Jamaica elections underway
Polling opened at 7 am this morning across 6,466 stations in Jamaica to allow close to 2 million eligible voters to cast their ballots.
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Thursday December 29, 2011 — Elections are underway as Jamaicans go to the polls to determine whether the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will be returned to power or whether the Portia Simpson Miller-led People’s National Party will be forgiven and once again given the mandate to lead after a term on the opposing side.
However, no election is complete without some controversy, and it has started with the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) being called upon to account for why only 6,466 out of the 6,629 polling stations prepared for voting opened at the scheduled 7 a.m. to allow Jamaicans to cast their ballots.
The EOJ disclosed that 157 stations opened between 7:01 am and 7:30 am; while six opened even later — between 7:31 am and 8:00 am. All polling stations are now up and running. The EOJ has said it will comment later on the issues that caused the 163 stations to open behind the scheduled 7:00 am time.
Among those making their way to the polls early was Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who cast his ballot at the Mona High School.
However, coverage of the Prime Minister’s vote was marred by his security detail clashing with the gathered journalists as overzealous security personnel intervened in the media’s attempts to interview and photograph Holness as he exited the polling station.
The Prime Minister acknowledged afterward that he did not feel threatened by members of the media, but he did not reprimand his security either, pointing out that they were simply doing their job.
Prior to the clash Holness was being grilled by the media as to whether he had been campaigning within the moratorium that exists 24 hours before polling opens. A charge that the Prime Minsiter denied, instead saying that he had gone to visit friends.
He also dismissed out of hand the predictions of respected pollster Don Anderson, who has forecast a win for the opposition PNP. Instead the beleaguered JLP leader said their own seat-by-seat analysis through sampling and canvassing placed his party significantly ahead of the PNP.
However, his rival Simpson Miller is placing greater store in Anderson’s results.
Speaking to the media ahead of voting at the Whitfield All Age School the PNP leader was full of praise for Anderson’s capabilities.
"When Don Anderson gives a poll finding I have every confidence in that poll.
"Don Anderson is the don of all pollsters. He is the best since Carl Stone and I hope that what his poll has shown will in fact turn out to be accurate," she said.
Her confidence aside, this has not stopped the JLP of accusing the PNP of using underhand tactics to boost their party’s showing at the polls.
JLP Candidate for Central Manchester Danville Walker has accused his opponents of using intimidatory tactics, charging that staff members with PNP sympathies were walking the wards of the Mandeville Infirmary coercing the elderly into voting for PNP through the threat of withholding food.
In Clarendon, a man tried to vote in someone else’s name at one of the polling stations in the Clarendon North Western constituency before he was turned away by one of the Jamaica Defence Force soldiers, maintaining a tight presence at the location.
In another reported incident, a physically challenged vagrant attired in dirty clothes was escorted to the polling station at Seaward Primary and Junior High in West Central St Andrew where some voters in line vied to influence him to vote for their parties, promising housing and food if he voted along their lines.
Tragedy struck at the Richmond Police Station in St Mary as A 75-year-old as yet unidentified man died on the ground of the polling station while he was on his way to cast his vote. The cause of death is not known but he was taken to the Port Maria Hospital. It is still unclear where he lives and efforts are being made to locate his relatives.
His was not the only death as a farmer collapsed this morning at the Avocat Junior High School in Portland mere minutes after casting his ballot shortly after 10.30 am.
Seventy-year-old Sylvester Nugent of Mullet Hall in the Buff Bay valley, Port Antonio, is reported to have engaged fellow party supporters nearby and during discussion with the supporters, Nugent is said to have exclaimed that he had placed his ‘x’ beside the wrong symbol, and then collapsed. He was taken to the Annotto Bay Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
In another incident, a taxi operator was arrested by the police at the Mt Salem Primary and Junior High polling station in West Central, St James for reportedly disobeying an order to remove his vehicle. It is also reported that the police found a machete in his car and no weapons are allowed near any polling station on Election Day.
However, there have been no reports thus far of any election violence and police are crediting this to their election-day security strategy.
The Constabulary Communication Network said 99 per cent of deployment had taken place by 7:00 am and 20 minutes later all police personnel were in place at all polling stations, on mobile and/or foot patrols in every constituency.
The police will maintain a heavy presence throughout the day in all constituencies to ensure a peaceful election. Voting closes at 5 pm this afternoon.
The EOJ reported that some 23.7 percent of Jamaicans or 380,169 individuals had already voted by 11 am.
In the hotly contested Central Manchester constituency which sees incumbent Peter Bunting of the PNP is trying to fend off challenge from the JLP’s Danville Walker, 6,401 of 33,572 registered voters had cast their ballots by 11:00 am.
A total of 30 per cent of voters (8,186 of 27,617) had cast their ballots in South East St Elizabeth where Richard Parchment of the PNP is facing off against the JLP's Dennis Meadows.
In the battleground seat of East Rural St Andrew where the PNP's Damion Crawford is competing against the JLP"s Joan Gordon-Webley, 4419 electors had their votes of out a total of 32, 464.
The lowest voter turnout is in St Catherine West Central where Kenneth Baugh of the JLP is contesting the PNP's Clinton Clarke. The EOJ said 3,671 voters out of a total of 24,323 (15 per cent) have already cast their votes.