Political Dynamics

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Jamaica's two-party system, which had its roots in the rivalry between William Alexander Bustamante and Norman W. Manley (see Historical Setting, this ch.), resembles traditional North American patterns. Both parties--the JLP and PNP--were formed and operated by a relatively small number of men and with a high degree of British and intraparty cooperation. By the 1960s, politics had changed significantly from the time of the 1944 elections when the country was predominantly rural and voting was based as much on local issues and personalities as on national affairs. The JLP and PNP, responding to sectional interest groups, appeared to move closer to each other and away from the basic concerns of the population, namely employment opportunities. Their paths later diverged, but some similarities remained. Both parties operated as multiclass alliances, whose adherents cut across class and racial lines. Both represented frequently shifting group interests and sought a large independent vote. Moreover, in their attempt to appeal to all sectors of the population for votes and funds, both parties adopted somewhat similar policies. Differences in foreign policies, however, became more pronounced.

The two-party arrangement differed from the British and United States systems in two important respects. One is that Jamaica's elites, from which the island's leaders have emerged, are closely knit groups; four of the nation's first five prime ministers were related. The other difference is that party identification, not race or class, is the primary political frame of reference. Each party has a fiercely loyal, almost tribal, inner core defined by family ties and neighborhood. Antagonism to the other party is passionate and frequently violent.

Despite the intensity of party rivalry in Jamaica, Stone Polls revealed the increasing importance of the "swing vote" in determining electoral outcomes. At the time of independence, the swing vote was only 5 percent, but by 1985 the percentage of uncommitted voters had stabilized at 26. The growth of the swing vote was accompanied by a periodic pattern of support for the two parties. For example, the percentage of voters not committed to either the JLP or PNP rose from 15 percent in November 1976 to 40 percent by mid-1978. During the same period, PNP support declined from 40 to 28 percent, whereas that of the JLP fell from 37 to 32 percent. These declines were interpreted at the time as a loss of support for the two major parties. Nevertheless, by December 1979 the percentage of uncommitted voters had dropped back down to 16, whereas JLP support had climbed from 32 to 47 percent and PNP support from 28 to 37 percent. Although their political interest was seasonal, the uncommitted voters remained an integral part of the support for the two major parties.

Unlike much of Hispanic Latin America and many former colonies in Africa and Asia, Jamaica has enjoyed a tradition of political stability, notwithstanding the escalating political violence on the island during the 1974-80 period. The JLP and PNP alternated in power every ten years in the general elections held between 1955 and 1980. Turnout at the polls during the postwar period and the first twenty-five years of independence was consistently high, in contrast to the average 3-percent voting rate in the seven general legislative elections held between 1901 and 1934. Voter participation increased steadily from 65 percent of the electorate, or 495,000, in 1955 to 85 percent, or 736,000, in 1976.

A review of political dynamics in independent Jamaica can begin in 1965, when illness forced Prime Minister Bustamante, one of Jamaica's two founding fathers, to resign from politics. Sir Donald Sangster took over as acting prime minister and later became prime minister as a result of the narrow JLP victory in the February 1967 elections. He died suddenly two months later, however, and Hugh Shearer, the BITU president, succeeded him on April 12. The Shearer government was known for its weak management, factionalism, and corruption.

After Norman Manley's death in 1969, the JLP and PNP evolved along increasingly divergent lines. Beginning in 1970, the JLP's identification with domestic and foreign business interests became increasingly evident. After Manley died, his son Michael, a Third World-oriented social democrat, succeeded him as PNP leader and began to revive the party's socialist heritage. Michael Manley, who had been was educated at Jamaica College and the London School of Economics, worked as a journalist and trade unionist (1952-72). Eloquent, tall and charismatic, he defeated Shearer impressively in the February 1972 election, winning 56 percent of the popular vote, which gave the PNP thirty-six of the fifty-three House seats. Manley, who represented Central Kingston, won support not only from the lower classes, including the Rastafarians, but also from middle and business classes disenchanted with the Shearer government.

Manley's PNP won the 1972 election on a Rastafarian-influenced swing vote of 8 percent. During the 1972 election campaign, Manley had tried to change his party's image by evoking the memory of Marcus Garvey, using symbols appealing to the Rastafarians, and associating with their leader, Claudius Henry. Manley also had appeared in public with an ornamental "rod of correction" reputedly given him by Haile Selassie I. Manley's informal dress and the PNP's imaginative use of two features of Rastafarian culture-- creole dialect and reggae music--in the 1972 campaign were designed to dispel fears of elitism and woo the votes of those who had disparaged Norman Manley's facility with the English language.

