Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will tonight end the agony and anxiety of millions of Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora by announcing the date for the island’s 17th general election since voting began in 1944.
If all goes well, Simpson Miller, who will deliver the main address when the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) cranks up its election machinery in Half-Way-Tree square, St Andrew, should convey the vital information by 9:00 pm. By or before that time, the nation will hear whether or not they will vote in late February or early March of this year in an election that could have been held in a year’s time, based on constitutional provisions, but which the present Administration insists on calling early.
Already, mouths — wayward and controlled — have been busy projecting February 29 as the likely date, seeing that it coincides with the PNP’s famous election victory 44 years ago on that same date in 1972 when Michael Manley toppled his friend and fellow trade unionist Hugh Lawson Shearer from power.
The Simpson Miller-led PNP pushed its neck ahead of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) last Sunday with full-page advertisements in the Sunday Observer and Sunday Gleaner newspapers showing its 63 candidates. The JLP has followed in today’s edition.
The PNP is buoyed by the revelations of an opinion poll conducted by Dr Don Anderson’s Market Research Services for the RJR Communications Group last week that the party enjoys a four-percentage points lead over the JLP among committed voters. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent.
Based upon Jamaican law, a nomination day for a general election must be held no fewer than five days and no more than seven days after the announcement, while the general Election must be held no less than 16 days and no more than 21 days after nomination day.
Word reaching the Jamaica Observer is that the ruling party is considering commissioning another opinion poll closer to the election. But, for now, the spotlight will shine on the huge stage in the Half-Way-Tree square upon which Simpson Miller should, for the second time in her 42-year political career, reveal the fine details of information that Jamaicans have long perspired over.
The veteran Simpson Miler, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, and again from 2012 to now, is expected to chronicle many of the achievements of the present PNP Administration, including the opening of other legs of Highway 2000; the ability to attract more than US$1.1 billion in foreign direct investments since 2012, compared to US$210 million accomplished by the JLP Government of 2007 to 2011; and the stability of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which flopped under the previous Administration. In addition, the country has been enjoying a period of low inflation, and financial analysts are sniffing at Gross Domestic Product growth of around two per cent for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Opposition critics have slapped the Government over the still high unemployment rate, and expressed concern about the possible outbreak of the Zika virus in Jamaica. Yesterday, Ministry of Health confirmed that there had been one affected child, who has since recovered. The JLP has, in recent days, been barking at the Simpson Miller Administration for what it deemed the small increase in the minimum wage, with Shaw suggesting that the figure be put at US$5,000 ($600,000) per annum from its present $286,000 per annum.
A worrying crime rate ,and the increase in some criminal acts, as well as the effects of lotto scamming, are also weighing heavily on the Government, as the over 1.824 million electors on the voters’ list get the chance to decide their political destiny.
Half-Way-Tree has been a popular location for prime ministers to announce election dates, as five of the 16 elections have been announced there, with the PNP winning three. In the last general election held December 29, 2011, the PNP won 42 of the 63 seats. The JLP took the remaining 21. Overall, the PNP has won nine general elections since 1944, to the JLP’s seven, which includes the 1983 poll when the PNP boycotted the activity, griping about what it considered a bogus voters’ list — something which had characterised local elections, especially between the three decades of 1962 and 1992