Jamaica’s 18th General Elections after Universal Adult Suffrage 1944, was held on September 3, 2020 with the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party, JLP regaining power. The writing has been on the walls for several months as all three polls declared a comfortable victory for Andrew Michael Holness and the JLP.
HISTORIC TREND BROKEN
The JLP has broken the historic trend of two consecutive one-term governments. Indeed, last Thursday’s win marks the first time in 53 years that the JLP has won two consecutive contested general elections. The last time was in 1962 and 1967. Last month, Political Analyst Dr Paul Ashley said the gap between the JLP and PNP being seen in the polls, is mostly due to the popularity of the leader. Dr Ashley says “Mr Holness remains JLP’s best asset”. He said “The Prime Minister’s popularity ahead of the General Elections has translated into the votes needed to secure a second term. Holness’ coat tails proved decisive tonight“.
PNP’s DEFEAT AND RESPONSE BY PARTY PRESIDENT
The landslide victory had the JLP getting 48 out of the 63 parliamentary seats to the People’s National Party, the PNP, 15 seats. The results shocked and paralyzed members of the PNP who had touted a 40-seat win, but when the curtains came down at 9pm on D-day, PNP Vice President Phillip Paulwell, with a tearful voice said he was surprised by the crushing defeat but urged party supporters to remain focused. PNP President, Dr Peter Phillips at 12;30pm, on Election Day, four and a half hours before the close of polls, announced that if his party lost, he would resign as party leader and also as a Member of Parliament. Dr Phillips, who did not visit the party headquarters during the counting, called a press conference the next day at 11am. At that press meeting which lasted under 10 minutes, said “as is now recognized, the results of the general elections held yesterday, have been very unfavourable to the PNP. As in all undertakings, such as this, the ultimate responsibility must rest with the leader of the party” said Dr Phillips. “Accordingly I considered it my duty to demit office as the president of the party and I have written to the chairman to ask that the National Executive Council and the executive of the party, make the arrangements as soon as is practicable, to elect a new leader for the party”. Up to one week later, both committees had not made a decision to accept or reject Dr Phillips’ resignation.
SAFE SEATS LOST BY PNP
The centre-right JLP won 48 of 63 seats, an addition of 16 seats. Safe seats no longer exist as strong PNP seats were safely won by the JLP. These seats were represented by seasoned PNP members like Peter Bunting, Dr Fenton Ferguson, Dr Dayton Campbell, Dr Wykham McNeil, Dwayne Vaz, Imani Duncan-Pryce, Richard Azan, Colin Fagan and Victor Wright. Up to the time of writing, both Westmoreland Eastern and South East St Ann will go to Magisterial recount on Friday 9/11. Westmoreland Eastern had a tie which went to the incumbent, PNP Luther Buchanan but the JLP candidate Daniel Lawrence requested a magisterial recount. On Sunday morning after both candidates’ names were placed in an empty polling box, Buchanan’s name was pulled from the box. The presiding officer, in keeping with the requirements of the office holder, therefore cast one ballot in favour of Buchanan. JLP Lawrence would have none of it and his Attorney has since indicated that he has prepared a request for a magisterial recount. The PNP Lisa Hanna, former Miss World, in South East St Ann won by 14 votes to JLP’s Delroy Granston which will also go to a magisterial recount.
LOW VOTER TURNOUT
The low voter turnout this time around is suspected to have been largely caused by the spike in COVID-19 cases across the island and widespread fear of the virus. In 2016, where the JLP won 32 of the 63 seats, 47.7% of the voting population turned out to vote, but a week ago, just about 37% turned out. In the 2016 elections, one political commentator described the poll as “the closest election Jamaica has ever had”. For the elections preceding 2016, in the December 2011 election, 53.1% voters turned out which recorded a landslide victory with the PNP winning 42 of the 63 seats, a two-thirds majority.
In a few constituencies, a number of rejected ballots have been discovered. In Clarendon North Western, the final count showed the JLP’s Phillip Henriques polled 5,630 votes to unseat the incumbent PNP Richard Azan by 83 votes. There is a report by the Presiding Officer that 1,107 rejected ballots were discovered which represent almost 10% of the total votes cast in the constituency. Director of Elections Glasspole Brown says “I find it unusual that 1,107 ballots were rejected in last week’s general elections in Clarendon North Western and does raise a red flag”. He further stated “I did not see the ballots; the decision was the Returning Officer’s, it’s his wisdom based on the training and the guidance we have given him”. The number of rejected ballots in Clarendon North Western would be the highest for the constituency in at least five elections stretching back to 1997, and by far, the most by any constituency in Jamaica over the same period.
A ballot may be rejected if:
1) the paper was not supplied by the presiding officer
2) it was not marked for any candidate
3) the vote was given for more than one candidate
4) there was writing or mark on the ballot paper which could identify the elector
At his Inauguration speech on Monday September 7, the 48 year-old Prime Minister pledged to “continue our good policies” in order to “keep Jamaica on the path to prosperity. We will be responsible with the power that you have given to us”. Among the major issues in his speech, Mr Holness said his administration would be “targeting the creation of 150,000 jobs, addressing chronic water problems in a number of parishes, rolling out major infrastructural developments and moving aggressively to stamp out corruption”.
THREE-TIME WIN AS PM
Mr Holness called the vote six months early, despite the island’s COVID-19 spike, a move some said put politics over public health. The man called “Brogad” has joined a select group of only three Jamaican Prime Ministers to win two contested general elections – Sir Alexander Bustamante, Michael Manley and PJ Patterson. This is Mr Holness’ second victory in a general elections but his third time serving as Prime Minister. Mr Holness first served as Jamaica’s nine Prime Minister from October 2011 to January 2012 after succeeding former Prime Minister Bruce Golding. He returned to Jamaica House after the JLP defeated the PNP at the polls on February 25, 2016 and again on September 3, 2020. Mr Holness was first elected a Member of Parliament, MP for West Central St Andrew constituency in 1997 at age 25.
SENIOR MEMBERS TO BE EXCLUDED IN JLP NEW CABINET
In my view, at least eight stalwarts have proven themselves and should give way to others in the Cabinet but should stay on as advisors and mentors to younger Ministers who will certainly need assistance. These include Karl Samuda, Mike Henry, JC Hutchinson, Audley Shaw, Delroy Chuck, Everald Warmington, Daryl Vaz and Desmond McKenzie.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist, is married to Juliet Landell for 23 years, a Real Estate Owner, Accountant, Agent and Writer and is a JLP MP for St Andrew East Rural since the 2016 general elections. They have two sons – 17 year-old Adam and Matthew, 15 years.
Contributed by HE Prof Colin O Jarrett