Opposition shoots down state of emergency extension

(Jamaica Gleaner) – Prime Minister Bruce Golding will this morning huddle with the police and army chiefs to craft adjustments to their massive anti-crime initiative in the wake of the government’s failure on Tuesday to get enough votes to green-light an extension of the state of public emergency in the Corporate Area and St Catherine.

Golding, on the request of the heads of the security forces, was seeking to extend the emergency regime until August 21.

However, with six government members not on the island, the Labourites needed support from the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) to secure the extension.

Under the Constitution, at least 31 of the 60 members of parliament (MP) must give the thumbs up for a state of public emergency to be extended. There are 32 government members in the House of Representatives.

Despite political gymnastics, a stone-faced Golding and a more than 20-minute consultation between senior members of both parties, no consensus could be reached. All 25 government ministers present voted for the extension while the 18 opposition members in chamber abstained. Seventeen members were absent.
Charles’ rebuke

“Shame!” Cabinet minister Pearnel Charles shouted as the results of the vote were read by stand-in Speaker Gregory Mair.

“You are against the security forces who are sacrificing their lives,” the labour minister added, while pointing in the direction of Peter Bunting, opposition spokes-man on national security.

Earlier, Golding pressed Parliament to grant the approval. He referred to a downward trend in murder figures since the measure was first implemented in May.

“We would be playing Russian roulette with the country’s security. We would be risking a regression from the significant advances that have been made if, in the face of the recommendations of the security forces, we are to say, ‘Enough is enough, this is as far as we are prepared to go’,” Golding said.

However, the Opposition, during the debate on the motion, argued that there was no need for a one-month extension.

Bunting and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller said they were prepared to allow an extension until July 31 to allow for winding-down operations. Golding, however, ignored the suggestion, arguing that the security forces would not be able to take on some tasks without those special powers.
Uneasy opposition

As it got closer to the vote, some opposition MPs moved from seat to seat trying to convince others not to be swayed by Golding. Among those uneasy was Fitz Jackson, MP for South St Catherine, who was instructed by Simpson Miller to abstain.

Then came the clearest sign that the parliamentary Opposition feared a political backlash for appearing to be soft on crime.

“We are interested in seeing this matter resolved to the betterment of all and I am suggesting, on behalf of the Opposition, before you put the matter to the vote, that we have a short consultation,” Derrick Kellier, leader of opposition business in the Lower House, said.

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