Jamaica votes for a new government Thursday as economic concerns loom large in an election that the ruling People’s National Party called almost a year before it was due. The Caribbean nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) has grown at an average of just about 1 percent over the last three decades, and youth unemployment reportedly stands at about 40 percent.
Data from the World Bank showed that with the exception of 2011, the island nation experienced negative GDP growth from 2008 to 2012, a significantly worse performance than the Latin America and Caribbean region that grew every year except 2009. The current government, led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, struck a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2013 that brought the country $1 billion in aid in exchange for implementing a fiscal reform program, according to Agence France-Presse. Since 2013, the country’s GDP has been growing slowly, increasing by 1.3 percent in 2015.
An April 2015 research paper from Washington, D.C., think tank Center for Economic Policy and Research said that “Jamaica is running the most austere budget in the world” during its third year in the IMF-backed austerity program. According to World Bank estimates, the nation of 2.7 million people is projected to increase its GDP at a slow rate of 1 percent to 2 percent over the medium term.
While the austerity measures have returned the economy to growth, the wage freezes and spending cuts imposed by the 70-year-old Simpson-Miller were targeted by the opposition that is promising massive job creation and tax cuts. Led by Andrew Holness, 43, the Jamaica Labour Party has promised steep cuts in income tax to boost the sluggish economic growth, as well as the creation of 250,000 jobs, Reuters reported.
Pollsters reportedly predicted a turnout of 58 percent from among the country’s 1.8 million voters. Polls also predicted a close contest between the two parties.
Two teams of election observers, one from the Caribbean Community and another from the Organization of American States, are in Jamaica.
Three people were reportedly killed in shootings at an opposition campaign event on Feb. 7 while several others were reportedly injured Tuesday night during a stampede following a shooting incident at a political campaign meeting being addressed by Simpson-Miller.
Results of the election are expected later on Thursday.