Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness is hoping criticism of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis will not stop him winning the general election on Thursday, 3 September.
The opposition PNP is seeking to oust Holness's JLP, which gained power in 2016.
Last month the social-democratic PNP revealed if it came to power it would hold a referendum to remove Queen Elizabeth II as the island’s head of state.
Parliamentary elections in Jamaica today - battle for control of 63-seat Gordon House btwn ruling @jlpjamaica & @JamaicaPNP. 18th general election since #UniversalAdultSuffrage in 1944. 1.9m people registered to vote in these COVID-19 polls. @JamaicaGleaner for #JaVotes2020. pic.twitter.com/l4uASZHHD9— Jovan Johnson (@jovanthony) September 3, 2020
PNP leader Dr Peter Phillips said: "This will fulfil the dreams of all our forefathers from 1938 until now. We will end the monarchy with the holding of a referendum within the first six months.”
Even though Jamaica became independent in 1962 it retained the British monarch as the head of state, although Queen Elizabeth II is represented by the Governor-General, Sir Patrick Allen, a Jamaican pastor.
Sir Patrick - who is the sixth Governor-General - plays a largely ceremonial role but could technically intervene if there was a constitutional crisis, as happened in Australia in 1975 when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was sacked by the Queen’s representative.
In 1999 Australians voted against - by 54 percent to 45 percent - becoming a republic, partly out of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II herself, but it is thought that another attempt might be made by republicans in the event of her death.
The Electoral Office of Jamaica, EOJ, says it’s in a full state of readiness to conduct the General Elections tomorrow, Thursday, September 3.— Nationwide90FM (@Nationwideradio) September 2, 2020
This will be the first ever General Election in the country to be conducted during a pandemic.https://t.co/KbMj1wm3iF
But the PNP are not willing to wait that long.
It is not the first time a Republic of Jamaica has been mooted.
In 2012 the then PNP prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller pushed the idea, saying: “I love the Queen, she is a beautiful lady, and apart from being a beautiful lady she is a wise lady and a wonderful lady. But I think time come."
Good Morning!— Jamaica Observer (@JamaicaObserver) September 3, 2020
It's Election Day 2020.#OnYourMask, Get Set, VOTE!#JADecides2020 #JamaicaDecides #JADecides #JAVotes #JAVotes2020 #JAElection #JAElection2020 #JOL #Oteam #AlwaysAhead pic.twitter.com/dGlaJeTOq3
Holness himself floated the idea when he assumed office in 2016.
He said at the time: "Jamaicans have embraced the Queen and embraced our legacy in terms of the laws and the system of governance we have, but the deep burning desire we have for full independence still exists."
But the topic is not expected to be a crucial issue in this week’s general election, which is largely being fought over the state of the economy, which has been hit hard by the pandemic and its devastating impact on tourism, which is a key income generator for Jamaica.
On the eve of Jamaica's 18th general election since universal adult suffrage, I'm proud of our maturing democracy and even prouder that a record number of women are candidates— Naomi Francis🇯🇲 (@PressSecOPMJa) September 3, 2020
JLP 18+PNP 12+Indep 4=34
Congrats to them all.
Tomorrow, vote safely. Wear your mask. Social distance
Holness, defending his decision to hold the election six months earlier than it was due, said recently: "The pandemic will only end when there is a safe and widely-distributed vaccine."
He claimed his government had managed the pandemic "extremely well" and said: "We must move on with our society.”
Jamaica has recorded almost 3,000 coronavirus cases and 24 people have died.
Professor Emerita Carolyn Cooper has expressed concern that senior citizens who opt to vote on election day may be at undue risk of contracting COVID-19 unless special lines are established for the aged. Read more here: https://t.co/JkEmlcLNnx #GLNRToday #JaVotes2020 pic.twitter.com/YROuPkucvv— Jamaica Gleaner (@JamaicaGleaner) September 2, 2020
The JLP and PNP have dominated Jamaican politics for more than half a century. In the 1970s JLP leader Edward Seaga and PNP leader Michael Manley employed armed gangs to protect their turf and reggae star Bob Marley famously forced the pair to shake hands on stage at one of his concerts.