Jamaica’s main opposition won a narrow election victory Monday, according to preliminary results, but the country’s first female prime minister said the race was too close to call and the ruling party would not concede defeat.
The opposition Jamaica Labor Party won 31 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives, enough to oust Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and end her party’s nearly 20-year hold on power in the Caribbean country.
Director of Elections Danville Walker said it would take about two days to complete the final count.
“We don’t usually have too many things change during the final count, but we must remember that this is a preliminary count,” Walker said on Television Jamaica.
But Simpson Miller said there were a number of races that were so close they could switch in a recount and that she was concerned election rules may have been violated.
“We are conceding no victory to the Jamaica Labor Party,” she said.
Despite her announcement, jubilant JLP supporters drove through the streets of Kingston in convoys honking their horns while passengers leaned out the windows. People streamed into campaign headquarters, waiting to hear from their leader, Bruce Golding.
Simpson Miller alleged that some candidates campaigned beyond the cut off point mandated by election rules and were “buying votes.” She also said that some members of her People’s National Party were inappropriately prevented from voting.
The prime minister said some PLP candidates would pursue legal challenges, but she did not provide details during a brief speech in which she also warned her supporters to get home quickly to avoid clashes with opposition backers.
Simpson Miller became the country’s first woman prime minister when she was chosen by party delegates to replace P.J. Patterson upon his retirement in March 2006.
Voting appeared orderly through the day, though several polling stations opened late because they lacked election documents. In a rare episode of violence, ruling party supporters fired shots at an East Kingston Methodist church, according to witnesses who said the attackers had quarreled earlier with opposition backers. Heavily armed soldiers and police quickly swarmed the area and no injuries were reported.
Albert Ramdin, assistant secretary-general for the Washington-based Organization of American States, said around noon that there were no signs of any of the violence that marred Jamaican elections in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Generally, everything is going fine,” said Ramdin, who headed a mission of about 40 OAS observers.
The two main parties do not have stark ideological differences and the determining factor in the election seems to be which leader has a better chance of easing Jamaica’s deep-seated poverty, creating jobs and reducing crime in a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Both Golding and Simpson Miller are longtime parliament members.
Simpson Miller’s campaign has revolved around her inspiring life story as a someone who was born in rural poverty and grew up in a Kingston ghetto, not far from the crumbling concrete jungle made famous by Bob Marley. Known as “Sista P,” and “Mama P,” the 61-year-old prime minister is known for her plain speaking style and support of the poor.
Once wildly popular, her support has waned amid complaints she responded poorly to Hurricane Dean two weeks ago and a perception that she did not fare well in a debate with Golding.
Golding, 58, has promised to streamline government bureaucracy and attract foreign investment. He also says he will eliminate secondary school fees — a move the ruling party insists the country cannot afford but has generated much enthusiasm among cash-strapped voters.