In surprise landslide, Jamaican opposition wins back power

Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson, Jamaica's first female prime minister, handily beat Andrew Holness, the nation's youngest prime minister, in yesterday's election.

Jamaica's People's National Party (PNP) won this week's election by a surprisingly large margin. While polls and most analysts believed the race was going to be close, the PNP won 41 of the 63 seats in parliament. PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller will return to the post of prime minister.

The economy was the top issue in the election. The recent global economic weakness that has hit the entire Caribbean exposed serious long-term problems in Jamaica's budget. Given the general dissatisfaction with the economy, it was surprising that outgoing Prime Minister Andrew Holness, only on the job for two months, decided to call for elections.

Security played less of a role than in previous elections due to gains made over the past 18 months. In 2010, after months of protecting a key criminal from extradition, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding cracked down on the Tivoli Garden neighborhood and eventually arrested top drug lord Christopher Dudus Coke. The New Yorker this month did some great reporting on those events. The security situation in the country appears to have improved since the arrest of Coke, but it is unclear whether the improvements are sustainable.

So, this is the situation that Simpson Miller will inherit as prime minister. She faces a struggling economy where she will likely need to make budget cuts due to government debt. She also faces a security situation that, while improved, could see problems quickly return as criminal groups reorganize. Under a more closely divided government of the past few years, the two parties were able to blame each other for the country's problems on a regular basis. Now with the PNP holding almost two thirds of the seats in parliament, they are going to take all of the credit if Simpson Miller succeeds and all of the blame if she doesn't.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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