By Horace Helps
KINGSTON, Aug 30 (Reuters) - A policeman, the chauffeur of an opposition party candidate and two others were killed in mounting political violence ahead of Jamaica’s general election next week, police said on Thursday.
Two new polls had the opposition Jamaica Labour Party surging ahead of Monday’s vote, in which the ruling People’s National Party is seeking a record fifth consecutive victory.
Portia Simpson Miller, the Caribbean nation’s first woman prime minister, is seeking her first election victory since taking the reins of the PNP last year when longtime prime minister P.J. Patterson stepped down.
Jamaica, a parliamentary democracy, has a long history of political violence, although it has tapered off in recent years. In 1980 nearly 900 people died in violence leading up to elections.
In July this year, police and soldiers were deployed to a volatile community near the capital to quell political shootings.
Police said Corporal Garrett Smith and a friend were shot dead by three gunmen who surprised patrons around midnight at a bar owned by a JLP municipal council member in the village of Fraser’s Content, in the central parish of St. Catherine.
Both men were JLP supporters and politics was the motive for the killings, police said.
In a separate incident, the chauffeur of a JLP St. Catherine candidate and a companion were killed by a group of men with high-powered weapons as they made their way from a campaign motorcade after midnight.
Police identified the chauffeur as Brandon Vernon, who drove for candidate Leslie Campbell.
Police also said two men and a woman were wounded when gunmen shot up a convoy led by a JLP candidate in the volatile eastern St. Andrew constituency Wednesday night. The candidate, St. Aubyn Bartlett, was not hurt.
The violence came as opinion polls indicated the election would be a close contest.
In a survey by pollster Bill Johnson published in the Gleaner newspaper on Thursday, the JLP led 42-38 percent over the PNP with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
A Don Anderson poll published by the Observer newspaper gave the PNP a slim lead over the JLP, with 41.3 percent to 40.3 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The Anderson poll, which has accurately predicted the outcome of elections since 1989, said the JLP was closing the gap rapidly.
"The PNP’s lead is now well below the margin of error, which puts both parties in a statistical dead heat," Anderson said.
Just over 1.3 million of Jamaica’s 2.8 million people were registered to vote for 60 parliamentary seats. The leader of the party that controls parliament becomes prime minister.