, KINGSTON, Dec 30 – Jamaica’s leading opposition People’s National Party won a landslide election, according to preliminary results, in a vote driven by concerns about crime, corruption and poverty.
The preliminary results indicated the left-leaning party had won 41 out of 63 constituencies, giving it a resounding majority and showing the door to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, 39, the youngest person to hold the top office.
The results were released late Thursday, but within hours of polls closing local media had called the PNP’s victory, and PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller, the designated prime minister, delivered an ecstatic acceptance speech.
“You will know everything. We will never hide anything from you. Now you have a government you can trust,” she told jubilant supporters.
Miller, who became the first woman prime minister in 2006 but narrowly lost a reelection bid the next year, promised a “partnership with you, the Jamaican people, a partnership with the private sector, the media and civil society.”
She said Holness — of the center-right Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) — had called earlier to concede defeat and offer his congratulations, describing his mood as “gracious.”
Turnout was high in the palm-fringed former British colony of three million, where voters’ chief concerns were crime, corruption and unemployment.
Monitors reported long lines of voters in some districts, mainly due to technical problems with the voting machines, but Thursday’s elections did not see the violence that had marred previous votes.
“We have had reports from some supervisors who say things are going smoothly while there are others who say the machines are slow. But slow is relative because some persons just don’t want to wait,” Director of Elections Orette Fisher was quoted as saying in the Jamaica Observer.
Over 1.6 million voters — 75 percent of registered voters — in the 63 constituencies were projected to have cast their ballots by the time polls closed at 5:00 pm (2200 GMT). The 2007 vote saw a lower turnout, at 60 percent.
Police reported a shooting in the Saint Catherine constituency in the country’s southeast, but no one was hurt and the suspect was arrested in an incident officials did not believe to be politically motivated.
In the eastern parish of Portland, a 70-year-old farmer collapsed and died just after casting his vote, local media reported.
Residents provided their own security at the polls in the PNP stronghold of Trench Town, a local gang member said.
With Holness and Simpson Miller both predicting victory, throngs of supporters dressed in party colors were earlier seen celebrating in some sections of western Jamaica.
In Trenchtown, a Kingston PNP bastion, voters flooded polling stations dressed in orange T-shirts, the color of the opposition party. Shops there were closed for two hours to allow employees to vote.
Polls conducted by Don Anderson — who has correctly called the last three elections here — showed the opposition PNP marginally ahead up to late last week, but most pollsters said the race was too close to call.
Holness assumed office on October 23 when Bruce Golding stepped down under pressure.
Golding, who led the JLP to victory in 2007 and ended 17 straight years of PNP rule, resigned in the political fallout from the government’s fight against the extradition to the United States of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, reportedly the former leader of the Shower Posse, a JLP-tied gang.
When authorities moved on some of Kingston’s poorest and most crime-ridden areas in May 2010, a massive operation left 76 Jamaicans dead. The gang’s link to the JLP has hurt its sway in poor areas still traumatized by the incident.
“My grandfather voted JLP, my father voted JLP, and I have always voted JLP, but I lost three children in May 2010, so for me now it’s PNP or nothing,” a resident of Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston told AFP.
When campaigning officially ended at midnight Tuesday, gunfire rang out at a JLP event in Westmoreland. One party supporter was killed and two others were wounded, authorities said. Both candidates condemned the violence.
While police have cited figures showing a decline in violent crimes, voters remain deeply concerned over street crime, as well as jobs and corruption in the public sector.