BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor — publications ?email@example.com
THE People’s National Party (PNP) sent the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) back into Opposition after scoring a crushing 41-22-seat victory in yesterday’s 16th general election that pollsters and analysts had said was mostly too close to call.
A sober but triumphant Simpson Miller told jubilant supporters at PNP headquarters last night that she was thankful to the Jamaican people and Prime Minister Andrew Holness who, she said, called and congratulated her earlier. “He was very gracious.”
She urged comrades to greet supporters of the losing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with love in an obvious extension of the olive branch after what was a vigorous and often bitter campaign.
“We will be working to move this country forward to achieve growth and development and for job creation,” she said. “As we move to balance the books, we will be moving to balance people’s lives.”
Simpson Miller also asked public servants to ensure the protection of Government property, and added: “Today, the Jamaica people assisted us to rescue Jamaica and to restore the power. You will hear from us soon, as we move to put our team in place to take charge of the Government.”
The dramatic swing to the PNP, which emerged as early as 8:00 last night, returns the 66-year-old Simpson Miller to the prime minister’s chair, four years after she failed in her first bid to get her own mandate from the electorate after taking over from P J Patterson, who retired in March 2006.
It also resulted in Holness, the 39-year-old JLP leader, serving as prime minister for a mere two months, having been sworn in on October 23 after Bruce Golding stepped down.
But probably the hottest sting in the defeat for the JLP is that it made the party the first one-term Government since Independence.
The election was marked by long waits at polling stations, glitches in the operation of the electronic voter identification system, and a low voter turnout.
But overall voting went smoothly islandwide.
Last night, Holness conceded defeat, telling journalists at JLP headquarters in Kingston that “the people have spoken and we are humble servants and we listen”.
Holness had campaigned on a platform of continuity and fiscal prudence, while Simpson Miller and the PNP had, on the hustings, highlighted unemployment and the harsh economic conditions as failings of the Government.
Some of the heavyweights who lost their seats yesterday included: Agriculture Minister Robert Montague; Energy Minister Clive Mullings; junior industry and commerce minister Michael Stern; Sharon Hay-Webster, who crossed the floor in a dramatic switch from the PNP. National Security Minister Dwight Nelson also failed in his bid to win a seat.
Statistics from the Electoral Office of Jamaica confirmed that 48 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote at 6,629 polling stations in 2,200 locations islandwide in what electoral officials, observers and police said was possibly the most peaceful election in local political history.
Director of Elections Orette Fisher, who was presiding for the first time at the helm of a Jamaican election, admitted there were some of the usual election day headaches but for the most part polling went smoothly and without incident.
“I can say at this time that we are very satisfied that the process was efficiently executed and the elections were free and fair and free of fear,” Fisher told journalists after his office had announced the preliminary results.
Most of the glitches centred around the operation of the Electronic Voter Identification and Ballot Issuing System (EVIBIS) which was rolled out in Eastern St Catherine, West Central St Andrew, South East St Andrew, Eastern St Andrew, Central Kingston, and Western St Andrew, with partial implementation in North West St Andrew and North Central St Andrew.
The EVIBIS identifies the elector and issues his/her ballot electronically. The machines do not provide for voting electronically, but instead match the voter to fingerprints in a database. Persons whom the system rejected for whatever reason were quizzed by the presiding officer to ascertain whether they were who they claimed to be.
Some voters and the PNP complained that voting in EVIBIS centres was agonisingly slow, causing long lines and frustrating electors.
Fisher blamed the problems on a combination of “nervousness on the part of some election staff and impatience of some voters”, but said the problems were sorted out and voting continued.
“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,” he told the Observer.
The day’s minuses included reported shooting incidents in the Mountain View Avenue area and Southborough in Portmore, St Catherine, as well as reports that a man died in Portland after discovering that he had erroneously put his ‘X’ beside the wrong candidate.
But the election earned the thumbs up from international and local observers who certified it as largely incident-free.
Ambassador Lisa Shoman, the OAS chief of mission observing the election, said that preliminary reports suggested that polling went well.
According to Shoman, the 12 teams monitoring election activities across the island had not observed anything untoward thus far.
“Everything is going according to schedule and according to plan so far,” she said at mid-morning.
She said the most her team observed were long lines which were based on how the crowd was being handled by election workers.
Consistent with electoral history, some changes could come in the final count or after any possible challenge from losing candidates who may petition for a magisterial recount.
— With additional reporting by Desmond Allen and Horace Helps