By Kate Chappell
KINGSTON, Aug 12 – Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness called for early elections late on Tuesday, in what analysts termed a bid to capitalize on voters’ satisfaction with his handling of the economy and coronavirus pandemic before the situation darkened.
In a speech to parliament, Holness heralded authorities’ successful early containment of the virus and poverty reduction and tax cuts under his government.
“I now see it necessary to seek another mandate from the people of Jamaica,” said Holness, dissolving parliament and calling for the elections to be held on Sept. 3, six months ahead of schedule.
The Jamaica Labour Party, campaigning on the slogan “Recovering Stronger,” is hoping to gain seats on the backs of a weak People´s National Party (PNP), which is trailing in the polls.
Still, despite early success in containing the virus, the prime minister is facing criticism as the past couple of weeks have seen a spike in cases after borders reopened to international travelers.
The country has registered more than 1,030 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 14 people have died from the respiratory illness.
The prime minister has reassured citizens that protocols will be in place for both campaigning and voting, including a limit of 20 people for public gatherings and mandatory mask-wearing.
“We will be quick, we will be efficient, we will be peaceful,” he said.
The prime minister is also facing voter criticism over high rates of crime and violence and alleged incidents of corruption among public officials.
Holness became Jamaica´s youngest prime minister at 39 in 2011, but governed for only 74 days before being defeated by the PNP´s Portia Simpson Miller.
The Holness-led administration, under the Jamaica Labour Party, then captured the polls in 2016 with a slim margin of 32 seats out of 63. They gained one seat in November 2017, bringing their current total to 33 seats. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)