The thirteenth General Parliamentary Elections were held in Jamaica on 18 December 1997 for all 60 seats in the House of Representatives following premature dissolution of this body on 26 November 1997.
The 60 members of the House of Representatives are elected in single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting. There is no fixed election date in effect in Jamaica at this time; hence, the choice of election date is the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
The Representation of the People Act permits the candidacy of voters above the age of 21. Any Commonwealth citizen residing in Jamaica can vote in the election if they are older than 18 years. To be included on the ballot, a nomination must include the signatures of at least ten eligible voters from the same constituency. The nomination form must then be submitted during a four-hour period on nomination day.
The 1997 general elections were called on 26 November by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson (People’s National Party - PNP). The campaign was thus relatively short, lasting 22 days.
This election was the first in Jamaica to have a team of international election monitors present – a 58-member delegation from the Carter Center, a US-based nongovernmental, not-for-profit organisation led by former President Jimmy Carter.
Political Parties & Candidates
The main challenge to the ruling (since 1989) PNP once again came from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) headed by former Premier Edward Seaga. A second threat came from the newly founded National Democratic Movement (NDM) led by Mr. Bruce Golding. These three parties altogether fielded 194 candidates for the 60 House seats. Four fringe parties and six independent individuals were also in the running.
Pre-election opposition debate related to a great extent to the country’s ailing economy and rising murder rate.
As opposed to other recent campaigns, that of 1997 was generally free of violent incidents. On 17 December, the leaders of the three major parties signed a code of conduct designed to ensure a peaceful polling atmosphere. As a result, voting day - monitored by local and foreign observers, including a 60-member team from the US-based Carter Center - was largely calm but marked by a comparatively low turnout by Jamaican standards. Former US President Jimmy Carter characterise the polling "generally fair" but involving "some serious problems".
Final results gave the socialist PNP a total of 50 seats, thus returning it to power for an unprecedented third consecutive term (neither it nor the JLP had had more than two since independence in 1962).
The opposition Jamaica Labour Party only had 2 more seats in Parliament after the election but their leader Edward Seaga held his seat for a ninth time in a row. The National Democratic Movement failed to win any seats despite a pre-election prediction that they would manage to win a seat
Patterson remained Prime Minister and his reshuffled Cabinet was sworn in on 3 January 1998.
Voter turnout was 65.22%.