Political Parties

1963-Present: Political Parties Trade Leadership of Jamaica

Jamaica's modern history has been characterized by a political seesaw between the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP). The leadership and principles of these two parties have changed over time.

Due to illness, Bustamante semi-retired as the leader of the JLP in 1965. Hugo Shearer led the group to electoral victory in 1967 and remained Prime Minister of Jamaica until 1972. Though he retained control, problems of unemployment and inflation increased, and Shearer left leadership with a reputation for party infighting, corruption, and weak government.

The PNP followed Norman Manley throughout the 60s, but his death in 1969 left his son, Michael Manley, to lead the party. Michael was a charismatic leader, but also a socialist, and quickly began leading the PNP back toward its socialist roots, which his father had abandoned for political reasons in the 1950s.

Democratic Socialism

Michael Manley's win in the 1972 elections meant change for Jamaica. He increased welfare benefits, but also cultivated friendships with socialists such as Cuba's Fidel Castro. In 1974 the government announced its conversion to socialism – much to the surprise of Jamaica's people.

Manley began to seize and nationalize Jamaica's largest businesses, but some private companies survived. Among the nationalized companies were bauxite mines; those that weren't nationalized were taxed heavily. In 1975 Manley actually visited Castro in Cuba.

The economy took an extreme downturn under Manley's government. In the meantime, Edward Seaga had taken control of the JLP. The rivalry between Manley and Seaga drove much of Jamaica's politics. The elections in 1976 were the first in which the two opposing political parties offered completely different policies, and different economic groups chose opposing sides in the political arena.

Unskilled workers and the unemployed voted for the PNP in these elections, while professionals and white-collar workers supported the JLP, whose platform was strongly against socialism. In these elections, however, the PNP won a strong victory. The following year Jamaica's economic crisis drove the government to ask for international assistance and the party began its return to a more moderate stance.

Change of Power

In 1980 Seaga and the JLP were voted into power by citizens who were more than ready for an end to their economic strife. Though there were improvements on the island in the early 80s, Jamaicans again voted for change in 1989 by electing Manley to power again. Manley had run on the platform that he'd learned from his mistakes, and took a third and unprecedented term as Prime Minister.

During the 1980s Jamaica became an important ground for drug trafficking between South America and the U.S. Jobs and foreign currency flowed into Jamaica as a result of this trade, and the government was either unwilling or unable to fight this "industry."

In 1992 Manley was forced to retire for health reasons, and P.J. Patterson stepped in as his successor. Patterson called an early election in 1993 to capitalize on an economic upswing, and became Jamaica's first "black" Prime Minister after playing on his race during the campaign to gain support -  Seaga was Lebanese.

Jamaica's struggles with violence increased throughout the 90s, and the police were hardly a help. Their brutality was well-known, and they were accountable for more than a third of Jamaica's murders. Still, the 1997 elections showed the Jamaicans' continued support for Patterson and the PNP. Patterson was again elected in 2002. In 2006 he stepped down, and in March a newly-elected president of the PNP took control of Jamaica. Portia Simpson Miller became the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica after being involved in politics since the 1970s. Elections are scheduled for 2007.

Jamaica's situation looks hopeful, and political power has stayed in the hands of the PNP for more than a decade. However, the economy has been an important factor in Jamaica's most recent history.

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