Jamaica’s main opposition party rode a wave of discontent with a bad economy to a big win at the polls on Thursday, in general elections that swept former Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson Miller back into office.
Despite pre-election surveys predicting a close and hard-fought race, preliminary official results showed Simpson Miller’s People’s National Party (PNP) winning about two-thirds of the parliamentary seats at stake.
“We have plenty of work ahead of us,” Simpson Miller told supporters in a nationally televised address at a raucous late night victory rally outside her party’s Kingston headquarters.
She pledged “growth and development with job creation,” but also alluded to the Caribbean nation’s huge debt burden and possible new austerity measures as part of a US$1.27 billion bailout agreement with the IMF.
“We will hide nothing from you. When it is tough and rough we’ll let you know,” Simpson Miller said. “But I can also ensure you, as we move to balance the books, we will be moving to balance people’s lives as well.”
The election delivered what outgoing Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness described as a “humbling” defeat for the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The 39-year-old former education minister had hoped to keep the JLP in power for a second consecutive term.
The country’s youngest-ever prime minister, Holness took office in October after the party suffered a blow when his predecessor surprisingly resigned amid weak public backing.
Holness’ predecessor, Bruce Golding, had been dogged by a long-brewing scandal over his handling of a US request for the extradition of a notorious Jamaican gang leader who was associated with the JLP.
The scandal ended with the extradition to New York of long-time fugitive Christopher “Dudus” Coke, but only after a brutal police and military raid on a Kingston slum that left 76 people dead.
The center-right JLP is considered slightly more conservative than the PNP, which narrowly lost a general election in 2007 after she briefly served as Jamaica’s first female prime minister.
However, there are no major ideological differences between the parties and neither Simpson Miller nor Holness are considered charismatic or especially strong public speakers.
Despite the island nation’s past reputation for political bloodletting and vote tampering, there were no reports of any serious irregularities or violence on election day.
However, voting proceeded at a glacial pace in some areas and there were complaints about slow-working electronic voter identity machines at some polling places.