Floyd Morris | Fearmongering: trademark Seaga and JLP
It is well documented in communication studies that fearmongering is an art used by political propagandists in campaigns. It is a strategy used to create fear and doubt in the minds of citizens on issues.
In Jamaica, this tactic has been used on different occasions by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Specifically, this strategy was used in the 1962 general election when the citizens were told by the JLP that Russian ships were out at sea, ready to take over if the People's National Party (PNP) had won the election.
In 1980, this tactic of fearmongering featured prominently in the election because of the close relationship that existed between the Manley regime and the Russian and Cuban governments. On both occasions, the PNP lost the elections, and in 1980, more than 518,000 citizens came out and voted for the JLP as they were fearful of losing their freedom.
Jamaicans place an intrinsic value on their freedom. If you doubt me, just revisit the famous statement made by one of our national heroes, Samuel Sharpe: "I would rather die on yonder gallows than to be a slave."
Research conducted by prominent and distinguished scholars at the University of the West Indies (UWI) such as Munroe, Stone, and, in recent times, Powell, Waller, and Bourne, has consistently shown the citizens of Jamaica demonstrating that democracy is their preferred choice. Any politician or political party that seeks to relinquish this fundamental right from the citizens would need to have a permanent bed at Bellevue.
I am, therefore, shocked and dismayed at an article written by former prime minister of Jamaica, the Edward Seaga, in The Sunday Gleaner on October 23, 2016, under the caption, 'Fearful future of the PNP'. In this article, Mr Seaga sought to chronicle his perspective of what transpired in the 1970s with the Manley regime and the democratic socialist policies that were pursued. The article was riddled with falsehoods as to what really transpired in that period .
But I leave individuals such as P.J. Patterson, D.K. Duncan, Peter Phillips, Paul Burke, et al, to deal with these falsehoods. My focus is to demonstrate how irrelevant the utterances of Mr Seaga are in 21st-century Jamaica.
Polarised geopolitical landscape
The era of the 1970s was influenced by the tremendously polarised geopolitical landscape. The world was divided in terms of East and West, with the United States having hegemonic dominance in the West and the USSR controlling the East. Jamaica was caught in that polarised environment, and both political parties, the JLP and the PNP, were involved in this ideological dichotomy.
Mr Seaga was a major actor in that environment. More than 800 Jamaicans were killed in the election year 1980. Mr Seaga must not come and pretend to be innocent of what transpired in the 1970s as the records are there to show that the JLP was involved in a constant battle with the PNP for power, contributing to sabotage and a scarcity of goods. The day after the election in October 1980, food - some of which was riddled with weevils and worms - was in abundance on the streets of Jamaica.
For Mr Seaga, who I have grown to respect and love, to come in modern Jamaica to promote an environment of fear is most unfortunate. The Cold War ended in the early 1990s, and we are in a new era, one in which China is practising a market economy while preserving communism to organise its society.
This is an era in which Russia has more millionaires than the population of Kingston. An era in which the president of the United States has visited Cuba. It is an era in which Bernie Sanders, a citizen of the United States, the citadel of capitalism, campaigned in the Democratic primaries on a democratic socialist platform. Sanders energised a significant portion of the US population and gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money. Is Mr Seaga aware of all of these happenings?
In the 1970s, the Manley regime introduced some of the most far-reaching social programmes and legislation to transform the lives of the marginalised and dispossessed within our society. When Manley introduced free education up to the tertiary level in 1974, it was because more than 50 per cent of the population was not accessing the education system and Manley wanted to capacitate the Jamaican poor people.
When Michael Manley introduced free health care, it was because the majority of the citizens could not afford quality health care. When the Manley regime repealed the Status of Children Act, popularly known as the Bastardy Act, it was an effort to remove the stigmatisation of children born out of wedlock, and, therefore, could not attend certain of our high schools. The establishment of National Minimum Wage legislation was to protect our citizens from the blatant exploitation that was taking place in the labour market.
Mr Seaga and his ultra-conservative associates opposed some of these progressive programmes and policies under the guise of Manley introducing communism in the country. The dominant rhetoric coming from the Seaga-led JLP at the time was that these programmes and policies were precursors to communism. Surprisingly, these same policies are now being promoted and implemented by the Holness-led JLP. Is Andrew going communist?
Democracy in DNA
The Manley-led PNP never had any intentions of making Jamaica a communist society as postulated by Mr Seaga. The PNP and Michael Manley had democracy entrenched in their DNA. This is why we led the fight for universal adult suffrage in 1944. This is why we lowered the voting age to 18 so that youths could vote in national elections after 1972. Furthermore, the constitution of the PNP has deep-buttressing democratic roots, and this is why our members of parliament have to face the people who elect them every year to account for their stewardship in their constituencies and in Parliament.
The right to vote is a fundamental tenet of any democracy. In 1978, under the Manley regime, the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) was established. This institution has morphed into the current Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) and has done a Herculean job in preserving our democracy. Mr Seaga himself played a role in the formation of this institution. Do you believe that Michael Manley would be moving to establish communism and put in place all these mechanisms to entrench democracy?
As for me, I am unrepentant in my support for democracy. I treasure freedom and value the right to own property. I relish and cherish freedom of expression. At the same time, I am an unapologetic democratic socialist because unlike Mr Seaga, I understand what that means and more so in a unipolar world. Communism suppresses freedom and the right to vote; democratic socialism does not. Communism does not permit private ownership of property; democratic socialism does. Communism does not allow for competitive party politics; democratic socialism does. Communism frowns upon freedom of speech; democratic socialism does not. And communism does not allow for free media; democratic socialism does.
The PNP of Norman Manley, Michael Manley, P.J. Patterson, and Portia Simpson Miller has always valued and treasured those principles that are intrinsic to our democracy. The citizens of Jamaica, therefore, have nothing to fear of the PNP now or in the future. We must not subscribe to ultra-conservative communication rhetoric. It is designed to scare voters, but this time it will not work because the world has progressed, and, likewise, the citizens of Jamaica.