JAMAICANS head to the polls today in the country’s 17th general election since universal adult suffrage when citizens won the right to vote for the first time in 1944 while the country was still under colonial rule.
Political pundits, using recent opinion polls, believe the election will go down to the wire in the race for the 63 parliamentary seats. However, the two major political parties — the People’s National Party (PNP), which has campaigned under the slogan ‘Step Up the Progress’, and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which has promising voters to move them from ‘Poverty to Prosperity’ — were, up to last night, brimming with confidence that they will take home the election.
While people will go out to vote for their respective candidates, several say their vote will be for the leader of the parties, the PNP’s 70-year-old Portia Simpson Miller and Andrew Holness, the 43-year-old leader of the JLP.
Yesterday, there was a frenzy of activity at PNP headquarters on Old Hope Road and the JLP headquarters on Belmont Road, both in Kingston, as the parties made final preparations for today’s vote.
The PNP’s car park was full as workers and technocrats had last-minute discussions, including the placement of their ‘victory stage’, which will have a special entrance for the party president and prime minister, Simpson Miller. The media were also shown the areas from which they will operate, while a large screen will be placed near the stage area where supporters can follow the box-by-box count. That section of Old Hope Road will be blocked off to vehicular traffic.
While there were not as many vehicles inside the JLP’s car park, last-minute organisational work was being carried out. The party’s leadership and candidates, a spokesman said, were all out ‘in the field’ making sure they had everything properly organised. “There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” the spokesman said.
The JLP, which believes it put in all the work to convince voters to hand it the reins of power, was also setting up a victory, stage just before a huge green bell in the parking lot.
“The massive swing indicated by the polls is pointing to a JLP victory and we are very confident of victory,” said a JLP spokesman. He pointed out that the party is taking nothing for granted as it is a ‘two-horse’ race. The JLP is also hoping to have Belmont Road blocked off to vehicular traffic to accommodate supporters.
Despite the confidence by the two major political parties, and the poll numbers, the election will today come down to mobilisation on the ground, especially in the approximately 14 marginal seats, where the competition is expected to be tough.
Trinidadian-based political scientist Derek Ramsamooj on Monday told theJamaica Observer that the crucial marginal seats were leaning to the JLP, saying 51.76 per cent of electors in these seats were leaning towards the Opposition party, compared to 48.24 per cent for the governing PNP.
There are 1,824,410 people on the voters’ list, which was released last November. The Electoral Office of Jamaica said 34,907 people were added to the list, while 3,536 names were removed.
Apart from the JLP and PNP, which will be fielding candidates in all 63 constituencies, the National Democratic Movement and the Marcus Garvey Political Party each have candidates in six constituencies, there are nine independents, two from the People’s Political Party, one from the recently formed United Independents’ Congress, and another from a party called Hope of Portland East formed on Nomination Day. It is not expected, however, that any of these small parties and independents will factor in this election, which is really a head-to-head battle between the PNP and JLP.
Polls open at 7:00 am and are scheduled to close at 5:00 pm, but traditionally most voters, especially those aligned to political parties, are known to flood polling stations early in the morning.
The campaign leading up to today’s election started late last year when the PNP put the nation on election alert. However, the party pulled back in what it said was its intention to give youngsters, whose names were appearing on the November 30, 2015-released voters’ list for the first time, an opportunity to vote. Prime Minister Simpson Miller also said at the time that she was awaiting a touch from her ‘master’.
But the PNP later confessed that it halted the campaign just before Christmas because there were some seats about which it had concerns.
The campaign resumed early in the new year, and in early February, shortly after an opinion poll showed the PNP ahead, the prime minister ‘sounded the trumpet’ and summoned her troops to Half-Way-Tree in St Andrew, where she announced the election date and set February 9 as Nomination Day.
Since then, the campaign has been very hectic and has been dominated by a 10-point plan presented by the JLP, which includes a commitment to relieve wage earners of up to $1.5 million of their income tax liability.
The PNP has spent a lot of time attacking the JLP’s tax plan, and had also focused on the house being built in Beverly Hills by Holness and his wife.
The PNP also pulled out of the national debates, which some voters have said they would have used to decide how to cast their votes, citing disagreement with the Opposition and calling for an apology.
The use or display of cameras, cellular phones or any other image-capturing device is banned inside polling stations, and people are being urged to turn off their cellular phones inside the polling stations.
In addition, voters must follow the instructions of the presiding officer in order for their ballot to be successfully cast.