New Times in Jamaica

April 13, 1993

An era of Jamaican history ended -- none too soon -- with the recent landslide election victory of the People's National Party of Percival J. Patterson. Mr. Patterson replaced the ill Michael Manley as prime minister a year ago. Now he leads with personal authority.

Mr. Manley is history. So in all likelihood is Edward Seaga, whose Labor Party performed so dismally that he is bound to resign his 19-year leadership. The era of the duel, the gang warfare and the authoritarianism of Mr. Manley and Mr. Seaga is over. Mr. Patterson has promised a fresh start and owes Jamaicans no less.

This was the first election since 1944 in which someone named Manley did not lead the People's National Party. First it was Norman, who led the country to independence. And then his charismatic son, Michael, who from 1972 to 1980 was converting Jamaica to a one-party state on the Cuban model with help from his friend Fidel Castro. The people wouldn't buy it. In the 1980 election, accompanied by the deaths of more than 800 people from political gang warfare, Mr. Seaga's Labor Party upset the Manley apple-cart and led Jamaica back into the Free World. A chastened Mr. Manley returned to power in 1989 and retained the democratic and privatization reforms of Mr. Seaga.

Mr. Patterson is a technocrat and consensus-builder rather than a flamboyant personality on the Manley model. His work is cut out. The election was marked by low turnout (that is, low for Jamaica, at 59 percent) and endemic violence, though on the scale of 1989 and not 1980.

Mr. Patterson called the election on quick notice to mark the change in era. The role of political armed gangs is reduced, though for bad reasons as well as good. The gangs make more money in dope smuggling these days.

Jamaica needs serenity, economic growth, crime-free streets, confidence in institutions and vigorous private enterprise. Mr. Patterson, who talks a good game of national reconciliation, wants all this. He has been handed a great mandate to get on with it.

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