Jamaica PM hints that elections may be next month
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness hinted Sunday that parliamentary elections could come as early as next month, whipping tens of thousands of governing party supporters into campaign mode.
Speaking at a Jamaica Labor Party conference in the capital, Holness told participants he will call elections “in just a short time.” Then he added that the Caribbean nation can’t wait until next year to resolve uncertainty about his recently named government.
Elections must be held by December 2012, but Holness said the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international partners must know soon if voters will give him a mandate to govern debt-wracked Jamaica for the next five years.
“The uncertainties can’t follow us into the new year. We have to resolve those uncertainties this year,” he said at the National Arena, where thousands of cheering, vuvuzela-blowing supporters waved flags and banners while dressed in the party’s color of green.
The crowd chanted, “Call it Andrew, call it!”
But Holness said the party was first “checking to make sure that our systems are ready” across the island’s 63 constituencies.
“Return home to your communities, to your polling divisions with the message that you are now on your mark,” he told the crowd.
The 39-year-old Holness was sworn in as prime minister on Oct. 23, ushering in a government that he said would heal political divisions, root out corruption, reduce debt and bureaucracy and attract foreign investment to reduce poverty.
He took over from Bruce Golding, who stepped down after four years as prime minister during which his popularity sagged because of his fight with the U.S. over an U.S. extradition request for a notorious Jamaican gang leader. Holness was education minister under Golding and has kept that portfolio as the island’s leader.
Most analysts have been predicting that Holness will call elections soon rather than allow tough economic realities to weigh down his early days as prime minister. Jamaica has seen two quarters of economic growth this year, but average Jamaicans continue to struggle.
Most of Holness’ speech Sunday was made up sober reminders of the difficulties facing Jamaicans, including the island’s punishing debt. The debt stood at roughly $18.5 billion at the end of August for Jamaica, which has a population of roughly 2.8 million people.
“Some of us have lost hope in our institutions,” he said. “Some of us have lost faith in the future.”
On Saturday, the opposition People’s National Party announced it has finalized its slate of candidates for all 63 constituencies for the next election and is ready if the vote comes in December.
Party leader Portia Simpson Miller, a former prime minister, is appealing to Jamaica’s poor majority. At a Saturday night rally in the poor Kingston community of Papine, she pledged to end the island’s general consumption tax on food staples such as cornmeal and on electricity.