The conservative People’s National Party won a crushing victory Tuesday in parliamentary elections marred by confusion approaching chaos and partisan conflicts that neared serious violence.
With more than 60% of the vote counted, computer projections gave the PNP and its leader, Prime Minister P. J. Patterson, at least 64% of the vote against 36% for the opposition Jamaica Labor Party of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who conceded defeat.
Political experts said this should translate into at least 45 seats for the PNP and no more than 15 for the Labor Party in the 60-seat Parliament. That is virtually the same position that the two parties have held since the 1989 elections.
Electoral officials reported that balloting was slow and light, with about 70% of the 1.1 million eligible voters participating, compared with 80% in most previous campaigns. Besides reaffirming the power of the PNP, the results signal the end of an era in Jamaican politics: Patterson emerges as the strong man in a party that had been led constantly since 1944 by either Michael Manley or his father, Norman Manley.
Patterson’s impressive showing also reinforces the PNP’s turn from a radically leftist party into a pro-business, conservative organization almost indistinguishable in policy from the traditionally right-wing Labor Party.
For Seaga, who retained his own seat, the Labor Party’s second defeat in a row is expected to bring about his replacement as leader of the party.
Fear of violence was one clear reason for the tepid pace of voting and the poor turnout. Although voting began peacefully, by midafternoon downtown Kingston and other areas of the capital were in turmoil: Gangs representing the two parties exchanged gunfire, barrages of rocks and bottles and built barricades.
Spanish Town, a fetid slum between Kingston and the city’s outlying airport, also was hit hard by violence.