When the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, announced the date of the island's elections in Parliament, instead of in a partisan rally as usual, it was clear that this campaign would be different from any other.
On September 3, after an unusually short election campaign, Jamaicans will go to the polls, overshadowed by the growing number of COVID-19 cases. As of August 17, there were 285 active cases on the island, Jamaica's total population is just under three million.
Music, played over open-air sound systems, has always been an integral part of Jamaica's election rallies: dancehall and snippets of popular songs regularly interrupt the speeches of politicians and help create an atmosphere of party.
However, Jamaica's entertainment sector has been hit hard by the pandemic as curfews have been imposed and meeting restrictions continue to be imposed. Kingston, a vibrant city, has been quiet.
To compensate for this lack of energy, political candidates have created their own “dubplates” (acetate records), short music videos promoting the candidate himself, and posted them on social media.
Former Olympian Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, running for election, ran through her rural constituency while highlighting her accomplishments:
– Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, MP, OLY (@julietcuthbert) August 17, 2020
West Rural, ready for Juliet ✌🏽💚🔔 Green Team. Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn for the win…. Running path?
Krystal Tomlinson, opponent of Cuthbert-Flynn, responded with her own “dubplate”:
– Krystal Tomlinson (@krystomlinson) August 15, 2020
It's my national team's turn, so get ready. Beenie Man (N. del E: Grammy-winning Jamaican musician), the crowd has seen you!
In order not to be left behind, the Minister of Culture, Olivia “Babsy” Grande, also with several years of experience in the music market, had Masicka and I-Octane, dancehall stars, working hard in the studios:
– Hon. Olivia Grange (@Babsy_grange) August 17, 2020
I hear you are asking for another video. Here's Masicka representing Big Babsy. The strongest team. Stronger JLP. Babsy. Santa Catalina. Vote for the Jamaica Labor Party.
– Hon. Olivia Grange (@Babsy_grange) August 16, 2020
It's time for music. Which one should I start with? Hmm… let's start with I-Octane. The strongest team. Jamaica Labor Party stronger. Babsy. Santa Catalina. Vote for the Jamaica Labor Party.
Without good these videos They gave much needed income for artists and animated campaigns, inspired a mixed reaction.
Several Jamaicans, especially the younger ones, didn't find it funny:
we have a short election period, i want to hear less jingles and dub plates and more policy discussions, but that's just me
– Captain Stay Home (@_lessismaur) August 12, 2020
We have a very short election campaign, I want to hear less tunes and dubplates and more political conversations, but it is just my opinion.
Radio journalist Sanjay Lewis added:
Why am I seeing both sides putting out so many dub plates, yes I understand that with the election you will have political jabs but I want to hear the message, this is not a dance, what we are looking at is the running of the country & shaping the lives of Jamaicans.
– Sanjay Lewis (@Sanjayolewis) August 14, 2020
Why do I see both parties releasing so many songs? Yes, I understand that with the elections there will be political coups but I want to hear the message. This is not a dance, what we are seeing is the operation of the country and the configuration of the lives of Jamaicans.
Meanwhile, in a discussion on YouTube, video commentator Akeen Lawrence asked if videos of politicians detract from dancehall music's authenticity.
Although the two main political parties contesting the elections have not yet produced their manifestos, the Jamaican public expects to know their political positions when the Jamaica Debate Commission, a private entity, holds three televised debates without an audience in the studio. The commission made sure that both parties approved the dates of the debates.
However, the black clouds of COVD-19 overwhelm most Jamaicans. A young social media user commented on Twitter:
So excited to see our politicians put us at risk by trying to campaign in communities and conduct elections in a pandemic. Yay.
– 👩🔬 Actinomagnificent (@JamaicanLabrat) August 5, 2020
What a thrill to see that our politicians put us at risk trying to campaign in communities and hold elections in a pandemic… Oh!
On August 17, a somewhat pessimistic emergency press conference announced further quarantine measures for two neighborhoods that experienced a local outbreak; Other communities in and around the capital were also monitored.
Many Jamaicans feel that the country's politicians are not setting a good example. The government has reminded Jamaicans of COVID-19 protocols several times, but Prime Minister Holness posted a video in which he appeared to be campaigning amid a crowd of supporters, with no social distance. Following criticism from netizens, the video was removed.
Another policy also received harsh criticism after being caught surrounded by enthusiastic supporters, with only a few wearing masks:
https://t.co/tbVxstwndJ Coronavirus nuh select by color… “a vibe, not planned” is our culture. So what illusion did JLPNP have when they agreed on elections? Every citizen will fall under 1 or other: asymptomatic, symptomatic, mild, moderate or seriously ill. #notplanned
– JCW + (@JCWadvocacyhope) August 18, 2020
You can find the Jamaica Ombudsman guidelines on our website.
What an atmosphere !! It wasn't planned, but the supporters were energized and ready! We started our march in Tel Aviv and then we marched down Southside. Yes, Southside! Those who know know. From there to Spoilers and Rae Town. My heart rejoices!
I love you Central Kingston family! 🧡🧡🇯🇲
… the coronavirus does not select by color … “an unplanned environment” is our culture. So what was the Jamaican Labor Party excited about when they agreed to the elections? Every citizen will fall under one or the other: asymptomatic, symptomatic, mild, moderate, or seriously ill. Non-planned.
The Ombudsman's office published the code of conduct governing the September 3 elections on its website. However, voting procedures during a pandemic have yet to be resolved and it is unclear how politicians and their supporters will stick to COVID-19 measures in election campaigns.
Concerns also persist about whether citizens who tested positive for the virus should be allowed to vote. While health officials oppose the idea, candidates on both sides agree that the 28,381 Jamaicans who have returned from abroad and have been in quarantine as of Aug. 17 should have that right.
It is a complicated matter since there is no electronic voting system and, surely, establishing a similar system within days of voting is beyond the capabilities of the Jamaica electoral office. So, theoretically, those who tested positive would have to vote in person. Jamaica currently has about 29,000 people in home quarantine for 15 days, enough to change the politicians' numbers, but health officials are adamant that anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should not be able to. go to the polling stations.
Blogger Dennis Jones observed:
As we're finding with the daily management of the pandemic, the weak links are not absence of protocols or advice but people’s willingness to apply them. The frenzy that often accompanies elections in Jamaica has to be curtailed and that’s down to candidates and the parties.
What we are finding in the daily management of the pandemic is that the weak link is not the lack of protocols or advice, but the willingness of people to apply them. The fury that often accompanies elections in Jamaica must be restrained and this is the responsibility of the candidates and the parties.
The last two weeks of August will likely be full of twists and turns, as Jamaicans grapple with mounting fears over COVID-19 as the political rivalry is heating up.