Current Affairs

Current Affairs




Police, soldiers vote October 14
Electoral workers also to cast ballots ahead of general elections
Observer Reporter
Tuesday, September 24, 2002



Prime Minister P J Patterson (left) hands Governor General Sir Howard Cooke a letter, in which he advised the head of state to dissolve parliament immediately, making way for the holding of general elections. Patterson visited the governor general at King's House, his official residence. (Photo: Michael Gordon)

Members of the security forces as well as election workers will vote on October 14, two days before the rest of the country cast their ballots in the island's general elections, an electoral official said yesterday.

Prime Minister P J Patterson announced the October 16 election date at a rally of his governing People's National Party (PNP) Sunday night, and yesterday Patterson visited the governor general, Sir Howard Cooke, to personally deliver a letter to the head of state advising that he dissolve Parliament "with immediate effect".

Traditionally, Jamaica's more than 7,000 police and 3,000 soldiers are allowed to vote in elections ahead of the rest of the population, freeing them to work on Election Day. It was not immediately clear, though, how many members of the police and army were on the voters' register.

They will be joined, for the first time, by the estimated 21,000 full and part-time employees of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), who will man the voting system.

"We are presently finalising arrangements for the police, military and for election day workers," a spokesman for the EOJ told the Observer yesterday.

He was unable to say how voting centres will be opened across the island for the security forces and election workers, but said as soon as final arrangements were made they would be made public.

The early vote by election workers is being facilitated by a change to the Representation of the People's Act, passed by Parliament earlier this year at the behest of the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC), the body that sets policy for elections here.

This year's general elections will be the 14th since universal adult suffrage in Jamaica in 1944, and Patterson's PNP, in office since 1989, will be seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in government.

Patterson, who became prime minister in 1992, when he won the presidency of the PNP on the retirement of his predecessor, the late Michael Manley, is now the country's longest serving prime minister.

An opinion poll in mid August for the Observer by the Stone Organisation gave the PNP (37.8 per cent), a 3.4 percentage point lead over the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (34.4 per cent).

But with the poll carrying a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent, it means that the parties were statistically close to a dead heat. However, the poll confirmed a turn-around in the fortunes of the PNP, which had, for more than a year, lagged behind the Opposition.

Patterson, 67, has said that if his party wins the elections, he will not complete the five-year term, which would set up a leadership race in the PNP in which the front-runners are two vice presidents, Portia Simpson Miller and Dr Peter Phillips.

In the case of the JLP, in opposition for 13 years, a loss would be the fourth consecutive defeat in a general election for its embattled 72 year-old leader, Edward Seaga. The JLP has also lost two local government elections during the period.

Seaga, a new father, has led Patterson marginally in a recent poll as the person Jamaicans feel would be the better prime minister, but has also proved a bigger negative for his party.

Surveys over the past two years have been consistent in showing that 62 per cent of adult Jamaicans would like him to retire, and more recent polls have indicated that the JLP would gain substantially more if he retired than would the PNP if Patterson stepped aside.