ST. CATHERINE, Jamaica: The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was humiliated at the polls on Thursday as the People’s National Party (PNP) took 41 seats to the JLP’s 22 in the 63-seat Parliament.
This comes just two months after the JLP elected a new leader – and prime minister – in former education minister, Andrew Holness, following the resignation of Bruce Golding who had led this country since his victory over the PNP in 2007.
At 39, Holness was Jamaica’s youngest PM and is the second shortest serving (following Donald Sangster, Jamaica’s second prime minister who died in office after serving from February 23 to April 11, 1967). He was sworn in on October 23 and called the elections to seek his own mandate a full year before they were constitutionally due in December, 2012.
In an election that was notable for its low turnout with some 48 per cent of registered voters bothering to exercise their franchise, the PNP prevailed by getting its core support out to the polls.
In fact, some commentators have suggested that the election seemed to have been a contest mainly between the core supporters of both parties with the PNP doing a better job of getting out its core vote than the JLP. It was also suggested that the JLP’s core may not have been as large as that of the PNP.
However, while the number of seats won was significant, the margins in many constituencies were small. Some of the seats were won by fewer than a couple hundred votes, which means that there could be a number of recounts.
In addressing her supporters following her party being declared the winner, Portia Simpson-Miller said she was “humbled” by the outcome and congratulated her team on the victory. She also alluded to the fact that this is the first time she was directly elected by the people.
“I am humbled as I stand before you and I wish to thank the Jamaican people for their love, for their support and for giving the People’s National Party and the leader of the party her own mandate,” she said.
Even the large crowd of supporters, although jubilant, was more restrained than would have been expected.
This election has also been noteworthy for its lack of violence. Simpson-Miller referenced this when she commented on seeing, as she traversed the country on the election trail, supporters of the JLP in green and the PNP in orange – the parties’ official colours – interacting in “friendly rivalry”, and urged her supporters to show respect to JLP supporters. She promised to work with all members of Parliament in the interest of the country.
Simpson-Miller called on all Jamaicans to work together for the betterment of the country and said she wanted to work with the public sector, the security forces, the unions and even the media.
This is the second time Simpson-Miller will serve as prime minister. The 66-year-old was first elected to parliament in 1976 and became Jamaica’s first female prime minister in early 2006 when she was chosen to head the party and assume the role of prime minister following the resignation of former PM, P.J. Patterson. She, however, was defeated by the JLP under Golding’s leadership in September 2007. So this win was more than an electoral victory – it was a vindication. It was also sweet revenge for the heavy personal attacks she faced leading up to this election including being called illiterate and having her ability to govern the country questioned.
However, the Jamaican people decided that she was the best person to move the country forward by giving her PNP an almost 2-1 victory over the JLP.
One of the issues that became very controversial and threatened to hurt her campaign was her promise to “review” the “buggery laws” which criminalize homosexual acts in the country. Jamaica has been under pressure from the international community to modernize its laws on homosexuality.
A number of respected religious leaders, primary among them Bishop Herro Blair, have promised to strongly oppose any attempt to repeal these laws.