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Jamaican election held over citizenship dispute

Prime Minister Bruce Golding's party is seeking to maintain its slim parliamentary majority in a Monday by-election called after a governing lawmaker revealed she held U.S. citizenship.

The contest in northeastern St. Ann parish is the fourth by-election since 2007 involving ruling-party legislators who have violated constitutional law by holding dual citizenship. The governing Jamaica Labor Party has successfully defended three seats so far.

Under this former British colony's law, anyone with allegiance to a non-Commonwealth country is prohibited from serving in the legislature.

The obscure rule was ignored for decades, and political analysts believe many dual citizens have served, without controversy, in Jamaica's legislature. But political jockeying over dual citizenship between the opposition and Golding's Labor Party has become increasingly frequent.

Monday's vote has the potential to narrow Labor's already narrow parliamentary majority of 31-28, depending on whether Shahine Robinson is ultimately able to hold on to the seat she first won in 2001.

Robinson didn't acknowledge having U.S. citizenship until the opposition party challenged her status in the island's Supreme Court. She later admitted having American citizenship since 2006.

A judge decided to hold a by-election instead of automatically awarding Robinson's seat to the candidate from the main opposition People's National Party whom she defeated in the 2007 election.

Following the decision, Labor Party officials provided documents showing that Robinson had renounced her U.S. citizenship, paving the way for her to defend the seat.

The People's National Party is no longer competing for the seat, however. The challenger is Devon Evans, of the Marcus Garvey People's Progressive Party ticket. Evans said that he is hopeful that he can pull off an upset as an anti-establishment candidate.

"I'm not a politician. I'm a community leader making myself available to represent the people, giving them the kind of representation that they're longing for and truly deserve," Evans said before polls opened.

In a recent editorial, the Jamaica Observer newspaper said that the Labor Party's maneuvering to keep Robinson in the post is "just another instance of the lamentable leadership crisis" facing the Caribbean country.

"What we have here are people who, in their zeal to hold political office, are willing to trample on the Constitution which demands that the peoples' representatives cannot swear allegiance to a foreign power," the Observer said.

Election officials said the Monday by-election will cost the government about $225,000. There are nearly 40,000 eligible voters in the St. Ann district.

In keeping with the tit-for-tat pattern of Jamaican politics, the Labor Party recently filed an application in the Supreme Court challenging the eligibility of opposition lawmaker Sharon Hay-Webster to sit in Parliament because they insist she holds U.S. citizenship.