During Michael Manley's terms as prime minister (1972-80), the PNP aligned itself with socialist and "anti-imperialist" forces throughout the world. Thus, for the first time, political divisions within Jamaica reflected the East-West conflict. Manley's PNP did not publicly announce its resurrected goal of "democratic socialism" until the fall of 1974, on the occasion of a state visit to Jamaica by Tanzania's socialist president Julius K. Nyerere. In addition to redirecting the PNP along these lines, Manley began building a mass party, with emphasis on political mobilization.

Manley's populist policies gave impetus to a shift, begun with independence, of many more dark-skinned middle-class Jamaicans moving upward into political and social prominence, taking over political and civil service positions from the old white elite. Prior to independence, most top leaders had Anglo-European life- styles and disdained many aspects of Jamaican and West Indian culture. By the 1970s, most Jamaican leaders preferred life-styles that identified them more closely with local culture.

In 1974 Seaga succeeded Shearer as JLP leader and began playing an active role as leader of the opposition (1974-80). Seaga and Manley continued the traditional JLP-PNP leadership rivalry in the 1970s, but on a far more bitter and intense level than had Bustamante and Norman Manley. Born in Boston in 1930 of Jamaican parents of Syrian and Scottish origin, Seaga was educated at Wolmer's Boys School in Kingston and at Harvard University. He joined the JLP in the late 1950s and was appointed by Bustamante to the upper house of the Legislative Council in 1959. A social scientist with expertise in financial, cultural, and social development areas, Seaga also served as minister of development and social welfare (1962-67) and minister of finance and planning (1967-72). Contrasting sharply with the affable and oratorical Manley, Seaga often has been described as remote and technocratic, with a stiff, formal manner. Although he did not endear himself to the common man, Seaga earned a reputation as a highly disciplined, hard-working, and intellectual leader. Despite being white and wealthy, he represented Denham Town, one of the poorest and blackest constituencies of West Kingston, which regularly gave 95 percent of its vote to the JLP.

The December 1976 elections witnessed major realignments in class voting for the two parties, as well as unprecedented political violence and polarization on ideological and policy issues. The support of manual wage laborers and the unemployed resulted in another sweeping victory in the elections for the PNP; the party won 57 percent of the vote and forty-seven of sixty House seats. The PNP was also aided by the lowering of the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. Despite losing a substantial number of votes among the upper-middle and upper classes as well as among white-collar employees, the PNP retained majority support among these sectors. Many Jamaicans did not share JLP concerns about the direction that the Manley government was taking. A Stone Poll found that 69 percent of the electorate at that time rejected the JLP view that the PNP was leading the nation toward communism. The JLP had depicted the rising number of Cubans in Jamaica, who included technical, economic, and medical personnel, as a national security threat. According to a Stone Poll, however, a 63-percent majority viewed the Cuban presence in Jamaica favorably, believing the Cubans to be providing technical and economic assistance.

During his second term in office, Manley, having broadened the PNP's electoral base by wooing a number of charismatic leftwing leaders, veered sharply leftward. One of his leftwing cabinet appointees, Donald K. Duncan, headed the new Ministry of National Mobilization, with responsibility for supervising the government's "people's programs" in worker participation in industry and in the "democratization" of education. Despite the efforts of Duncan and others, the PNP left wing never succeeded in radically transforming the polity or economy.

The PNP's dominant position in politics in the 1970s was reinforced on March 8, 1977, when the party won 237 out of 269 municipal seats in local government elections in which 58 percent of the electorate participated. By mid-term, however, internal PNP infighting between leftwingers and moderates had intensified and JLP opposition had escalated. Support for the PNP declined considerably as the public became increasingly concerned over the PNP's alliance with the communist Workers Party of Jamaica (WPJ), as well as growing unemployment, crime and other violence, internal party divisions, mismanagement of the government, and the government's close ties to Cuba.

The JLP, which continued to enjoy strong support in the business community, remained more pragmatic and flexible in policy than the PNP. JLP business executives and technocrats emerged in the top party positions, replacing the old guard labor leaders. Endorsing a platform described simply as "nationalism," JLP leaders continued to stand in the ideological center of the political system. They advocated a pro-United States, pro-free enterprise, and anti-Cuban ideology.

