|It's October 16
PM announces election date Nomination Day next Monday
Monday, September 23, 2002
Jamaica will vote in general elections on October 16, Prime Minister P J Patterson announced last night.
Patterson, speaking at a rally in Half-Way-Tree Square, said he will today advise the governor general, Sir Howard Cooke, to dissolve the current Parliament "with immediate effect" and set Monday, September 30 as the day for the nomination of candidates.
"On Wednesday, October 16, we shall make our voices be heard," said Patterson.
Initially, Patterson has slipped and named December as the month for the election, but quickly corrected himself.
Patterson, whose People's National Party (PNP) has been in office for 13 years and is seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive term, has for months played cat-and-mouse with the election date.
But with the prime minister being cagey, the Opposition leader, Edward Seaga, trotted out dates Patterson would announce. None were forthcoming, until last week Seaga said he had ended the game.
Last night Patterson, in an allusion to the election guessing game and Seaga's roulette, said: "Tonight I am going to take the Jamaica Labour Party out of further agony. They have been uttering all kind of dates and every time dem call a date, dem call it wrong. I man ready. My candidates are ready. You are ready."
Additionally, he said, the electoral system was in place and the security forces were ready to help make this election orderly and peaceful.
Jamaicans last voted in a general election in December 1997 when voters broke the tradition of giving parties no more than two consecutive terms in office.
In that election, in which approximately 65 per cent of the electorate cast their ballots, the PNP gained 55.7 per cent of the popular vote and 50 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives. The Jamaica Labour Party which gained 38.6 per cent of the vote, won 10 seats, while the National Democratic Movement got 4.8 per cent of the vote but no representative in Parliament.
The JLP subsequently gained an additional seat after the courts ruled that the St Catherine North East constituency should have been won by the Opposition, and the party appeared to be on a a clear path back to government in March last year when its candidate Shahine Robinson won the North East St Ann by-election after a rancorous resignation from the House by the PNP's Danny Melville.
At the time, the JLP led the PNP in the polls nationally and up to April of this year, appeared to be widening its support over the governing party.
Not only has the PNP closed the gap, but in a survey for the Observer in mid-August, the Stone Organisation showed that it had moved into the lead. The PNP's support was 37.8 per cent, against the JLP's 34.4 per cent. The 3.4 percentage points difference was, however, just outside the poll's margin of error of plus or minus three per cent. Stone is now collating the numbers from a new survey, from which the latest party standings will be published on Sunday.
The PNP has credited its apparent resurgence with its efforts at reconnecting with the people and the trumpeting of its so-called "solid achievements", and Patterson made much of the government's performance in his 15-minute speech last night.
"We no chat," said Patterson, during his speech laced with street colloquialism and Jamaican patois. "We are a party of achievement. We are a party of action."
He highlighted his government's achievements in infrastructure development, including roads and water and telephone delivery, as well as housing development and land distribution. The economy had also been stabilised, inflation controlled and there was a return to growth, Patterson said.
But there was still much work to be done, the prime minister said, including accelerating economic growth and breaking the back of crime and violence in the country, including the drug trade.
"We are a government of performance," Patterson declared. "We are the party of the future and we are the party of young people. That is why we are going to get the living four (fourth term)."
In fact, he suggested, this renewal process was evident in the fact that six of the PNP's 60 candidates were below the age of 40 and 13 were women.
Stressing that the PNP was a democratic party, Patterson said: "We are pledging, in a covenant with the people, to serve you without arrogance, to serve you in humility as we are always conscious that we are accountable to the people of Jamaica..."
The PNP leader also called for a peaceful campaign and said that his side would work to ensure that it is the most peaceful in Jamaica's history.
"I am ordering all my troops that it is not only going to be a peaceful campaign, but an orderly and disciplined campaign," he said.