The Caribbean island nation of Jamaica is preparing for a tight general election Thursday pitting the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) versus the opposition People's National Party (PNP).

In October, Andrew Holness became the country’s youngest ever Prime Minister at age 39 after his predecessor Bruce Golding stepped down following criticism over his handling of the extradition of Christopher Dudus Coke, a notorious drug dealer, to the United States. Holness was chosen by the party, not elected by the people.

Now, Holness will be challenged by PNP leader Portia Simpson-Miller, who briefly served as the country’s first female prime minister from March 2006 to September 2007.

The election had to be called before September 2012.

The new Prime Minister will serve a five-year term in office.

Opinion polls suggest that JLP and PNP are running neck-and- neck with the economy likely at the forefront of issues of great concern to the public.

Jamaica has an unemployment rate of more than 12 percent, while its debt burden clocks in at more than 120 percent of GDP, making it one of the world’s most indebted nations. The national debt has soared by 66 percent over the past four years.

Interestingly, violent crime – once a common feature of Jamaican life – has been steadily declining. The number of murders has dropped by one-quarter over the past year, BBC noted, partially attributable to the temporary state of emergency that was imposed in 2010. Political killings (which numbered as high as 800 thirty years ago) have virtually vanished from the landscape.

BBC indicated that the two parties have very similar platforms, including plans to reduce public sector salaries and reach a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Last year Jamaica received a $1.27-billion emergency loan from the IMF and now seeks to restructure repayments.

Jamaica’s economy, heavily dependent on tourism, has been battered by the economic woes in Europe, UK and US.

We have some medicine to take in the New Year, Holness recently warned.

The economy contracted by 1 percent last year and poverty is rising.

Things are really tough, Jennifer Palmer, a Kingston resident told Reuters.
The cost of living keeps going up. I don't know which party I should support, because the two are just about the same.

In 2012, Jamaica will also celebrate fifty years of independence from Great Britain. There are apparently some calls to review the constitution under which the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, is regarded as the country’s head of state.