Jamaica’s leading opposition People’s National Party, or PNP, won a landslide victory in national elections on the Caribbean island on Thursday, according to preliminary results, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Popular PNP leader and designated prime minister Portia Simpson Miller delivered her acceptance speech to jubilant supporters, vowing: “We will never hide anything from you. Now you have a government you can trust.”
Jamaicans cast ballots on Thursday in a closely contested general election as Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who has been in office just two months, sought a popular mandate to tackle the Caribbean country’s deepening economic woes.
Polls showed Jamaica’s two longtime dominant parties, the ruling Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party, running neck-and-neck in a vote focused on the island’s stagnant and debt-ridden economy. [So much for polls . . . ]
Police and soldiers stood guard at polling stations across Jamaica. Despite a history of election violence, the run-up to the vote was one of the most peaceful in years.
Holness, a 39-year-old former education minister, hoped to keep the center-right ruling party in power for a second consecutive term. The country’s youngest-ever prime minister, he took office in October after the party suffered a blow when his predecessor surprisingly resigned.
The victorious PNP is led by Portia Simpson Miller, a former prime minister who became Jamaica’s first female leader in 2006 and had vowed to make Holness one of the shortest-serving premiers in the island nation’s history. She now faces the stiff challenge of re-invigorating the economy in one of the world’s most indebted countries.
Polls closed at 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) and the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, as expected, just announced the winning party, based on preliminary official results.
Although one of the Caribbean’s more developed economies, Jamaica is saddled with a public debt load now totaling more than 120 percent of its gross domestic product.
Its burdensome debt has proved a drag on the economy, which is dependent on tourism and has failed to grow over the past four years, sputtering since the JLP took power.
Unemployment has risen from 9.8 percent in 2007 to 12.9 percent.
Devon Jameson, a 31-year-old accountant, said the struggling economy led him to vote for the opposition. “The JLP has wrecked this country with its poor economic policies,” he said. “Our national debt is growing, unemployment is rising and poverty is getting worse.”
Analysts say the new government will likely be forced to implement unpopular austerity measures, including possible layoffs of state workers, in an effort to shore up the economy after it received a $1.27 billion lifeline from the International Monetary Fund last year.
Holness pledged on the campaign trail to spur the economy by attracting private investment to infrastructure projects. He also said the ruling party had successfully reduced crime in a country long plagued by criminal gangs.
Simpson Miller vowed if elected to appeal to the IMF to extend the period Jamaica has to repay any loans to hand authorities more leeway to jump-start the economy. She voiced confidence her party would triumph as she voted at a school in the capital of Kingston. “I feel a wind of change blowing across Jamaica,” she told reporters.
The election came a year earlier than originally scheduled. Worried about the global economic outlook and its implications for Jamaica, Holness called the vote in early December only weeks after being sworn in as prime minister.
Holness was chosen by JLP lawmakers after former Prime Minister Bruce Golding resigned over fallout from his handling of a U.S. request for the extradition of a notorious Jamaican gang leader.
After initially fighting Christopher “Dudus” Coke’s extradition to New York on drug-trafficking charges, Golding’s administration bowed to U.S. pressure in May 2010 and sent police and the military into Kingston’s slums to take him into custody.
Seventy-six people died in ensuing gun battles between government forces and supporters of Coke, once a strong JLP supporter who wielded powerful influence in the slums.
Holness’ loss marks the first time Jamaicans voted out an incumbent government after only one term. The defeat makes him one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in Jamaican history. That record would still be held by Donald Sangster, who took office in February 1967 but died of illness less than two months later.
For the original reports merged in this report go to http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/wire-news/jamaicas-youngest-premier-seeks-mandate-at-polls_641693.html and http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20111229-710314.html