Ja­maica’s op­po­si­tion wins gen­eral elec­tion as vot­ers tire of aus­ter­ity

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL - By REBEKAH KEBEDE

Ja­maica’s op­po­si­tion nar­rowly won a gen­eral elec­tion on Thurs­day, with its mes­sage of deep tax cuts and mas­sive job cre­ation, win­ning over vot­ers weary of years of tough IMF-man­dated aus­ter­ity mea­sures.

The Ja­maican Labour Party (JLP) led by An­drew Hol­ness had won 33 of the 63 seats with al­most all votes counted, ac­cord­ing to the elec­toral coun­cil web­site. Prime Min­is­ter Por­tia Simp­son-Miller’s party took 30 seats.

The sound of airhorns filled the JLP’s head­quar­ters in Kingston as a ju­bi­lant crowd of sup­port­ers in the party’s sig­na­ture green waved flags and par­tied to dance­hall mu­sic, in­clud­ing a song called “Bye bye Por­tia, bye bye”.

“We will grow the Ja­maican econ­omy. We will cre­ate jobs. We will give you an ac­count­able and re­spon­sive govern­ment,” said Hol­ness, 43, adding that his govern­ment would ad­dress a laun­dry list of is­sues from wa­ter to hous­ing and health­care.

“Our mis­sion is to move Ja­maica from poverty to pros­per­ity,” he said as sup­port­ers rang bells, a party sym­bol.

Simp­son-Miller con­ceded de­feat to a crowd of somber vot­ers.

Hol­ness, who is likely to be the Caribbean na­tion’s next prime min­is­ter, has promised to cre­ate 250,000 jobs on the is­land of 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple and do away with in­come tax for many wage earn­ers, a move crit­ics say will tear into the bud­get.

Opin­ion polls be­fore the elec­tion fore­cast vic­tory for Simp­son-Miller af­ter she re­turned the heav­ily in­debted econ­omy to growth and low in­fla­tion.

De­spite her Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party’s so­cial­ist past, she em­braced spend­ing cuts, wage freezes and harsh fis­cal dis­ci­pline as part of a $1.27 bil­lion IMF bailout that has low­ered the still daunting debt bur­den of more than 130 per­cent of GDP.

Simp­son-Miller, 70, is Ja­maica’s first fe­male head of state. In­fla­tion hit a 48-year low dur­ing her ten­ure. Fall­ing oil prices freed up govern­ment funds in the im­port-de­pen­dent coun­try and the is­land’s GDP grew 1.3 per­cent last year, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank.

How­ever, un­em­ploy­ment is high at around 13 per­cent over­all, and a whop­ping 38 per­cent for the young. While Simp­son-Miller is cred­ited with bring­ing sta­bil­ity, Hol­ness’ op­ti­mistic mes­sage was more pop­u­lar in the end.

“The coun­try wanted to ex­hale,” one Hol­ness sup­porter told lo­cal tele­vi­sion, her name drowned out by the cel­e­bra­tions.

Out­go­ing education min­is­ter Ron­ald Th­waites ques­tioned Hol­ness’ abil­ity to de­liver. “Can those prom­ises be kept? Will they be kept?” Th­waites said in an in­ter­view with lo­cal tele­vi­sion.

Hol­ness crit­i­cized the govern­ment’s ad­her­ence to aus­ter­ity but re­frained from sharp rhetoric against the IMF plan on the cam­paign trail. Hol­ness briefly served as prime min­is­ter in 2011 af­ter un­rest due to a U.S. at­tempt to ex­tra­dite drug king­pin Christo­pher “Dudus” Coke forced his pre­de­ces­sor to re­sign.

An­drew Hol­ness (R), leader of the op­po­si­tion Ja­maican Labour Party, speaks to sup­port­ers at the party head­quar­ters af­ter it won the gen­eral elec­tion.

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