Authorities in Jamaica have moved to clamp down on physical and door to door campaigning ahead of general elections next week Thursday as COVID-19 positive cases spike, touching various sections of society including the police force and even Usain Bolt, widely acclaimed as the best athletic sprinter of all times.
Bolt, 34, tested positive after recently hosting a party at his home in Jamaica that saw celebrities such as British Premier League and England international Raheem Sterling attending. The positive result has forced authorities to enable contract tracing systems to determine who else the party goers might have come into contact with as social media campaigning is stepped up with just days to go.
Authorities are also trying to ascertain whether curfew rules were broken by Bolt and the party organizers. Minister of Health Chris Tufton said Bolt and his crew will enjoy no special treatment for allegedly breaching safety and other rules.
Meanwhile, the spike in cases has forced Prime Minister Andrew Holness and other top officials to suspend house to house and street corner campaign meetings as the island’s political ombudsman Sunday placed a clamp on such activities.
‘No person shall enter the dwelling house of any citizen elector campaign. This decision is because of the increase in COVID-19 positive growth of persons and areas under quarantine, breaches of social-distancing laws, and rules on the campaign trail,” Ombudsman Parchment Brown said in an announcement.
On Sunday, health officials revealed the island’s one-day record for positive cases, announcing that 116 new infections were recorded, taking the tally to 1,529.
The PM’s Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) is facing up to the opposition People’s National Party (PNP), which has been flagging in the polls by double digit percentage points and is expected to remain on opposition benches for another five years.
PM Holness said he had called elections six months before constitutionally due because of fears that the pandemic would lead to a low voter turnout that could possibly favor the opposition.
But veteran PNP members including Gerard Mitchell have told the Observer Newspaper they fear that younger voters are leaving the party in droves for the JLP because of younger and more energetic leadership.
PNP Leader Peter Phillips is 70 and a cancer survivor while Holness is 49 and seen as highly energetic.
“The momentum is not with the PNP and it probably has to do with leadership. The PNP was there in power for 18 years and people still believe that they want to see a younger person in leadership. That’s why so many people are gravitating to him, Holness. It’s not because he is good. It is just because of age, people prefer to see a younger person,” said Mitchell, a former deputy mayor of Montego Bay, Jamaica’s tourist capital.
A total of 139 candidates will line up next week Thursday for the 63 seats in parliament. Jamaica has in recent years added three seats to its previous 60 to avoid a tie and a constitutional crisis of sorts as had happened in Trinidad nearly 20 years ago. And 13 independent candidates have also decided to throw their hats in the ring. This week Monday, security forces and other essential workers whose services will be required on election day voted separately from the general population to free them on September 3rd.
The elections commission said this week it is almost ready for the battle and will print 1.9 million ballots while ramping up training of staff.
“We are doing a simulation with our staff to make them more comfortable with the election day machines and interacting with potential voters,” said Chief Glasspole Brown. “We have recruited close to 30,000 persons to assist us in the process,” he said.