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Opposition ousts Jamaica's prime minister in narrow election win

Published 26/02/2016

Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson Miller has been ousted in parliamentary elections (AP)
Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson Miller has been ousted in parliamentary elections (AP)

Jamaica's opposition has narrowly won parliamentary elections in the Caribbean's largest English-speaking country, ousting prime minister Portia Simpson Miller.

Preliminary results from the Electoral Commission showed the Jamaica Labour Party capturing 33 spots in the 63-seat parliament, enough to form a government. Turnout was around 47%.

Party leader Andrew Holness was greeted by cheering supporters as he arrived in the capital Kingston, following the announcement of the results in a hard-fought battle with the People's National Party of Ms Simpson Miller.

Ms Simpson Miller became the country's first woman leader in 2006. That first term ended in 2007, but she returned as prime minister in 2011 amid a shrinking economy and one of the highest levels of debt relative to GDP in the world. Her government negotiated a 930 million-dollar aid package with the IMF.

The Jamaican dollar has declined, the cost of living has gone up and wages have been stagnant. The IMF, however, has praised the government for cutting debt and making other reforms to its economy and the country's stock market was rated among the best performing in the world last year.

"It makes no sense we stop the progress now," said voter Herbert Hall. "We've made a lot of progress with the economy and development. It would be chaos if we change now."

But Mr Holness' campaign pledge to make the economy more dynamic with income tax cuts and other measures resonates with many in a country with widespread poverty and a youth unemployment rate above 30%.

"I'm voting for change," Velma Johnson said as she waited to cast her ballot. "Wages are frozen and there's a lot of arrogance about this government."

Many Jamaicans are also fed up with one of the highest murder rates in the world, mostly blamed on gangs.

The country had at least 1,192 killings in 2015, a roughly 20% increase from the previous year. By comparison, Chicago, which has about the same population as Jamaica at 2.7 million, had 468 murders in the same period.

Mr Holness, ready to form a government as the new prime minister, pledged to create jobs and grow the economy while improving education and health care.

"We don't take it that we have won a prize," he told supporters. "The cost of victory is to keep the commitments we have made."

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