Lynford Simpson & Edmond Campbell, Staff Reporters
Jamaica Labour Party leader Bruce Golding walks through a crowd of supporters at the party's Belmont Road headquarters as the Labourites yesterday celebrated their first victory in general elections since 1989. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
The Bruce Golding-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) defied even the prophets yesterday to eke out its first general election win in 18 years; but the close victory triggered immediate controversy as Prime Minister and PNP President Portia Simpson Miller refused to concede, stating that "the election is too close to call".
At the end of the preliminary count, the JLP had won at least 31 seats to the People's National Party's (PNP) 29, in the closest of the country's 15 general elections since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944. The count now stands at seven wins for the JLP and eight for the PNP.
Golding, in his victory speech, said that "however perplexing some may find the results, the fact is that the people have spoken".
Speaking from what he described as a "platform of magnanimity", Golding added, "It may very well be that the people of Jamaica, in their own profound wisdom, are sending a clear message to all of us that the time has come for constructive engagement among the political forces of the country".
With such a narrow margin of victory, the official result could be days away as candidates who have lost close races,especially those from the PNP, are expected to demand recounts and perhaps mount challenges in the courts.
Director of Elections Danville Walker said the official recount begins at 9 o'clock this morning. The Electoral Office of Jamaica said yesterday's voter turnout was a modest 60.40 per cent.
Last night, Simpson Miller was unyielding. "As of now, we're conceding no victory to the Jamaica Labour Party," she declared at party headquarters. "There are a number of seats that the People's National Party will be taking action (over) and we have to complete the final count tomorrow (today), and we will be watching closely the count," she added.
With the PNP in recent weeks alleging that some members of the JLP had sworn allegiance to foreign powers which, if true, may make them ineligible to hold seats in the House of Representatives, Simpson Miller hinted that that matter could also be headed to court.
"We will pursue action in the courts on some constitutional issues," she said.
The PNP leader also accused some persons of campaigning the day before the elections, which is not allowed, and of vote buying. She told PNP supporters that "you'll hear from the leadership of the party". She said also that in some constituencies, people were barred from exercising their right to vote. "We're not going to stand by and allow criminals to decide the future of the Jamaican people," Simpson Miller said.
Her stance cast a pall of uncertainty over the results of the election which, even after the final count starting this morning, could trigger moves for magisterial recounts in close contests.
Yesterday's victory represents a gain of five seats for the JLP which grabbed 26 seats to the 34 captured by the PNP in the 2002 election which was said to be the closest in 30 years.
In fact, the JLP lost just one of those seats that it gained in 2002, that of Barrington Grayin Eastern Hanover. He was defeated by Dr. D.K. Duncan who last faced the electorate in 1980, when the JLP won a landslide victory over the PNP.
The JLP has now ended 18 years of political drought with its first victory in five attempts, with Golding receiving a mandate from voters in his first test at the polls as JLP leader.
Last night, Golding, who could be described as the 'comeback kid' who in 2005 returned to the JLP from the National Democratic Move-ment (NDM) which he had founded in 1995 after walking away from the JLP, was in an ecstatic mood.
FIRST WIN SINCE 1980
Yesterday's was the JLP's first win in a contested general election since 1980 when it whipped the PNP by 51 seats to nine, with Edward Seaga at the helm. The PNP, which was at the time led by former Prime Minister Michael Manley, did not contest the 1983 snap election called by Seaga, claiming Seaga had reneged on a promise not to hold a general election until a new voters' list was in place. The PNP then chalked upa string of four consecutive general election victories - 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2002.
Most, if not all, public opinion polls had, in the weeks and days leading up to yesterday's election, given the edge to the JLP. The Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll had, last Thursday, given the JLP a four percentage point lead over the PNP - at 42 per cent to 38 per cent.
The Observer's Mark Wignall on Sunday polled it 40 per cent for the JLP to 31 per cent for the PNP. Some pollsters predicted a much closer race, even stating that with a 60-seat Parliament, a tie was a possibility.
According to the analysts, the JLP gained traction from the political debates which most say it won. The JLP also won the battle of the airwaves in an unprecedented advertisingcampaign that it also domi-nated. Analysts had said the momentum was with the JLP and that was reflected in the party outmuscling the PNP in key seats when it mattered most.
The most significant upset yesterday saw the JLP's Laurie Broderick trumping the PNP's Horace Dalley, the Minister of Health, in the North Clarendon battle. Junior Works Minister Richard Azan also lost his seat to newcomer Michael Stern in North West Clarendon.
Former PNPYO President Basil Waite said the PNP had not run the best campaign. He added that the losses suffered by Dalley and Azan had hurt the party.
"We were expecting a better showing in a number of key constituencies but some of these never went our way," Waite told The Gleaner.
In other marginal/battleground seats, the PNP's Trevor Munroe lost to Dr. St. Aubyn Bartlett in East St. Andrew; Abe Dabdoub (PNP) lost to Douglas Vaz in West Portland, and Maxine Henry-Wilson (PNP) held off Joan Gordon-Webley in St. Andrew South East, but with a reduced majority.
Simpson Miller created history when she succeeded P.J. Patterson as the first female president of the PNP and Prime Minister on March 30, 2006. However, her loss at the polls last night meant that her tenure in office was confined to one year and five months.
Receiving a mandate from voters in his first test at the polls as JLP leader, Golding now has the opportunity to implement a plethora of proposals set out in the party's manifesto.
The JLP's win has shattered Simpson Miller's quest to secure her own mandate from the electorate. The implications of this loss may cast Simpson Miller's political future into a whirlwind of uncertainty.
Some political analysts have argued that the Prime Minister might also be voted fromthe presidency of the PNP at its annual conference in September.
There were 146 candidates who offered themselves for office yesterday. None from the NDM or the other fringe parties, along with a few independents, was able to win a seat.
The PNP faced the electorate on what it said was its solid achievements, pointing to low unemployment and inflation, the development of highways and housing, among others.
The JLP, on the other hand, took aim at what it described as a corrupt and scandal-ridden government, highlighted the high crime rate, poor infrastructure, high unemployment and high public debt. Among the JLP's promises were free tuition at thesecondary level and free health care for all.
Dejected members of the People's National Party (PNP) (from left) party general secretary Donald Buchanan (head bowed), vice-president Peter Phillips and campaign director Paul Robertson listen as PNP president, Portia Simpson Miller, gives her post-election address at the party's Old Hope Road headquarters in St. Andrew. Simpson Miller refused to concede defeat to the Jamaica Labour Party. -Rudolph Brown/Chief Photographer