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Pandemic Election Pays Off With Landslide Victory For Jamaica's Conservative Governing Party

Jamaican Prime Minister during his televised victory speech Thursday night

Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the Jamaica Labour Party won a resounding re-election Thursday night amid a serious COVID-19 surge.

Jamaica called early parliamentary elections this week – even as COVID-19 cases have been surging there – and the move paid off for the island’s governing party.

In the past three weeks, Jamaica’s number of reported COVID-19 cases has tripled to almost 3,000. COVID deaths have doubled. But Prime Minister Andrew Holness pushed ahead with early elections. And Thursday night his conservative Jamaica Labour Party won a landslide re-election victory.

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The JLP won 49 of the parliament’s 63 seats, a strong indication Jamaican voters seemed satisfied with the party’s economic performance since it came to power four years ago.

Still, turnout for the election was just 37 percent – the lowest in Jamaica in 37 years. Holness’ victory speech was subdued as a result.

“Even though we have this overwhelming majority, and the people have given us the mandate that we require," Holness said, "we are still considerate of those Jamaicans who still look with some suspicion on the political process.”

Holness has come under criticism for his government’s recent handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He promised Jamaicans it would manage the crisis better as it enters “a new phase” there.

In Miami, Jamaican-American attorney Marlon Hill says Jamaica’s coronavirus surge started early last month amid its independence day celebrations.

“They got a little complacent in the festivities, and calling an election during a pandemic was questionable," Hill said. "So given the fact now that they’ve been given a second mandate, it’s up to them now to really tighten the reins.”

Jamaica’s liberal opposition, the People’s National Party, suffered one of its worst election losses.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.