audley_shaw_web.jpgKINGSTON – The leader of Jamaica’s main opposition party fended off a leadership challenge from a top deputy who waged an aggressive two-month campaign.

Andrew Holness, a former prime minister who has led the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) for two years, prevailed during a conference to determine who will lead the party into the Caribbean country’s next parliamentary elections, which are due by 2017. Election officials said Holness received 2,704 votes from Labor delegates, while Audley Shaw got 2,012.

“I will do everything in my power to make sure the party is united,” Holness told a cheering crowd as he stood on a packed stage next to Shaw, a former finance minister who has been a deputy party leader since 1999.

Shaw congratulated Holness and indicated his leadership challenge was over. He said his bid “re-energized” Labor and put it in a stronger position to take on the governing People’s National Party (PNP) of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

It was not immediately clear if Shaw would retain his post as finance spokesman for Labor. The leadership challenge was tense at times, with both sides accusing the other of distortions.

But, after the vote, Holness shook his challenger’s hand and the two politicians smiled and waved to party supporters, many of them dancing to music pumping out of speakers and blowing on vuvuzela horns.

While it was still the governing party, Labor lawmakers unanimously chose Holness as prime minister in 2011 after Bruce Golding stepped down amid anemic public backing. Holness held the premiership for just over two months before his party lost parliamentary elections by a 2-1 margin to the PNP.

After that thumping, some Labor insiders began working behind the scenes to replace Holness as leader. Shaw is the party’s financial guru, even though during his tenure as finance minister a $1.27 billion loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund collapsed after a domestic debt restructuring.

Earlier this year, Simpson Miller’s administration negotiated another debt-swap program and loan pact with the IMF as unemployment has risen and Jamaica’s currency has steadily lost value.