Jamaica: Election postponed — till when?

Even as Jamaican authorities continue to repair the damage done by Hurricane Dean, controversy rages over the state of emergency declared last weekend by Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, and the postponement of the general election.As Jamaica House reported on Tuesday, the country's two major newspapers, the Gleaner and the Observer, have both called for a lifting of the state of emergency declared on Sunday 19 August, arguing that post-hurricane conditions do not warrant this measure. Jamaica House suggests many Jamaicans feel the same way, and wonders if Simpson-Miller's government has a political motive for prolonging the state of emergency — specifically, whether it is a tactic related to the upcoming general election originally scheduled for Monday 27 August:

The PM’s primary rationale for the edict is to “protect human life” but no one seems to be buying this. Instead it is being framed as a last ditched attempt to hold on to power. I do believe that the indication she was getting before this storm was that if the election was held on the 27th has previously announced she and her party would lose.

Even before the hurricane, while Jamaicans were bracing for Dean's arrival, it was clear that an election postponement would be all but inevitable. “But what does this mean for us on the 27th?”, asked Jamaican Lifestyle on Saturday 18, the day before Dean hit:

I heard something on TV recently, where they said that in the event of a natural disaster, the elections could be postponed for UP TO 12 MONTHS!!

The following morning, Yannick Pessoa noted:

Here I sit on the cusp of an impending hurricane…. The literary and biblical allusions cannot be avoided. Some say this is the first miracle of Portia, to reverse an irreversible election.

By Tuesday 21, the Jamaica Elections 2007 Blog, maintained by the Gleaner newspaper, was reporting that the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) had decided on an election postponement, and that the governor-general would soon announce a new date of Monday 3 September. But the following day, Jamaica Elections said there had in fact been a procedural blunder:

Information Minister Donald Buchanan told The Gleaner/Power 106 News yesterday that the Electoral Commission’s recommendation for the postponement of the General Election should have been submitted to Cabinet for consideration, before it was sent to the Governor-General for a final decision.

Simpson-Miller was expected to announce the new election date during a TV address on the night of Wednesday 22, but didn't. As of this afternoon, no date had been confirmed, though Jamaica Elections reported it was “likely” an official announcement would be made today.Meanwhile, the Observer reports that the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce is urging the government to lift the ongoing state of emergency, and the Gleaner says the latest poll figures show the opposition Jamaica Labour Party inching ahead of the ruling People's National Party in what had previously been a neck-and-neck race. The Gleaner adds: “Reports are that the Prime Minister would like a later date in September” for the election.And while the politicians wrangle, Jamaican View says that most of the country's entertainment venues survived the hurricane intact. The election may have ground to a halt, but the party, it seems, goes on.


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