2 March 2016
Volume 39, Number 07
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has won the country’s February 25 general election by a one seat majority. The result was only known after a number of recounts, leaving the final result unclear until a recount of votes cast in the St Thomas Western constituency was undertaken in Kingston for reasons of security.
The recount confirmed on March 2 that the JLP had taken the seat from the People’s National Party (PNP) giving the JLP an overall narrow 32-31 majority; the smallest in Jamaican history.
The JLP had preliminarily won the vote by 33-30 on election night on February 25, but routine recounts saw the balance change. Voter turnout was 47.7%, the lowest since universal adult suffrage began in 1944.
It is expected that Andrew Holness, the JLP leader and Prime Minister-designate, will be sworn in by Thursday March 3 and begin naming his cabinet, assuming the PNP does not request any magisterial recounts in any of the seats that the JLP won.
Portia Simpson Miller, who was Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007 and has been the current office holder since 2012, had hoped that the election would have coincided with her 10th anniversary as President of the PNP. The result came after a 24-day campaign but which felt for many Jamaicans like six months as unofficial campaigning began in mid-2015. The outcome may also have been affected by a decision being taken by the Prime Minister not to hold a December election despite strong indications that was her original intention.
There is now some doubt about how viable a one-seat majority will be given the Speaker has to be an elected representative.
Speaking to the Jamaica Observer, the former JLP Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, said that he hoped that nobody tried to use the circumstances of the Party’s slender election victory as a means of holding Mr Holness to ransom. “With a tight majority of one it would be a perfect situation if, after he has put together his Cabinet, everybody is happy. But human nature doesn’t function that way,” he said.
Mr Golding said that immediately after the election he had sent Mr Holness a message in which he advised him that “compromises very often have to be accommodated in the workings of politics”. However, at the same time he urged him not to let anybody hold a gun to his head in the decisions he will have to make.
Commenting on the outcome, Mr Golding, said that he was concerned about the low voter turnout and the fact that the figure was based on an inflated voters’ list which had not been re-verified in about 10 years. Speaking to reporters, he said that Jamaican voter turnout had been trending downwards over the last several elections, and it was nowhere near what is obtained in other Caribbean countries. “It is worrisome, because it compromises the legitimacy of political authority in the country, because political authority is based on an ascent of slightly more than the majority,” he said.
Should the one-seat majority for the JLP be maintained, Mr Golding said that extraordinary leadership and discipline will have to be displayed by the ruling party. “What it means is that Mr Holness is going to have to be very deliberate in his choice of Speaker [of the House of Representatives] because any contentious issue is going to ultimately be determined by the Speaker’s vote… It means that all members will have to be present for every session of Parliament,” he said.
Meanwhile the Jamaica Defence Force has (JDF) has issued a special call out of its reserve amid tension arising from the results of the general election. A statement from the JDF said the reserve will be required for one week from February 29 to March 7. Following the close outcome and the need to recount ballots both the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister-designate called for calm.
Independent election observer groups including those from the Organization of American States (OAS) and from CARICOM have declared the election to have been free and fair.
This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s leading weekly editorially independent publication, Caribbean Insight, which provides in depth information on current economic, political and commercial developments in the Caribbean and news on events in Europe and the US that affect the region. Business people, academics, and those with a general interest in the Caribbean find it an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining knowledge and providing an insight into political, economic and commercial events in the region.
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