The 1980 election campaign, Jamaica's most bitter and violent, was waged in the context of extreme scarcity of foreign exchange and consequent shortages of all kinds of goods. Two central issues in the campaign were the state of the economy, including the Manley government's relations with the IMF (see Role of Government, this ch.), and the JLP's charges that the Manley government had lost the people's confidence because of its close relations with Cuba. Seaga alleged in particular that the security forces were being subjected to "communist infiltration" and that young "brigadistas" (construction brigade members) who had received vocational training in Cuba were subjected to political indoctrination. By 1980 the majority of Jamaicans regarded the PNP government as incapable of managing the economy or maintaining order in the society. Even the security forces--fearful of being replaced by Home Guards, Cuban- trained "brigadistas," and "people's militia"--joined the opposition to the government.

In the October 30, 1980 elections, the PNP was unable to withstand the alliance of the private sector, church, security forces, media, intelligentsia, workers, and unemployed. The electorate gave Seaga's JLP a landslide victory; the opposition party won 59 percent of the vote and 51 of 60 seats in the House. Despite the electoral violence, the election, in which a record 86 percent of the voters turned out, was considered one of the fairest and most important in the nation's history. Other than some incidents of fraud and box tampering, the number of contested votes was relatively low. Stone has noted that the election was also the first in which a party had won a majority of the parish vote in all parishes.

After taking office as prime minister, Seaga, who also assumed the finance portfolio, redirected the island's economy along free- enterprise lines, emphasizing the role of the private sector and continuing to encourage foreign investment. As the governing party, the JLP under Seaga was described by Stone as "conservative reformist." It continued to receive substantial support from the 100,000-member Bustamante Industrial Trade Unions (BITU), and JLP policies were subject to strong labor influence. Nevertheless, the party has not been able to take BITU support for granted, and the BITU had been known to act independently.

In the early 1980s, Manley's opposition PNP, described by Stone as "radical reformist," tried to moderate its political image. Stone Polls conducted in early 1981 showed that over 70 percent of the electorate was critical of the PNP's links with local communists. The PNP subsequently broke with the WPJ in a move supported by 71 percent of the electorate. As leader of the opposition in the 1980s, Manley has been the country's most popular party leader. His personality as an emotional nationalist and socialist idealist has contrasted sharply with Seaga's. Manley also has continued to represent Central Kingston, a middle-class district, and serve as the NWU leader.

In late November 1983, Prime Minister Seaga responded to a PNP leader's call for his resignation as finance minister by announcing the holding of early elections on December 15, 1983. Having achieved a significant increase in popularity because of Jamaica's participation in the United States-Caribbean operation in Grenada in late October, an action that a Stone Poll indicated was supported by 56 percent of the electorate, Seaga was confident of winning the snap elections. The PNP, unable to nominate candidates within the four days allowed, boycotted the elections, arguing that the government had broken a promise to update the voters' register and to implement antifraud measures. The PNP claimed that up to 100,000 eligible voters were disenfranchised. As a result of the PNP's boycott, the JLP had token opposition in only six of the sixty parliamentary districts. By winning those races, the JLP completed its control of the House, occupying all sixty seats. The PNP's decision not to contest the election also made the prime minister responsible for selecting the eight nongovernmental opposition members of the Senate. When the government chose non-PNP individuals with independent views, Jamaica found itself with an unprecedented one-party Parliament and without an official leader of the opposition. Ironically, a Stone Poll found that had it not boycotted the election the PNP would have won the December 1983 elections with 54 percent of the vote and a 10-percent margin over the JLP.

Although the holding of the snap elections was a constitutional prerogative of the prime minister, it marked a departure from Jamaica's traditional consensus politics and weakened the Seaga government's public standing. A 59-to-38 percent majority disapproved of the holding of early elections using the old voters' register. At the same time, according to a December 1983 Stone Poll, the public was generally divided over the PNP's boycott, with 47 percent disapproving of it and 46 percent approving. By a margin of 70 to 26 percent, Jamaicans favored calling new elections when the voters' list was ready. The PNP campaigned unsuccessfully during 1985 for a general election to be held by October. The party reasoned that this date would mark the end of the five-year mandate that the electorate had given the JLP in 1980. Opinion polls throughout 1985 showed that the PNP enjoyed a considerable lead over the governing JLP. Nevertheless, the JLP held all sixty seats in the House until early 1986, when two members defected.

