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GOVERNMENT, PUBLIC UTILITIES AND COMMUNICATIONS

Government and Politics of Jamaica
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

Jamaica is an independent state, a parliamentary democracy and member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. At present, The Queen of England is also the Queen of Jamaica and represented by a Governor General whose duties like those of the British sovereign are largely ceremonial. Political power lies with parliament which consists of a House of elected members representing 60 constituencies and a Senate of 21 members, fourteen of them nominated by the Prime Minister and 8 by the Leader of the Opposition.

The British divided the island into parishes for administrative purposes and the system has endured. There are 13 parishes, each with an elected Parish Council. Originally these were composed of prominent local citizens but nowadays Parish Council elections are fought on political party lines. Tradition-ally, Parish Councils were responsible for the administration of local government services: roads and works, health and sanitation, fire brigade, water supply, etc., but had little autonomy. Over the years, central government has usurped most of these

responsibilities (like water supply), and others (such as garbage collection), have been divested to private enterprise. The incumbent government's expressed intention to strengthen local government has not materialized as yet.

The Jamaican Constitution is currently under review by a Constitutional Commission, comprised of representatives from both political parties, legal experts and independent members. Proposed amendments include creation of a republic and replacing the Queen as head of state with a President, and further human rights safeguards.

Elections are held every 5 years. There are two major political parties: The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)and the People's National Party (PNP). New parties frequently emerge, such as The New Beginning Movement founded in 1992 against a background of widespread disillusionment with the two major parties and politics in general but whose initial drive soon fizzled out. So far none has attracted significant support and no independent candidate has ever been elected. Equally, to date no party has enjoyed more than two successive terms in office and 'Time for a Change' is a powerful election slogan.

The Jamaica Labour Party was formed in 1943 under the leadership of the late William Alexander Bustamante, a businessman and labour leader, and now a National Hero. The JLP was elected to govern in the first election under the 1944 constitution which granted universal adult suffrage. Subsequent terms in office were 1949-1955, 1962-1972 and 1980-1989. The current leader of the party is the Rt. Hon. Edward Seaga. The JLP is considered the more conservative and consistent party and has always espoused the free market system. During the 1970s and 80s it was vehemently anti-communist and pro-U.S.A. The Bustamante Industrial

Trade Union is an affiliate of the JLP. The President of the B.I.T.U., former Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, only just recently resigned as Deputy Leader of the JLP.

The People's National Party was formed in 1938 and Norman Washington Manley, a barrister, emerged as leader soon afterwards. Now deceased and a National Hero, he was a first cousin of Bustamante's. The PNP formed the government from 1955-62 and again in 1972-80 when under the leadership of Michael Manley it espoused "democratic socialism" and aligned Jamaica closely with Fidel Castro. However, under the current leadership of P.J. Patterson, an attorney, the PNP now espouses the free market system.

The last election held in April 1993 returned 52 PNP and 8 JLP members to the House, but widespread allegations of chicanery prompted election petitions in 10 constituencies. As we went to press these were still unresolved by the Courts.

The Workers Party of Jamaica, a small Communist party formerly led by university professor Trevor Munroe, founder of the University and Allied Workers Union, is in eclipse but Munroe is widely respected as an objective political analyst and social commentator. 

 

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