MONTEGO BAY, St James — Members of western Jamaica's business sector and political representatives from both major political parties on Tuesday weighed in on the Government's decision to push back the local polls by a year, with comments ranging from acceptance to calls for only a brief delay.
The delay is the second one attributed to the novel coronavirus.
St James businessman Mark Kerr-Jarrett said while he agreed with the need to push back the vote as a way to prevent scenarios that may contribute to the spread of COVID-19, the runaway murder rate was also another reason he was happy with the decision.
Since the start of the year more than 100 people have been killed, with St James among the areas with the most bloodletting.
“If we have a problem with crime and violence, is it wise to create a situation where it could escalate? You get a lot of people gathering together, emotions are high with politics, there is a lot of tension in the air, is it in the national interest and everybody's security to exacerbate an already volatile situation?” argued Kerr-Jarrett, ahead of the expected announcement in Parliament.
The double whammy of crime plus COVID-19, he said, make it an inopportune time to go to the polls.
“Do you want an event that can spread the Omicron variant more? The COVID [hospital] beds are already exceeded; do you want to exacerbate that situation too? So there is COVID and crime and everything. Think about it, maybe it's not in the best interest of the country's health and safety to have those elections right now,” he continued.
Outgoing councillor for the Ulster Spring Division in Trelawny and People's National Party (PNP) Region One chairperson Dr Pauline Foster also cited COVID-19 – especially the highly contagious Omicron variant — as the reason she would support a postponement.
“Because of the Omicron we're not safe. We have about 25 per cent or less take-up of the vaccine, so I have no issue with that,” she remarked ahead of the announcement.
She was however adamant that the elections should be called as soon as possible after any announced delay.
“I'm just hoping that it is for about three to six months to assess where we are, if the virus has abated, and then we can take it from there. I don't think it should be an extremely long-term venture because the People's National Party was the one that put local government within the law to say that no more than four years, and we are way past that now. So [the vote should be delayed] only until the virus abates,” she insisted.
The PNP has been on the stumps since late last year, with Leader Mark Golding making whistle-stop tours across the country. The organisation has been at pains to say it is not campaigning but simply keeping in touch with its base. Political pundits' speculation that campaigning had begun, however, was fuelled by several moves to identify candidates in areas that the PNP believes they are weak.
However, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has repeatedly made it clear that he had no intention of calling the election while the country battled COVID-19.
“This is a miserable time. It is not the time for politics and elections. This is the time for the nation to remain focused,” he said during the Jamaica Labour Party's annual conference last November. Holness also took a jab at the PNP then, telling the conference that the Opposition would be defeated in the next municipal polls, anyway.
On Tuesday, councillor for the Spring Gardens Division Dwight Crawford (JLP) toed the party line, as expected.
“As much as we would like to have the election we have to be responsible because elections come with a bit of gathering and a bit of campaigning,” he explained.
Meanwhile, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce Richard Wallace is unfazed by the decision.
“I don't know what will happen in the near future but we are optimistic that things [COVID-19] will ease. So I suppose if they want to have it they could. You see the Government is in a sticky position because if they do, they get cussing and if they don't, they get cussing. But it's their prerogative to call it,” he remarked.
Elections were initially postponed in November 2020 with the recommendation being that Jamaicans would next have a chance to elect their local representatives no later than February 2022.