Make these by-elections a template for the future

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

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So far, so good.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government has scored full marks for two big decisions regarding the by-elections set for October 30, 2017.

It is good for our democracy that the by-elections are coming within roughly six months of the vacating of the St Andrew South Western and St Andrew Southern constituencies, and 10 weeks in the case of St Mary South Eastern, by People's National Party (PNP) Members of Parliament (MP).

The by-elections are to replace former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (St Andrew South Western); Dr Omar Davies (St Andrew Southern) and Dr Winston Green (St Mary South Eastern).

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who is apparently not averse to playing 'old-time' politics, showed mighty restraint in resisting the temptation to keep the artificial majority of four that his party now enjoys in Parliament in the absence of those PNP MPs.

He knows, like every third former in high school, that the PNP is certain of retaining the two St Andrew seats. The St Mary seat, with only five votes separating the parties at the 2016 elections, will be a tantalising prospect for the JLP.

It is worthy of note as well that, while the Opposition is 'short' in the House of Representatives, Mr Holness has not sought to take advantage of it. For example, he worked hard to secure PNP support for the important zones of special operations (ZOSO) law.

The other big decision is to hold all three by-elections on the same day, which means less expenditure by not having to roll out the electoral machinery three separate times, thus saving the country some money it can barely afford.

Staging all three on the same day also reduces the level of tension in the country that comes inevitably with elections. This is especially important in our high-crime environment and at a time when the ZOSO needs bipartisan support to be successful.

This is a good start to the by-elections, and we hope that it is not asking too much of the parties that they run clean and peaceful campaigns that can serve as a lasting template for future elections.

The election in St Mary takes on added significance because a win for the JLP would boost the Government by a much-needed seat, while the PNP wants to show that it hasn't lost ground since its agonisngly narrow loss in 2016, especially now that it has a new leader in Dr Peter Phillips.

Both parties have excellent candidates in the PNP's Dr Shane Alexis, who is getting his feet wet in electoral politics but already a proven leader in the medical field, and Dr Norman Dunn, who has experienced the cut and thrust of the hustings, albeit suffering a narrow loss in 2016.

While much tension is not expected in the garrison constituencies in which Mr Mark Golding and Dr Angela Brown Burke won't face any formidable candidates, there have been mutual claims in St Mary of supporters damaging or destroying the other's billboards.

We hope that the political ombudsman will move quickly to determine if this is the case and who is at fault, so that the voters there and the country at large can chastise them appropriately.




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