Jamaica's youngest prime minister is locked in a tight campaign ahead of Thursday's elections, as voters fret over high unemployment, endemic corruption and crime.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness -- at 39, the youngest to lead the Caribbean 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, will lead 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 final hours of campaigning Tuesday, Holness, who assumed office on October 23 when Bruce Golding stepped down under pressure, concentrated his work in Kingston, the sprawling capital.
Golding, who led the JLP to victory in 2007, stepped down 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.
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.
Holness at the time 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 on Tuesday, campaigning via helicopter to shore up two constituencies before returning to the capital later in the afternoon.
One of Jamaica's most popular politicians, she 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 to show the decline in major crimes such as murder, voters remain deeply concerned over street crime, as well as jobs and corruption in 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 plague, with unemployment having climbed to 13 percent.
After the closeness of the last general elections in 2007, and with the looming possibility of a tie this year, the constituencies were recently increased by three for the new total of 63.
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 1,648,036 registered voters, and a report carried in the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday predicted that voter turnout could be as high as 75 percent.
Thursday's elections will be the 16th general election since Universal Adult Suffrage, which gave Jamaicans the right to vote for the first time in 1944.
In this former British colony, the PNP has won eight contested elections, while the JLP has been successful in seven, including the PNP-boycotted poll of 1983.© ANP/AFP