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Local gov’t election tango - Smith urges JLP to go for it; Scott calls for delay

Published:Sunday | October 11, 2020 | 12:13 AMMark Titus - Staff Reporter
Political commentator Shalman Scott
Political commentator Shalman Scott

The two major political parties are yet to finalise their slate of candidates for the local government elections constitutionally due next month, but after handing a political hiding to the People’s National Party (PNP) in the general election last month, political analyst Lloyd B. Smith believes a smart move by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) would be to go for the kill at the earliest possible time.

“The Holness administration is caught between a rock and a hard place because it would be ideal for Prime Minister [Andrew] Holness to call the local government [elections] in November, when it is due, given the shellacking that the PNP got on September 3,” said Smith, a publisher and former St James Central member of parliament.

“On the other hand, the Government is hard-pressed to deal with the persistent spike in the COVID cases, plus the number of deaths rising must be a concern, and so it is going to be a judgement call,” Smith added. “So it is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and again, let’s face it, timing is the art of politics, so as much as it sounds irresponsible, I would say that the prime minister should just get it over with and have the local government elections in November.”

Although the elections are due next month, the law provides for a delay in the polls for up to 90 days.

There have been concerns that the prevalent flouting of COVID-19 health protocols during the general election campaign period when activities were cranked up in late July could be behind the island’s spiralling COVID-19 cases.

In light of this, Shalman Scott believes Holness should hold off.

“The priority ought to be the saving of this nation and the economy of this nation, not elections,” the former Montego Bay mayor told The Sunday Gleaner. “In fact, there are many people that had their misgivings about the timing of that general election held recently, and it would be unwise for the Government to resurrect among the population another anxiety that such activity will bring.”

JLP councillor and May Pen mayor, Winston Maragh, who is also president of the Association of Local Government Authorities, told The Sunday Gleaner that if it were up to him, Jamaicans would head to the polls the first week of December.

“I would love to get this local government election out of the way,” Maragh said, adding that the JLP was currently vetting some prospective candidates, “but I have not heard anything about the date just yet.”

There are 240 political divisions in 63 constituencies across Jamaica. Five of the 14 municipal corporations – Portmore, St Catherine, Manchester, Westmoreland and Hanover – are controlled by the PNP with the JLP holding the reins in the remaining nine.

Preparations Ramped Up

PNP Chairman Fitz Jackson said the party has now stepped up preparations for the local government elections.

“We acknowledge that it is going to be a challenge, given the defeat that we have had in the past weeks – it was a significant loss – but as a party, we have a responsibility to the country to put our best forward, and that is what our candidates are going to be doing across the country,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

“We’re pretty advanced in selecting all our representatives, but there are a few [divisions] that we need to fill out, and there are a couple that recent developments would have caused some changes to be made,” he said.

Jackson said the PNP was also aware of the impact its November presidential election could have on the municipal polls.

“ ... You are never perfect in these situations, but it can work both ways. With a new president, it can help to galvanise the party and make it more formidable going into the local government elections,” he said. “On the other hand, it can lend itself to some amount of internal divisions within constituencies and impact on one division or the other ... .”

Director of Elections Glasspole Brown said he has not been advised of a date for the municipal polls. Quizzed on the projected cost for the impending elections, he told The Sunday Gleaner that although he has not yet finished tabulating the cost of the September polls, the requested budget for both elections was $2.5 billion, with 40 per cent being for the local government elections.