks, a sign that he was ready to announce the date for the general election.
Outgoing Members of Parliament Noel Arscott (left), of Clarendon South Western, and House Speaker Pearnel Charles Sr, Clarendon North Central, depart Gordon House on Tuesday, August 11, after attending their last parliamentary sitting in representational politics.
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Andrew Holness will seek his second mandate for state power when his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) heads to the polls on Thursday, September 3 in a 23-day sprint to beat gathering coronavirus clouds that could dampen voter turnout.

Some 1,913,410 persons are on the voters’ list, up from 1,824,410 in the February 2016 election in which Holness’ JLP registered a surprise one-seat win over the People’s National Party (PNP).

Tuesday’s announcement of the general election was unlike any in recent memory.

There was no blaring music, and the thousands had not come out to witness the calling of Jamaica’s 18th general election, and there was no “flying of the gate”.

It was a dead giveaway that the occasion was no ordinary one.

There was little activity in the early proceedings of Parliament, but anticipation was building for the arrival of the prime minister.

A crowd had gathered outside the precincts of Gordon House, and top-level aides of the prime minister were on hand.

Then at 5 p.m. sharp, Holness arrived with his security detail, donning the symbolic Clarks shoes and a tie in the national colours – black, green, and gold.

Holness rose to his feet and went through the process of seeking to end the current states of public emergency in the country, prolonging the anticipation of the election date announcement.

“I now see it necessary to seek another mandate from the people,” Holness charged as government members banged the desks of Parliament as he began to defend his stewardship of the country for just over four and half years as prime minister.

SYMBOLIC DATE

The September 3 date for the general election was soon finally announced, with the prime minister and JLP leader opening the batting for a second term.

It is a symbolic date for the Labourites as it was on that date 13 years ago that Bruce Golding, who later anointed Holness his successor, led the JLP to a victory over the PNP, ending the near-two-decade trek in political wilderness.

Nomination day, Holness said, will be next Tuesday, August 18.

“We will be quick, we will be efficient, we will be peaceful,” Holness stated.

In making the case for a second term, Holness pointed to the abolition of the asset tax, reduction of the general consumption tax rate by 1.5 percentage points, and record-low unemployment rates before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the economy.

Holness said he was proud of the roadworks that his Government was able to undertake during the term.

Citing multiple opinion polls that have so far shown him way ahead of his opposition counterpart, Holness said, “I cannot recall there being a Government before that has enjoyed the sustained approval ratings since this Government … so late in our term and even after facing an extensive crisis of a pandemic.”

Both the PNP and the JLP are expected to field a full slate of 63 candidates while the newly formed Jamaica Progressive Party could have candidates in as many as 58 seats.

Holness, who is 48, has lost one general election – two months after his sudden elevation to the prime ministership in 2011 after Golding’s political meltdown sparked by a diplomatic stand-off with the United States and near-civil war cost him political capital.

The JLP is seeking to stay in office for a second consecutive term, in a contested election, for the first time in more than half a century. The last time the party held power for two consecutive terms was between 1980 and 1989, although the PNP had not contested the 1983 snap polls.

Just after Parliament adjourned, the PNP members filled the chamber with their voices, singing their party anthem, but were quickly interrupted by government members who, too, had started belting out their own tune.

Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, who is also PNP president, told The Gleaner on Tuesday evening that his party’s agenda was set and that he and his troops were ready to hit the ground to upset the JLP at the polls.

“We are ready! We are going to win. We are going on the road, and we are going to win,” the 70-year-old veteran, reacting to the election date announcement, said.

“The Government has done nothing in their time, and we are going out there.”

This is Phillips’ first time in the driver’s seat at a general election.

“The Comrades are ready!” he further declared as he headed towards flag-waving orange-clad PNP supporters.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com