Jamaica will have a female prime minister for the second time in five years after Portia Simpson Miller’s People’s National Party (PNP) won a landslide victory in general elections held on the island last week.
Miller, 66, is expected to be sworn in before the end of the week. Electoral officials are blaming the delay on very tight finishes in many of the country’s 63 constituencies, including one where a PNP candidate was declared the winner in a recount by a mere 13 votes.
Miller served as prime minister for a brief period from 2006-2007, when Bruce Golding’s Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) defeated the PNP, putting her on opposition benches. A bad economy and a series of scandals involving the Golding administration helped the PNP win 41 of the 63 seats so far, compared to a difference of less than six in the last parliament.
In fact, Golding, aware that his popularity was slipping, quit the prime ministerial position in October, passing the baton to 39-year-old Andrew Holness, whose two-month tenure was one of the shortest in the island’s political history. Holness, a former education minister, will now change places with Miller and become opposition leader.
Last week’s polls were the third in the 15-nation Caribbean trade bloc group within the space of a month, following those in Guyana and St. Lucia on Nov. 28. Like Jamaica, St. Lucia has a new government, while the governing party in Guyana barely won the presidency but lost control to the opposition, setting up a delicate balance of power in the country.
In Jamaica, opinion polls conducted by several well-established and credentialed agencies had predicted a close race, with the margin of victory being no more than five seats. The final figure embarrassed even the most experienced of political watchers in the English-speaking Caribbean’s most populous nation. The JLP said it was also astonished by the results.
Holness and the JLP called the elections nearly a year ahead of time to capitalize on his newness as prime minister following the beating the party took in the aftermath of the extradition to the United States of drug warlord Christopher “Dudus” Coke in mid-2010.
More than 70 people died when the military and police invaded an inner-city JLP stronghold, ironically, Golding’s constituency, to flush out Coke. A commission of inquiry was held after that affair, and many in the PNP concluded that the JLP was so bruised that it would not recover in time. The United States had put serious backroom pressure on Golding to quit because of his refusal for o nearly two years to work with the Americans’ request to extradite Coke.
In the end, Holness concluded that he needed more time to repair the damage and to convince the country to remain with the JLP.