ST. CATHERINE, Jamaica (AP) — Jamaica's ruling party faced voters Thursday with a lead in the polls despite rising numbers of coronavirus cases and a years-long run of solid economic performance under threat.
Recent polls showed Prime Minister Andrew Holness' Jamaica Labour Party with double-digit leads over the center-left opposition People’s National Party, more than enough to maintain the JLP's parliamentary majority.
Before the arrival of the new coronavirus, Holness' JLP oversaw years of strong macroeconomic performance, with a shrinking debt, record-low unemployment, a national budget surplus and booming stock market.
Holness and other JLP candidates have campaigned on that record and achievements that include major investments in roads and bridges, equipping the police force with better vehicles and buildings and constructing tens of thousands of new subsidized housing units.
The JLP has also focused on pledges to rebuild the economy from the fallout of the pandemic, which has damaged tourism and exports. The PNP focused on providing a suite of social programs to assist the most vulnerable, including students, poor and working-class Jamaicans.
Jason Martin, a 35-year-old plumber, said he was voting based on PNP policies.
“Housing has been a problem for most young people who don’t get the opportunity to own a house early. It takes a while,” he said. “If that could be easier, it would be good.”
With over 800 new cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since last week, Jamaicans are voting with a spike looming, and local experts worry that the election will only exacerbate a possible health crisis. The country of nearly 3 million has reported more than 2,400 cases and 21 deaths since the start of the epidemic.
Jamaica started seeing rising COVID numbers after Independence and Emancipation celebrations in August, which many believe spread the disease among attendees.
Holness on August 11 announced new elections would be held. They were not not constitutionally due until February 2021.
The PNP and the JLP have been political rivals since Jamaica gained political independence in 1962. They are contesting 63 constituencies across Jamaica.
In the last general election in 2016, the JLP won with 33 of the 63 seats, while the PNP retained 30.
With rainfall forecast and the fear of COVID-19, voter turnout was expected to be low.
But that was not enough to dissuade Richard Reynolds, a 47-year-old funeral director who praised Holness.
“I definitely love the policies of the JLP that are in place now and the changes that have been made over the last four years,” he said. “I think the country is going in the right direction. I intend on us keeping it that way.”
The Electoral Commission of Jamaica in partnership with the Ministry of Health did extensive public education to inform people about election-day requirements of mask-wearing and social distancing. It also announced that those who have tested positive for COVID-19 would be allowed to vote after 4 p.m. on election day.