Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Prime Minister Andrew Holness is in no rush to head to the polls despite his confidence that his party would sweep the next local government elections.
The election ought to be held no later than February next year but Holness told the JLP's annual conference yesterday that he is not yet ready to seek a new mandate from the electorate based on the COVID-19 crisis facing Jamaica.
“This is a miserable time. It is not the time for politics and election. This is the time for the nation to remain focused, and it doesn't make sense to call an election, because nothing is going to change. We are still going to win the parish council elections,” Holness told supporters in the party's digital conference yesterday.
According to Holness, while he went out and campaigned in favour of the COVID-19 vaccination drive, including an instance when he was joined by Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding, his focus was not on elections, although he still had a duty to campaign when he could.
“But we had no discussions about local government elections and, for those who are anxiously awaiting it, I don't believe that it would be the right thing to do with a new variant strain [of the novel coronavirus] on the horizon and all the pressures of COVID and [food] prices,” declared Holness.
“The longer you wait to see what is going to happen the more we are going to see dangerous variant strains emerge,” added Holness.
He argued that it is a truism, because the variants of the coronaviruis are more likely to emerge in populations that can host its reproduction in significant ways, and those who are likely to be largely unvaccinated.
“So the longer you wait, the greater the probability that what you are going to see are more dangerous variants and versions of the virus. So, we say to all Jamaicans, go and get the vaccination. Don't wait until it's too late,” said Holness in his wide-ranging address.
With the hot button issue of crime at the top of the country's agenda Holness left jaws agape as he indicated that he would want to see criminals convicted for illegal possession of a firearm put to death.
“Anyone found with a gun [that is illegal] should start with the death penalty,” said Holness.
“That's how strongly I feel about it...that's how serious we should treat it,” Holness added as he declared that there needs to be stiffer penalties for those who import weapons and those who provide the weapons to the killers.
The JLP Leader said he has taken a personal interest in the Firearms Act, which is being amended, as the Government looks to legislation to aid in the fight against crime.
“I wish it [the amendments to the Firearms Act] could be that draconian,” said Holness.
“I believe at the heart of the problem is the easy access to the gun...The problem that we have in Jamaica is the mass, unregulated inflow of unregistered light arms and weapons from post-war countries and from our big trading partners to the North,” said Holness, who stressed that while he does not believe in the death penalty, he would make an exception, where illegal firearms are concerned.
Meanwhile, even as Holness indicated that the country would not be going to the polls in February, the JLP's Chairman Robert Montague reminded Labourities that his position in the party requires him to gets its political machinery ready for the elections.
“Party leader, I wish to report to you that we are ready for the local government election. The organs of the party are in place and we are ready,” Montague told the conference before hearing from Holness .
“We know that some people somewhere else are not ready, because they are calling on the prime minister to sign an MOU not to keep any elections. Which Opposition party you hear 'bout that don't want no election? Something not right. Something wrong,” declared Montague.
In November last year the House of Representative approved amendments to temporarily modify the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) to allow the local government election to be delayed to a date no later than February 27, 2022 due to the onging pandemic.
The Bill was piloted by Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie, who noted that there were significant challenges in holding the election at this time, given the fiscal and economic challenges caused by the pandemic as well as the damage caused by weather systems.
Local government elections were due on November 29, 2020. ROPA provides for a 90-day extension, which would push the deadline to February 27, 2021. But both major polictial parties have agreed that more time was needed and temporarily amended the Act to facilitate the holding of the next municipal elections on a date no later than February 27, 2022.