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Jamaica votes amidst global pandemic
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Jamaica votes amidst global pandemic

On September 3, 2020, Jamaica will hold its next general elections amidst fears over the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. According to the Electoral Office of Jamaica there are over 1,910,000 voters in Jamaica, but will they show up to vote on Election Day, or will they stay away due to COVID-19 fears? Akelia Douglas, 25, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Spanish Town, Jamaica looks at just how different the environment and atmosphere has been and will be compared to previous polls.

On September 3, Jamaicans will not only be preoccupied with the question of who will form their next government. They will also be concerned about how safe it is to go out to vote as COVID-19 cases steadily rise in the Caribbean country.

Figures published by Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness showed that on August 1 five (5) new cases of the virus had been reported within the preceding 24-hour period, bringing the total number of confirmed positive cases to 883, while ten (10) deaths had been reported in the country since the first confirmed case.

The number of persons infected with the virus has however risen rapidly as many Jamaicans ignore quarantine orders and other COVID-19 prevention protocols such as wearing masks, sanitising and keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from others. On September 1, there were 224 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in just a 24-hour period. This brought the total number of confirmed cases to 2,683 with a total of 24 deaths from COVID-19 recorded in the country of just over 2.8 million people.

It is not surprising when there were mixed reactions on August 11, 2020 when Prime Minister Andrew Holiness announced that Jamaica would hold its general elections in early September. Many people could not imagine how elections during a pandemic would work while others thought that Jamaica had to continue with its democratic processes despite COVID-19.

Jamaica’s last general elections were held on February 25, 2016. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won the elections with 49.5% of the vote, while the incumbent People’s National Party (PNP) was close behind with 49.2% of the votes.

Many people could not imagine how elections during a pandemic would work.

Four years on, Jamaica’s election scene is very different from 2016 and previous years as the government has implemented measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the 2020 elections. 

Motorcades and gatherings which have always been an integral part of Jamaican political campaigns were prohibited and even drive-through campaigning was discontinued after party supporters flouted the rules governing social distancing and mask wearing. The Jamaica Labour Party replaced its mass meeting – “Roll Call” – with a virtual event to present its candidates for the elections, while the PNP made increased use of social media to get its message out.

COVID-19 protocols mean that activities on Election Day will be different too. The Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) has indicated that the following measures will be enforced at all polling stations island-wide on Election Day:

  • All voters entering polling stations must wear a mask, one will be issued to those who do not have one;
  • Voters will be required to sanitize their hands at the polling station and before dipping their finger into the ink after voting;
  • Temperature checks will be conducted; and
  • Social distancing will be enforced.

Given the flagrant disregard for the COVID-19 prevention guidelines which we have seen in the run-up to the elections– party supporters often close to each other at political gatherings, with no mask in sight or with masks worn incorrectly–no one knows how things will go on Election Day. 

Will voters show up to vote or will they stay away due to COVID-19? How well will the public health guidelines be followed? Could we see a spike in COVID-19 after the elections? We’ll just have to wait and see. 

*Ministry of Health and Wellness, Jamaica data obtained on September 2, 2020.

Photo credit: CARICOM

About me: I am a Jamaican creative and content writer whose passion for writing led me to start writing poetry, short stories and creating content online. By day, I work as a senior secretary and customer service professional. By night, I enjoy spending time with my son and seeking out opportunities through which to hone my skills as a writer. Additionally, I am currently completing my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism at the University of the West Indies. My main goal as a creative professional is to be able to impact and transform lives through public speaking and writing.
Read more of my writing at JamaicanMedium.com

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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