|The Courier N° 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)|
When Michael Manley stood down as Prime Minister in March 1992, to be replaced by P.J. Patterson, many Caribbean commentators saw it as the end of an era. For more than twenty years, the charismatic and sometimes controversial leader of the People's National Party (PNP) had occupied a central position in the Jamaican political system-as Prime Minister for two terms in the 1970s, as the principal opposition figure during the government of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the 1980s and then again in the top job following the PNP's victory in 1989.
Since the 1940s, when Jamaica elected its first Parliament by universal adult suffrage, the country's two political parties have vied with each other for power. For much of this time, the rivalry has been characterised by sharp ideological differences with the PNP favouring socialist policies while the JLP, despite its name, argued for a more free-market approach. But it would be an over-simplification to portray the political history of the country purely in terms of a classic left-right divide. The character and personality of the party leaders has also played a crucial role, ever since the founding fathers of Jamaica, the JLP's Alexander Bustamente (the first post-independence Prime Minister) and his PNP rival Norman Manley (Michael's father) locked horns in the early political debates.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the political landscape of Jamaica was dominated by the powerful personalities of Michael Manley and his arch-rival, Edward Seaga of the JLP, who is currently leader of the opposition. These two men offered very different visions for their country, and robust debate sometimes spilled over into conflict between their supporters, particularly in the polarised atmosphere of election campaigns. Despite this it was often difficult-at least for outsiders-to think of one without the other. The election of P.J. Patterson has changed all that.
The new Prime Minister, (his first name is Percival, but he is more usually referred to by his initials 'PJ'), took office last year following a decisive victory over Labour Minister, Portia Simpson, in his party's leadership election. He is a lawyer by training, having studied at the University of the West Indies and the London School of Economics. He has been active in the PNP since 1955 and began his Parliamentary career in 1967 when he was nominated to serve in the Jamaica Senate. From 1970-1980, he was an elected member of the House of Representatives and he regained his old seat in the 1989 election which brought the PNP back to power.
P.J. Patterson first entered the Cabinet in 1972 as Minister of Industry, Foreign Trade and Tourism. It was in this capacity that he led the Jamaican team in the negotiations which led to the establishment of CARICOM (Treaty of Chaguaramas, 1974). He has also been closely involved in Lomonvention discussions. In 1978, he was promoted to the post of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Prior to becoming Prime Minister in 1992, Mr Patterson was Minister of Finance.
New leadership style
The Prime Minister is regarded by many as representing a new and more pragmatic style of politics. He is capable of passionate oratory-a necessity for any political aspirant in Jamaica's Wstminster-style Parliament-but the emphasis in his publicity material, is on his 'ability to work in a 'non-confrontational' manner and to guide discussions in a way that 'allows equal respect for the opinions of all involved'. According to Minister of State, Terence Gillette, the new Prime Minister is 'less flambuoyant, less talkative and more serious' than his predecessor and recent opinion polls suggest that the voters approve of this style.
During his first nine months at the helm, P.J. Patterson has certainly had a stormy passage. Rampant inflation, provoked by currency liberalisation, has undermined an already precarious economic situation. The exigencies of IMF-influenced structural adjustment measures have brought pain to the public sector and provoked widespread industrial action while almost half of the country's J$26 billion budget has had to be set aside for debt repayment. Unemployment levels remain stubbornly high and the alarming crime rate-which must be influenced to some extent by the lack of job opportunities-threatens to damage the crucial tourist sector as well as business investment more generally.
Clearly, the challenges were, and still are formidable but the new Prime Minister is determined to steer the ship of state through to calmer waters. In fact, the first tentative signs of renewed confidence on the economic front appear now to be emerging.
When The Courier visited Jamaica in January, speculation was rife that a General Election would soon be called. Under the country's Constitution, it is the Prime Minister who decides on the date of polling and P.J. Patterson is doubtless anxious to obtain a mandate in his own right. The turbulence of his 'honeymoon' period appears not to have affected his popularity - indeed, he seems to have emerged with his standing enchanced, and this is obviously a major consideration in any decision to go to the polls. Past Jamaican voting habits-or at least those of the crucial 'swing' voters-ought to give the Prime Minister cause for optimism. Traditionally, the electors have given the governing party two 'bites at the cherry' before switching to the opposition and the new incumbent must be fervently hoping that Jamaicans do not choose 1993 to break the habit!
It should be recognised that, in addition to the change in leadership style with a new Prime Minister, the policy environment in Jamaica has also undergone a radical transformation although, admittedly, this process began somewhat earlier. In common with parties of the left in a number of the world's 'traditional' democracies, the PNP has felt obliged to abandon many of the 'socialist' elements of its programme and to turn to policies with a stronger free-market orientation. As a result, there is now a broader consensus in Jamaica on the economic fundamentals. Although this fact is unlikely to diminish the intense rivalry between the parties on the campaign trail, it helps contribute to the business confidence which is so vital for economic regeneration. S.H.
The media are an important element in Jamaica's vibrant democratic system. Despite the relatively small market, the country has no fewer than five radio stations as well as the JBC television channel. There are also two daily newspapers (the long established 'Gleaner' and the 'Herald') and a selection of weekly journals. In January, a group of local businessmen launched a new title, the 'Observer', which will be published using the latest print technologies. Initially, it will come out weekly, but the aim is to turn it into a daily as soon as possible.
Journalistic standards are generally regarded as good and reporters do not appear to have any qualms about tackling controversial issues. To an outsider at least, the amount of radio and TV time set aside for political discussion and comment may come as something of a surprise. There are frequent debates about current affairs and all points of view can be heard. But then it must be remembered that Jamaica has one of the most politically aware electorates in the world. They probably wouldn't settle for anything less!