Municipal elections, scheduled originally for June 1984 but postponed twice, were held on July 29, 1986. Disputes over a reduction in the number of council seats and a redrawing of local constituency boundaries caused the delay. In what was the first real contest between the two main parties since 1980, the opposition PNP defeated the JLP soundly, taking 57 percent of the vote and obtaining control of eleven of the thirteen municipalities in which polling had taken place. An estimated 60 percent of the 970,000 eligible voters cast ballots. The JLP's heavy defeat in the local elections was blamed largely on Seaga's austere economic policies and deteriorating social and economic conditions. Buoyed by the victory, Manley appealed, again unsuccessfully, for an early general election; it was not expected to be held, however, before late 1988.

At a JLP retreat held on October 12, 1986, Seaga announced his decision to resign as prime minister in August 1987 and not to seek re-election as leader of the JLP because of "personal considerations" and unhappiness with the progress of his economic recovery program. Seaga revoked his decision, however, at a JLP meeting on November 5, 1986, after JLP members of Parliament and parish councilors voted unanimously not to accept it. Critics expressed skepticism over the strength of support for Seaga and noted that he had used the resignation ploy twice before to rally support successfully: in the early 1970s in a bid to challenge Hugh Shearer for the JLP leadership and in 1979 as JLP leader.

Seaga's declining electoral prospects were again reflected in a January 1987 Stone Poll. Sixty-three percent of those polled said conditions had worsened since 1980 when the PNP had left office and 56 percent felt that Manley could run the country better than Seaga; the poll gave Seaga only a 45-percent positive rating. Another Stone Poll conducted nationwide in June 1987 found that the JLP had picked up 2 percentage points, but still trailed the PNP by 15. In August 1987, Seaga became the target of serious criticism as a result of his creation of a commercially run tourist attraction in Ocho Rios called the Gardens of Cariņosa, which was also open to the public for an admissions fee. The PNP and several columnists questioned the propriety of public officials being involved in private investments while still holding office. Although Manley was clearly Jamaica's most popular political leader and favored next prime minister in late 1987, health problems, including major intestinal surgery the previous April, had cast a shadow on his long-term political prospects.

As of 1987, Jamaica's two-party system had not been conducive to the emergence of a third parliamentary party. During the nation's first twenty-five years of independence, twenty-seven minor political parties had tried to take over that role but had become defunct within a year. There is no constitutional impediment, however, to third-party representatives or even independents becoming recognized as "the opposition," provided they can win the second largest bloc of seats in Parliament. Jamaicans generally were satisfied with the two-party system. A February 1985 Stone Poll indicated that a 78-percent majority saw no need for a new political party. Only 11 percent supported the idea of forming a new party.

The communist WPJ, having functioned as Jamaica's officially recognized third party since the late 1970s, has set a longevity record. Founded by Trevor Munroe, its secretary general, on December 17, 1978, the WPJ (formerly known as the Workers Liberation League) adopted a pro-Moscow, avowedly Marxist-Leninist orientation. It advocated a "nonalignment" policy for Jamaica that Munroe defined as distancing the country from the United States and Britain. Munroe, who had earned a doctorate at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar, had held the position of senior lecturer in government at UWI. According to a March 1985 Stone Poll, the WPJ had increased its popular support from 3 to 4 percent, but 58 percent of Jamaicans were still hostile to the party. The WPJ failed to elect a single councillor island-wide in the July 1986 local elections; its best showing in any of the divisions was 7 percent. The WPJ's relations with Cuba were strained in the mid-1980s became of WPJ criticism of Cuba's perceived failure to back the Bernard Coard-Hudson Austin regime in Grenada that overthrew and assassinated Prime Minister Maurice Bishop (see Political Dynamics, this ch.). The Cuban Communist Party and WPJ repaired relations, however, and Munroe attended the Third Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana in early February 1986.

A United States resident, James Chrisholm, founded another third party of quite different orientation, the Jamaican-American Party (JAP), on April 5, 1986. Advocating a United States statehood platform, the JAP nominated six candidates in the July 29, 1986, local elections. Fewer than 1 percent of Jamaicans questioned in a May 1986 Stone Poll indicated they would vote for the JAP, although 41 percent had heard about it.

