Jamaicans voted in general elections Sunday. According to BBC, the result was expected to be close.
A more recent update than that below has the JLP at 32 seats.1 PM Simpson “accepts” the results, yet may still challenge them once the final count is in. The three closes seats, mentionend below, are already in the PNP column, so recounts there have no chance of reversing the overall result.
Result: Yes, yet another cliffhanger! JLP won the votes, 50.14% to the PNP’s 49.77% (a margin of 2,940 votes), and the seats split 31-29 in favor of the JLP. So, Jamaica will have a change of government, by the thinnest of margins. These results are preliminary, and, obviously, if there are even minor problems that result in some recounts, they don’t have to change much to produce a big change in the overall outcome.
BBC reports that three constituencies were decided by fewer than 100 votes. The PNP has not conceded defeat, and may challenge the results once they are official in a few days.
By the seat-vote equation, the JLP would be expected to have won almost exactly 30 seats2 ; in other words, as in 2002, pretty much right on target to the actual result. When we are dealing with such slight margins, even a small degree of over- or under-representation can be consequential. Both a hung parliament and a plurality reversal (which would have been a spurious “reelection”) were narrowly averted (assuming these results hold), and the new majority can’t afford anyone to be sick on the day of an important vote!
The remainder below is unchanged from the original Sunday evening planting.
While we wait on the results, let’s look at our old friend the seat-vote equation and what it tells us about the performance of Jamaica’s first-past-the-post (plurality) system in recent elections.
The upper part of the graph (the dashed line) shows the gap in vote share between the two largest parties in each election. When there is a solid square symbol, it indicates an election in which there was alternation from one party to the other. (The 1983 election, boycotted by the Peoples National Party, is not shown.)
The lower portion, with the solid green line, indicates deviation from the expected seat total of the second largest party, based on the seat-vote equation. The second-largest party in parliament following each election is indicated (PNP=Peoples National Party; JLP=Jamaica Labour Party; in the world of Jamaican politics, the “labour” party is the right-wing party).
The seat-vote equation takes into effect the vote shares of the major parties, the number of votes cast, and the size of the legislature (60 seats since 1976) and gives an estimate of what each party would have in a “typical” FPTP election with those input parameters. (Click on “seat-vote equation” above and scroll for more detailed explanations related to other elections.) This method allows a quick assessment of whether the electoral system is performing as FPTP is expected to perform.
The verdict on Jamaica is that there is some tendency to under-represent the second party in recent elections, except in 2002, which was one of those ho-hum elections–the sort that, were it typical of FPTP, no one would talk about electoral reform! In that election, the PNP won its fourth straight with 52.2% of the vote and the JLP won 47.2%. The two parties split the seats, 35 to 25 (58.3% to 41.7%, or almost exactly what we should expect.
As the top portion of the graph shows. elections have been getting closer each time since the PNP resoundingly won its first reelection attempt after taking power back from the JLP in 1989.
Late polls, according to the BBC link above, put the JLP, led by Bruce Golding, slightly ahead of the PNP, which currently holds 35 seats, and its leader and Prime Minister Portia Simpson.
Both Ms Simpson Miller and Mr Golding are contesting their first general election as party leaders.
During the campaign the PNP has argued that it has improved health care and reduced unemployment to below 10%.
Mr Golding’s JLP has complained that Jamaica’s unemployment rate of 9% remains too high.
The party has also criticised the government’s handling of the economy and the island’s high crime rate.
Ms Simpson Miller became prime minister 18 months ago, but her popularity has since been declining steadily, our correspondent says, adding that the JLP now has its best chance for some time of ending its 18-year absence from office.
The vote had been planned for 27 August but was postponed after Hurricane Dean ravaged the Caribbean island.
It is, of course, in close elections that the performance of an electoral system–especially one based on single-seat constituencies–is really put to the test. Back in 1962 and 1967, the last really close elections in Jamaica, the graph shows us that the second party was significantly under-represented. (In those years the JLP won 57% and then 62% of the seats when the votes were split almost in half.) However, Jamaican politics has changed a lot in those forty years, so those elections offer little guidance as to what we can expect once results are in from today’s contest. Assuming the election is indeed close in votes, will the two parties have almost the same number of seats (perhaps even a hung parliament3 or a plurality reversal4 ), as the 2002 seat-vote allocation would suggest? Or will the leading party be significantly over-represented, as has been the case in most Jamaican elections?
Update: Yes, it is close! As of 7:00 PDT, JLP with a very small lead in votes (around 4,000 about 800,000) and 24 seats to the PNP’s 23, with 3 seats not yet determined. (These results are very preliminary, of course, and from the links given in the last paragraph before this one.)