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1969 to 2019: Then and now

Michael
Burke

Thursday, February 07, 2019

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This coming Saturday, February 9, will mark 50 years since the late Michael Manley was elected president of the People's National Party (PNP), succeeding his father Norman Washington Manley. Of the 531 delegates voting, Michael Manley received 376 votes to Vivian Blake's 155.

In February 1969, the organisation of the PNP was at its lowest ebb, which is a partial explanation of the PNP's defeat for a second successive time in 1967.

True, the PNP complained that the 1967 election was run on a shoddy voters' list that left off more than 100,000 potential electors, in addition to the gerrymandering of several constituencies. But had the PNP been properly organised in 1967 it might have overcome both unfair obstacles. Before 1969 was finished, Michael Manley started to reorganise the PNP.

Michael Manley's 50th anniversary will come exactly a week after Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, the Member of Parliament for Portland Eastern, was found dead from stab wounds in his house. To my knowledge, he is the second Member of Parliament to have died violently (Roy McGann being the first). Bloomfield is the third representative for Portland Eastern to die while serving in office (previously Sir Harold Allan, 1953; Kenneth Jones, 1964).

The official cause of death of Kenneth Jones was that he fell to his death from sleepwalking, but to this day some Jamaicans are not convinced. Jones reportedly fell from a balcony at Sunset Lodge in Montego Bay, where a Cabinet retreat was in progress. Ken Jones up to the time of his death in 1964 was the minister of communications and works in the Jamaica Labour Party Government led by then Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante.

Former Prime Minister Sir Donald Sangster, who served in that office for only 48 days, the shortest-serving prime mister of Jamaica — Andrew Holness's first stint as prime minister in 2011 was 74 days — officially died of a brain haemorrhage, but to this very day some Jamaicans are not convinced of that.

Violent political deaths escalated in the mid-1960s. National Hero Norman Washington Manley, after being shot at in Western Kingston during the election campaign in 1967, said: “A new and dangerous thing has been unleashed on Jamaica.”

And this gives part of a background to the ascendancy of Michael Manley as the political leader of the PNP 50 years ago and prime minister of Jamaica in 1972. The buoyant state of the Jamaican economy, where the trickle-downsystem was not working, as poor Jamaicans were still very poor — barefooted, poor housing, poor health care, et cetera — is a very important clue in the reasons for violence in Jamaica over the years, even political violence.

The first thing on Michael Manley's hands as the new PNP president and Opposition leader in 1969 was a by-election, in addition to the local government elections called for March 18, 1969.

Dr Ivan Lloyd, a stalwart in the PNP who was Jamaica's first Opposition leader, resigned from both the PNP and parliament, citing problems with the new leadership of the PNP. His son, Garland Lloyd, was the JLP candidate in the by-election called for March 17, 1969. The PNP's Seymour Mullings won the seat.

The whole business of calling two elections a day apart caused a furore in Parliament. How would the voters of St Ann South Eastern, having voted the day before in a by-election and having dipped their fingers in the voters' ink, turn up with clean fingers for the local government elections?

The Hugh Shearer-led JLP, then in Government, withdrew the JLP local government candidates in St Ann South Eastern, handing six local government seats to the PNP unopposed. What would have happened if there were other candidates, such as independents, who refused to withdraw?

The JLP won the local government elections in 1969, but had it been a general election the PNP would have won 27 seats to the JLP's 26. Still, the election of Michael Manley to the presidency of the PNP opened the way for the PNP's return to power in the election of February 29, 1972. Incidentally, today (February 7), is 47 years since the nomination day for the 1972 General Election.

Back in 1969, Michael Manley proposed in Parliament legislation for an Integrity Commission, which was passed by the House. But to this day, in 2019, we hear of reports of some parliamentarians on both sides not declaring their assets. And the integrity legislation has not been a barrier to the sort of scandals that have happened over the decades when either major political party forms the Government, but more so since 2016.

In 1969, black power and Rastafari were in vogue and became a statement of protest among young people in Jamaica. Michael Manley visited Africa with Ethiopia being one of his stops. Having announced his plans beforehand, the then Prime Minister Hugh Shearer made the move first and visited Africa before Michael Manley.

But Manley returned to Jamaica with a rod, which we were told was a gift from Emperor Haile Selassie. Some say it really came from Jomo Kenyatta, which is quite plausible. The rod became the major campaign tool of Michael Manley before the 1972 General Election. Add to that his charisma, Michael Manley became unbeatable before the election day.

Inside the PNP, Michael Manley formed task forces for organisational purposes. Further, the PNP Youth organisation had its initial launch on July 19, 1969 after a series of meetings with high school sixth formers.

On becoming prime minister, in 1972, Michael Manley presided over far-reaching social changes, including gun court legislation, mentioned in the context of violence which has not stopped since that legislation, but has escalated over the years.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or ekrubm765@yahoo.com.


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