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Jamaican Ruling Party Victorious By Landslide Election Nation’s Most Peaceful In Decades

Michelle Faul Associated Press

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson’s party won an unprecedented third term in a landslide victory Thursday.

Despite the fatal stabbing of one poll worker, several shootings and numerous charges of fraud, it was Jamaica’s most peaceful election in decades.

“We say P.J., P.J., P.J.,” festive members of the People’s National Party chanted at their Kingston headquarters to the beat of a reggae victory song.

The Jamaica Labor Party leader, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, conceded defeat after Patterson’s party was declared winner of 35 Parliamentary seats, while the Labor Party received only six, according to provisional results.

At 11:30 p.m. local time (10 p.m. EST), the number of seats Patterson’s party won had increased to 47, compared to nine for the Labor Party.

Before the election, Patterson’s party had 51 seats in parliament, Seaga’s seven and the National Democratic Movement of Bruce Golding, who broke away from Labor in a crisis over Seaga’s leadership two years ago, had two.

A loss could jeopardize the future of Seaga’s party, which lost to Patterson’s in 1989 and is troubled by a leadership crisis. Seaga was prime minister from 1980-1989 and was a key supporter of the 1983 U.S.-led Grenada invasion.

Seaga, 67, said he would have to reevaluate his position as leader of the opposition party, which he has headed since 1974.

Patterson said the elections were a victory for democracy.

“When you are victorious you can be gracious,” he urged cheering supporters. “I hope that tonight we are not only turning a page but opening a brand new and exciting chapter in the annals of Jamaican politics.”

He said it was “a clear signal to all who are too blind to see that the country wants an end to political violence, confrontation and divisiveness.”

Nearly half of Jamaica’s 2.4 million people were registered to vote in the election, held to choose 60 legislators from 197 candidates. The number of people who actually voted was not immediately known.

It was the first Jamaican election monitored by observers, both local and foreign. Preliminary results were expected early Friday.

Jobs and the economy were key issues. Jamaica’s poor rely on party patronage for jobs, houses and land. Unemployment is at 16 percent, and the government spent $700 million this year bailing out collapsed financial institutions.

“I haven’t had work since I left school,” said Onien Knight, 24, whose Rastafarian dreadlocks were tucked under a purple beret. “I get by begging for $20 here and there from friends. What kind of life is that?”

Soldiers and police guarded polling stations while military helicopters patrolled overhead. Voting was reported to be generally peaceful outside Kingston, the capital, where there were numerous allegations of election fraud.

One Labor Party poll watcher was stabbed to death and three others wounded in a voting station clash in southwest Kingston, said deputy Superintendent Jonathan Morrison. Police fired tear gas to force angry Labor supporters away from the station.

Later, after the polls closed, police fired shots as Laborites set up flaming roadblocks in the area, private Radio Jamaica reported.

The Police Media Center reported ive election-related shooting incidents in Kingston, including a dawn attack in which gunmen in a car wounded two women standing on a street corner.

There were several reports of ballot boxes being stolen.

“It’s just a disgrace,” Electoral Advisory Committee member Maxine Henry-Wilsons said of the killing of a poll watcher.

But she added, “For the most part (the lack of violence) has been a positive development in the electoral process.”

Jamaicans hoped the vote would end the serious violence and fraud that marred past elections.

More than 800 people were killed in the 1980 campaign, while in 1993, armed gangs burst into polling stations and grabbed ballot boxes.

“We just pray that it stays as quiet and peaceful as it is now,” systems analyst Sydney Wellington said before voting in August Town, where 12 people were wounded in a shootout between rival party supporters two weeks ago.

To help keep the peace, Jimmy Carter led a delegation of observers that included Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants and former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and World Boxing Association heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

The former U.S. president credited ordinary Jamaicans for the calm.

“The Jamaican people have insisted that the elections be peaceful and politicians, who want to please the people, have gone along,” Carter said.

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