Jamaicans worried about high unemployment, crime and corruption are heading to the polls on the tourism-dependent Caribbean island on Thursday, with their young prime minister's job on the line.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness -- at 39, the youngest to lead the nation of just under three million -- is standard-bearer for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), while Portia Simpson Miller, who was Jamaica's first female prime minister, leads the People's National Party (PNP).
Polls conducted by Don Anderson -- who has correctly called the last three elections here -- showed the opposition PNP marginally ahead up to late last week, but most pollsters say the race is too close to call.
On Tuesday, however, the island's oldest newspaper, the Gleaner, gave the nod to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) by a scant 34-29 in the 63 constituencies that will be contested.
In the final hours of campaigning on Tuesday, Holness, who assumed office on October 23 when Bruce Golding stepped down under pressure, concentrated on Kingston, the sprawling capital.
Golding, who led the JLP to victory in 2007, left office earlier this year in the political fallout from the government's fight against the extradition to the United States of Christopher ‘Dudus' Coke, reportedly the former leader of the Shower Posse, a gang aligned to the JLP.
When authorities moved on some of Kingston's poorest and most crime-ridden areas in May 2010, a staggering 76 Jamaicans were killed in a massive operation that cost $260 million. The gang's link to the JLP has hurt its sway in poor areas still traumatized by the incident.
The JLP's hiring of US law firm Manatt, Phillips and Phelps to lobby against the extradition of Coke -- wanted for drugs and firearms trafficking -- dealt a further blow to its popularity.
At that time, Holness was a senior member of the cabinet as Minister of Education and Leader of Government Business in the House of Parliament.
Simpson Miller, 66, was in the western end of the island this week, campaigning via helicopter to shore up two key constituencies.
When campaigning wrapped up officially at midnight on Tuesday, gunfire rang out at a JLP event in Westmoreland. One party supporter was killed and two others were wounded, authorities said.
One of Jamaica's most popular politicians, Simpson Miller took the helm as prime minister in March 2006 after a fierce battle with Peter Phillips to succeed Percival James Patterson, who was stepping down.
She held the position until the PNP was narrowly voted out in 2007.
"A change is blowing across Jamaica. I can feel that cool breeze of victory blowing," she told supporters in Naggo Head last week.
While the police have cited figures showing a decline in violent crimes such as murder, voters remain deeply concerned over street crime, as well as jobs and corruption in the public sector.
The global economic crisis has slowed tourism despite the lure of Jamaica's picturesque mountains and white sand beaches. Shantytown poverty is a persistent problem, with unemployment having climbed to 13 percent.
One hundred and fifty candidates were nominated on December 12, 63 each by the two major parties, with another 24 independents and candidates from minor parties.
The voters' list published on December 1 shows close to 1.65 million registered voters in Jamaica.© ANP/AFP