Ahead of Jamaica’s September 3 general elections and amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, residents and major entities on the island have called for politicians to either change their campaigning methods or put off the elections.
Holding general elections during a global pandemic has proven to be one of the most difficult tasks for CARICOM countries and even major countries like the United States. Following Trinidad & Tobago’s August 10 elections, the island saw a massive increase in cases and subsequently went into partial lockdown.
Jamaica’s gradual spike in case, even before the election date was announced, had already impacted the polls because it meant a possibly lower voter turnout and the lack of input from those in diaspora who would not be able to fly to the island to vote due to the quarantine rules.
From Thursday, August 20 to Monday, August, 24- a four day period, Jamaica saw an increase of 420 COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths. Massive entities (including banks, the tax office, Jamaica Customs, and others) in the corporate area, where the majority of new cases have been detected, have also had to close their operations due to COVID-19 being detected among their staff.
As Jamaica now begins the phase of community spread, with cases becoming more random, the ministry of health has placed the blame on large parties and mass gathering in public for the new spike in cases.
But ironically, it is not only average citizens that have been disregarding the safety protocols. Since the announcement of the general election date in early August, members of both political parties have engaged in massive motorcades, rallies and other forms have mass campaigning that have contributed to the spread.
Residents have called out the parties for their hypocrisy and even suggested that the government postpone the elections or stop campaigning altogether.
The Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) also joined the calls, urging the two major political parties to immediately stop physical campaigning.
“As a country, we have made months of sacrifice and showed early signs of recovery from the effects of the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jamaica and our people cannot afford a major lockdown. If our people are not disciplined enough to abide by the protocols, then our leaders must do what is right for the country, finding the balance between lives and livelihoods,” the JMEA said in a statement.
“As we continue to manage the COVID-19 pandemic a consistent, effective, and transparent enforcement of the stipulated COVID protocols is paramount. If we are to have a strong recovery, then all of us including our political leaders must do what is right for the sake of the nation and the people,” the JMEA added.
Immediately following the statement, at a local press conference, Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton announced that Prime Minister Andrew Holness was suspended his traditional political campaigning activities.
Tufton said Holness has “indicated that based on what is happening with the COVID numbers and also the risks associated with campaigning, that as of today, he is suspending his own campaign activities, meaning the traditional approach to campaigning.
“And he certainly will be asking the country generally and his own political organisation to abide by that approach,” Tufton said, adding “what that would mean is that persons would be engaged in the administrative component of preparing for an election day activity, but the typical approach to campaigning, to meetings and motorcades and so on, he will not be engaged in those traditional activities”.
Tufton said he believes this will send a strong message to the rest of the country and the supporters of all political parties that this is the responsible thing to do in order to mitigate the possible risk of seeing a spike that is linked to political activities weeks or months down the line.
The PNP general secretary, Julian Robinson, also announced that the party, with immediate effect, be suspending its large motorcades and drive-throughs to minimise the potential incidence of large gatherings.
“These activities have proven to be difficult in the enforcement of social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols,” Robinson said in a statement, adding that the party’s campaign teams across the island would intensify the distribution of voter’s guides to electors and continue house-to-house engagement as part of its electioneering exercise.
Robinson said the PNP is also calling on the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) to provide dedicated lines, seats, and tents at the voting clusters for senior citizens on election day. It wants the EOJ to also to establish sanitising stations and/or washbasins are made available within the precincts of the polling stations to encourage adherence to the guidelines.
“The present increase in cases is serious, and we want everybody to remain well and be here for the September 3 general election. That can only be achieved by compliance with the health and campaigning protocols as well following guidelines communicated to the public from time to time,” he said.
The ministry of health has urged the island to brace for a further increase in COVID-19 cases following the mass political gatherings from the island’s Nomination Day on August 18. Following the current trends, Jamaica’s COVID-19 cases are expected to near or surpass to 2,000 mark well before Election Day.