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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 August 2007, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Gang politics 'over' in Jamaica
By Orin Gordon
BBC News, Kingston

Jamaican man looks at an empty lot where his house once stood
The hurricane caused major infrastructure damage
The man responsible for monitoring the electoral process in Jamaica has said the current campaign has been the most peaceful in the country's history.

Bishop Herro Blair said the rival political parties appeared to have broken their long-standing relationship with criminal gangs.

He said five people had so far died in the run-up to next Monday's general election, half the 2002 poll figure.

Polling was postponed for a week after Jamaica was hit by Hurricane Dean.

For decades, armed gangs have functioned as a sort of local governments in some constituencies.

Their relationship with the parties has been an open secret, and a big stain on Jamaican politics.

Now, says Bishop Blair, the country has broken the back of what is known here as garrison politics.

Jamaica Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller
Portia Simpson-Miller (R) is fighting her first election as prime minister

He says five people have died so far in campaign-related violence, half the number for a similar period in the last election in 2002.

As campaigning resumed after a weeklong pause to clean up after Hurricane Dean, both parties say there have been significantly fewer incidents between their supporters.

The numbers now are a long way from approaching the most violent campaign in the island's history, in 1980, when 800 people were killed.

The level of violence has decreased sharply over succeeding election campaigns, to the point where Bishop Blair feels confident enough to declare that the country has seen the back of gang politics.

Other Jamaicans will be more cautious with the poll still several days away.

'Political referee'

Bishop Blair, Jamaica's political ombudsman, describes himself as a political referee who can issue yellow and even red cards to candidates.

Jamaican opposition leader Bruce Golding
Bruce Golding has a slight lead in the opinion polls

He has the powers of a supreme court judge and if he receives a complaint that they have been inciting violence during their campaign he can order them to face a tribunal.

If they are found guilty, he could recommend to their party, that they be dropped from the list of candidates.

That goes for the prime minister, as much as it does for an obscure backbencher.

The convention is that the parties accept his recommendations.

The governing party, the PNP, is led by Portia Simpson-Miller, and is seeking its fifth successive term in office.

But the JLP of Bruce Golding is mounting a strong challenge, and is slightly ahead in the polls.

The party that wins a majority of the 60 seats in parliament will form the next government.


SEE ALSO
Storm forces Jamaican poll delay
22 Aug 07 |  Americas
Jamaica gets first woman leader
31 Mar 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Jamaica
22 Aug 07 |  Country profiles

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