Jamaica: Election “too close to call”?

Jamaicans went to the polls yesterday in a general election remarkable for its long campaign season — seven weeks, further prolonged by the untimely intervention of Hurricane Dean. For most of that time, opinion polls showed the governing party, the People's National Party (PNP), under Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, running neck-and-neck with the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), under Bruce Golding. But in the final days before the election, polls showed the JLP nudging ahead.

At stake were the sixty seats in Jamaica's House of Representatives. MPs are elected by the first-past-the-post system, and the party with a majority forms the government, with the party leader appointed prime minister.

Elections in Jamaica have historically been marked by violence. On Monday 2 September, as polling stations opened across the island, many citizens — bloggers included — were anxious. “Finally the day is upon us and I am so happy it is coming and going,” wrote Jamaican Lifestyle. “Please pray for peace on election day.” “I was hoping I wouldn't be in Jamaica for elections, I wanted to be somewhere else,” said Stunner's Afflictions. Meanwhile, Yamfoot took a look into her political crystal ball and suggested three plausible results.

As the day unfolded, the Jamaican Elections 2007 Blog, set up by the Jamaica Gleaner, posted news from polling stations across the island: an early start to voting in Manchester, long lines in St. Andrew, reports of a stolen ballot box in St. Ann. Jamaica Elections also posted a video interview with Danville Walker, the country's senior elections official, and examined the contents of the “goody bags” distributed to the press by the JLP at its media centre in Kingston.

As polls closed and the counting began, Jamaica Elections posted regular updates on the results. The first seat called was the constituency of North West St. Andrew, where JLP candidate Derrick Smith won nearly 60 per cent of the votes. As results were declared seat by seat, it was clear neither party had won by a landslide. “PNP and JLP all square: eight seats left” ran one stark post late last night.

But when the final ballots were counted, it was the JLP that had emerged with the slimmest of majorities: 31 seats to the PNP's 29. Jamaican Lifestyle gave a full breakdown of the new House of Representatives, but noted that Prime Minister Simpson-Miller “has not conceded victory”. With razor-thin majorities in several key constituencies, recounts were scheduled for today. “This is where politics gets really interesting,” wrote johnbret at his MySpace blog. He went on to offer a detailed analysis of the parties’ campaigns.

Simpson-Miller's refusal to concede defeat, and her comments about possible voting irregularities, irked hetairai. “Instead [of] awaiting the recount, our lovely Prime Minister is stirring s***,” she wrote, in a strongly worded post. “Really, is this the time?” Yamfoot, on the other hand, wanted to know what happened to the JLP landslide party leader Bruce Golding had predicted. “This is the first of the many promises that will not materialize.”

Jamaica House, pleased with the results, said they showed Jamaicans wanted a change, which Simpson-Miller did not seem to offer.

I, like many other Jamaicans placed all of our hopes for a brighter and better Jamaica on her and we were let down which is why people started looking at Mr. Golding. It was ironic that she was the embodiment of change for our country but the message from her campaign was “not change course.”

Bloggers elsewhere in the Caribbean were also keeping an eye on events in Jamaica. From Barbados, Notes from the Margin commented:

While legally there may be no constitutional crisis, in a country that is famous for electoral violence, Mrs. Simpson Miller’s refusal to concede could have the potential to lead to civil instability in Jamaica.

And Caribbean Lionesse thought the situation was “Not good. Not good at all. A result this close can only bring more political tension.” Later she noted the fact that Golding was seen as the prime ministerial candidate of Jamaica's elite, while Simpson-Miller was always portrayed as a grassroots woman of the people:

Call me shadist, I have an issue with people like Golding and those who support him so fanatically. We in the Caribbean too love our great half-white hopes – those men born of high colour and purportedly high birth, who went to the right schools and were raised in the right communities and think they are entitled to power.

With the recount underway and the JLP already celebrating victory, Jamaica Elections asked its readers, “Is Jamaica changing course?” Among the comments left in response:

Portia has done nothing to make Jamaica any better …. Give Bruce his chance….

The closeness of the election in both seat count and popular votes, shows a country split right down the middle….

As a jamaican living in connecticut and watch the economic situation in jamaica, I think that it is time to “try a new ting” with Bruce….

Now its time to work…. to get our nation back to prominence and prosperity. It is also time for this new JLP government to unit ALL Jamaicans across party-lines and across indeference….


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