After eight years out of power, victory was sweet for Michael Manley, the charismatic leader known to Jamaicans simply as Michael. But following a three-week election campaign marred by violence, there was no time for complacency. Six hours after the polls closed on Feb. 9, Jamaica’s prime minister-elect—in his trademark mellifluous voice—issued an impassioned plea for peace and reconciliation. “I want you to remember this election is over,” Manley, 64, told a throng of cheering supporters at his People’s National Party (PNP) headquarters in the capital, Kingston. “I feel our greatest responsibility at this time is to work for the unity of the nation.
From the biggest to the smallest, there is a place for you.”
For Manley, a socialist who suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Edward Seaga’s conservative Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) in the 1980 election, last week’s result was a political vindication and a personal triumph. Eight years ago, the JLP won 51 seats in the 60-seat House of Representatives with a pledge to reverse what it denounced as the disastrous economic and foreign policies of Manley’s twoterm government from 1972 to 1980.
A snap election in 1983—boycotted by the PNP in a dispute over voter registration lists—gave the JLP all 60 seats and effectively brought one-party rule to Jamaica. But last week, a more politically moderate Manley— who now embraces free enterprise and close ties to Washington—led his party to a landslide victory, capturing 44 seats. “What will happen under Michael,” said Errol Haywood, a 42year-old Kingston sheet metal worker, “is for the benefit of the poor.”
As temperatures on the sunny Caribbean island hovered in the low 30s (Celsius), tempers remained fairly cool by Jamaican standards. Unlike 1980, when election-related violence by rival gangs claimed more than 750 lives, the candidates worked together to ensure calm. Last August, Seaga and Manley signed a campaign peace accord, and more recently they urged their followers in radio, television and newspaper advertisements to refrain from violence. One of the most moving commercials was a rock video featuring a lilting reggae version of John Lennon’s anthem Give Peace a Chance.
But leaving nothing to chance, Seaga called up members of the National Reserve to bolster a security operation involving 10,000 soldiers and police. Still, 13 people were killed—including a pregnant 25-year-old woman—and about 100 others were injured in sporadic violence centred mainly in Kingston’s sprawling slums.
The campaign was a contrast in leadership styles. Eloquent and handsome, Manley—a pilot officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and a London School of Economics graduate—thrilled crowds with his populist messages. At election rallies throbbing to the beat of reggae music— and often under a haze of marijuana smoke—he promised computer training for chronically unemployed youth, help for small farms and
businesses and improvements to the education system. But, warned Manley, “Don’t complain if I come back to you for the money for it.”
At the same time, he toned down his image as the socialist firebrand of the 1970s who courted Communist Cuba—angering Washington—nationalized businesses and oversaw eight consecutive years of recession on the island nation of 2.4 million people. Manley said that over the past eight years he has awakened to the value of free enterprise. And although he said that he wants to restore relations with Cuba—severed by Seaga in 1981—Manley also called for a “new beginning” with the administration of President George Bush.
On the other hand, the 58-year-old Seaga is a dour, Harvard-educated technocrat who appears uneasy in front of large crowds. Much of his campaign focused on the ills of Manley’s socialist experiments in the 1970s and Jamaica’s economic recovery under JLP rule. With a return to a free-enterprise ethic and loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Seaga brought unemployment down to 18 per cent, its lowest level in Jamaican history. But his economic achievements exacted a heavy price. The country’s foreign debt now stands at a staggering $4.5 billion compared with $1.5 billion in 1980. Seaga alienated many voters by cutting social programs, while currency devaluations and price increases, imposed to obtain new IMF loans, also proved unpopular.
Although Seaga easily won his own seat last week, the JLP’S poor showing marked a low point in his nearly 30year political career. In 1986, when his party lost 12 of 14 municipal elections, Seaga offered to resign but party members turned him down. Now, the JLP’S debacle has plainly upset many party stalwarts. “If it looks like a rejection at the polls, I think he will consider stepping down,” JLP spokesman Senator George Ramocan told Maclean ’s. “This time he might not be rebuffed so readily.”
In his victory speech, Manley told supporters that “it’s not given to many people a second chance to serve a nation.” And as a sign of his new pragmatism, he said that one of his first acts as prime minister will be to visit Bush. Manley said he will tell the President that Jamaica— even under the stewardship of a once-strident socialist—is open for business.
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