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Sweating and hand-wringing as vote count begins in Jamaica

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Posted: Thursday, September 3, 2020. 6:11 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Voters in Jamaica’s 63 constituencies have cast their ballots as of 5 p.m. Jamaica time, an hour ahead of Belize, and now the wait begins to see who have formed its next government.

Incumbent Andrew Holness of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is defending a four-seat majority against Peter Phillips and the People’s National Party (PNP).

But ever wonder what happens in the mind of a candidate after polls are closed?

The Jamaica Gleaner spoke to three former parliamentarians who experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. They say that the hours between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. (the closing of polls and the announcement of results) can be very long and unsettling.

Ex-PNP parliamentarian John Junor recalls an anxious wait in 1989 when it looked like he would fall to popular JLP rival Cecil Charlton.

“Because my strongest areas are farthest from the counting centre when the results were coming in, your stomach goes through all kinds of contortions. It was then that I heard someone at the front of the courthouse proudly proclaim, “Lift your eyes unto the hills,” Junor said. He won by 729 votes and was subsequently re-elected three times.

With modern technology according to Junor, candidates can get preliminary figures based on the initial tallies at the polling stations and begin to celebrate or plot strategy as needed.

Ex-MP for St Andrew Eastern Dr. St Aubyn Bartlett advises that if the count is close, maybe not pop champagne or Red Stripe just yet. Depend on the indoor agent at each polling station for the number of votes cast after the tally is complete, he said, and only start celebrating if it’s far higher than your opponent’s.

Two-time winner Ernest Smith of the JLP said he survived a particular high-stakes race in 1993 in St Ann North West (he lost) after his constituency office was shot up and a policeman bodyguard shot dead as a result. After winning twice in St Ann South West in 2002 and 2007, he lost narrowly in 2011 after former supporters defected. He said the hours between the close of polls and the announcement of results are normally a time for reflection.

“You reflect for a moment. Did I do enough? Did I fall short? Did my people really live up to my expectations and do what they should do? All of that emotion will come to mind but not for a long time,” he said.

Smith’s daughter, Marsha, is the JLP candidate in St Ann North East, challenged by the PNP’s Keith Brown. Ernest said he has advised his daughter to take Election Day one hour at a time.

“If you are going to pack up too many things in your head and start stressing, you won’t be around at 5 o’clock. … Remain calm,” Smith said.

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