JLP and PNP leadership relations during the Seaga administrations have been characterized by clashing viewpoints on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues. Stone noted in 1985 that on every politically sensitive issue, ranging from security and police matters to government economic policies and political issues, JLP and PNP opinions were separated by a huge gap and deep mutual distrust. Somewhat contradictorily, however, Stone Polls found that during the 1970s and 1980s the public gradually became less inclined to vote according to partisan loyalties. According to the May 1986 Stone Poll, political opinions appeared to be converging at the center, with PNP and JLP supporters agreeing more than disagreeing on many sensitive political issues. For example, according to the poll 85 percent of the PNP and 65 percent of the JLP opposed United States statehood, whereas in the poll taken in the early 1980s 32 percent of the PNP and 57 percent of the JLP favored it. Nevertheless, the JLP and PNP continued to disagree on many issues.

Manley's views on foreign affairs in the 1980s continued to reflect his left-of-center, Third World orientation and therefore clashed frequently with those held by Seaga. Manley maintained close relations with Fidel Castro, whom he visited periodically in Havana for private talks. The PNP declared its intention to renew Jamaican-Cuban relations, broken by Seaga in 1981, if it should win the elections that were expected to be held in 1988 (see Foreign Relations, this ch.). Manley and the PNP also were critical of the alleged militarization of the Commonwealth Caribbean and United States military activities in the region. The PNP opposed Jamaica's participation in the joint United States-Caribbean military operation in Grenada in October 1983, as well as participation in regional military maneuvers with the United States.

With the principal exceptions of South Africa and the events in Grenada, the Jamaican electorate generally has evinced little interest in foreign policy issues since independence. The level of public and parliamentary information or discussion on international problems has been low. Public commentaries on foreign policy issues were limited to views expressed by the urban elite and intellectuals in the Daily Gleaner and radio talk shows. Stone Polls revealed, however, that international issues had begun to have a greater impact on domestic politics in the late 1970s; Grenada was a particularly divisive issue in 1979-83. The assassination of Maurice Bishop in Grenada and the subsequent multinational military intervention in October 1983 had a major impact on Jamaican domestic politics. PNP supporters favored the Bishop regime, whereas JLP adherents were strongly critical of it. According to a December 1983 Stone Poll, 86 percent of the JLP was in favor of the intervention and 60 percent of the PNP, opposed).

Although Jamaica has traditionally had a free press and an absence of censorship, the government was not without considerable influence over news media such as the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) and the independent Radio Jamaica Ltd.(RJR). The PNP has accused the Seaga government of using RJR and JBC in a partisan manner. Similar charges were made by the JLP when the JBC and other media, except for the Daily Gleaner, were controlled by Manley's government in the 1970s. During the 1980 election campaign, the JBC waged a vitriolic propaganda campaign against the United States. Since the mid-1970s, both national radio stations have broadcast popular "phone-in" programs that have politicized the mass media increasingly. On October 8, 1984, the Seaga government made the Jampress News Agency, which had been suspended since 1980, its official news outlet. Jampress replaced the news-gathering function of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), which was restructured and remained a full department of government under the Ministry of Public Service.

Marijuana eradication was another sensitive political issue, especially insofar as the appearance of foreign pressure was concerned. There was widespread and bitter resentment against the antimarijuana drive. Traffickers in Jamaica, known as "Robin Hoods," had cultivated selected local loyalties by supplying funds for school construction and road improvements. Whereas 66 percent of Jamaicans expressed support for the policy of marijuana eradication in a 1979 Stone Poll, a January 1987 poll found that opinions had swung against the government's antidrug policies. Forty-seven percent of the population rejected the policies because they prevented many rural people from earning money during hard economic times. The 46 percent of the public who supported the government's actions felt that drugs were destroying the youth, corrupting the country, and fueling crime and other violence. Opinions divided along party lines; 70 percent of JLP supporters were for marijuana eradication and 57 percent of PNP supporters against.

Several religious groups or cults, primarily the Rastafarians, traditionally have used marijuana (called "ganja" in Jamaica) as a sacramental drug. Cultivated clandestinely in mountainous areas, ganja is rolled into huge flute-shaped cigarettes called spliffs and smoked. In other popular uses, ganja leaves are baked into small cakes, brewed for tea, soaked in rum, drunk with roots as an aphrodisiac, used as a poultice to reduce pain and swelling, or used popularly as a cold remedy.

Both the JLP and PNP were widely believed in the 1980s to have received campaign contributions from narcotics traffickers. A January 1987 Stone Poll revealed that 68 percent of those polled felt that both parties received drug money. Seaga noted on November 31, 1986, that marijuana barons were fast becoming deeply involved in Jamaica's political situation. Two years earlier, on October 1, 1984, Seaga reported that the security forces had discovered a plot by narcotics traffickers to assassinate him; no suspects were named, however, and no arrests were made.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress