Opposition regains power in Jamaica


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The Independent US

Jamaica's opposition capitalised on discontent over the economy to return to power, as voters gave the country's first female leader a second chance to govern the island.

Supporters of former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller, 66, shimmied and shouted in the capital, Kingston, as they heard that the centre-right government of prime minister Andrew Holness had been defeated and their candidate had staged a dramatic political comeback in general elections.

Mr Holness, Jamaica's youngest prime minister at 39, said the defeat will prompt a time of introspection and reflection for leaders of his Jamaica Labour Party to examine what went wrong.

"I wish the new government well. We hope for the benefit of the country that they will do a good job," said Mr Holness, who warned during the campaign that an opposition win would scare away foreign investment and dash hopes of economic progress.

While official results have not been released, elections director Orrette Fisher said that preliminary results showed Ms Simpson Miller's slightly left-of-centre People's National Party, or PNP, heading to victory.

"Based on the margins, it appears safe to say" that Ms Simpson Miller's party won, Mr Fisher said shortly after Jamaican newspapers and broadcasters called the election for her faction.

He expected his office to release the official count and breakdown of parliamentary seats tomorrow.

News station TVJ said the PNP won 41 seats in parliament and Mr Holness's Jamaica Labour Party 22.

Ms Simpson Miller is beloved by her supporters for her folksy, plainspoken style and is referred to affectionately as Sista P and Comrade Leader.

She became Jamaica's first female prime minister in March 2006 after she was picked by party delegates when P.J. Patterson retired as leader. But she was tossed out of office a year later in a narrow election defeat.

Yesterday, she thanked her supporters at party headquarters in Kingston, where more than a thousand elated partisans decked out in the party's colour of orange swayed to reggae and soul tunes, waved flags and clapped hands.

"I am humbled as I stand before you and I wish to thank the Jamaican people for their love, for their support and for giving the People's National Party and the leader of the party her own mandate," she said, after receiving hugs from numerous candidates, some crying.

She has pledged to lift debt-wracked Jamaica out of poverty, secure foreign investment, and create jobs.

Her party will face deep economic problems in this island of 2.8 million people, with a punishing debt of roughly 18.6 billion US dollars, or 130% of gross domestic product. That is a rate about 10% higher than debt-troubled Italy's.

Mr Holness, who became prime minister two months ago after Bruce Golding, Jamaica's leader since 2007, abruptly stepped down in October amid anaemic public backing, won his parliamentary seat with 54% of the vote.