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1970s Flashback - The 1980 General Election
published: Tuesday | August 29, 2006

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

The security forces and criminals clashed frequently during the months leading to the 1980 General Election. Here is one of those battles, which took place in West Kingston. - Contributed

GOING into 1980, the Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley was a man under pressure. It was almost certain that his People's National Party (PNP) would be forced to call early general election that year.

That they did, and on October 30, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) led by Edward Seaga, whipped the PNP 51 seats to nine, the biggest margin of victory in elections since Jamaica gained Independence from Great Britain in 1962.

Manley's turbulent eight-year tenure as the country's fourth Prime Minister had ended.

There were not only celebrations among the country's middle-class which had feared a Communist takeover due to Manley's socialist leanings. In 1974, Manley declared that his administration would pursue a policy of Democratic Socialism. He consistently denied accusations that he would go Communist.

Grassroots programmes

The poor, many of whom benefited from the PNP's grassroots programmes, also voted against Manley who came to power in late 1972 with a mandate to elevate the country's impoverished masses.

Kenneth Baugh, who was one of the JLP's new parliamentarians, said the overwhelming victory was not surprising.

"It was a great relief for the people, because things had gone very wrong in the country," Baugh said in a recent interview with The Gleaner. "The economy had failed, and there was no money to pay public sector workers. There was also the danger of us becoming a one-party state".

One day after the elections, D.K. Duncan, the PNP's general secretary, claimed that the polls were marred by widespread fraud. He accused members of the security forces, chairman of the Electoral Advisory Committee, Professor Gladstone Mills and Director of Elections, Carl Dundas, of not doing enough to stop the alleged vote tampering.

"They should look into their hearts and say whether justice has been applied in this election by an independent, impartial group of men of integrity," Dr. Duncan said. "I warn Edward Seaga, the corrupt members of the judiciary and the police force, that they can attack the blood, the life and the body. But they cannot attack the idea."

Fiery Manley

The PNP executive's tirade summed up the tension in Jamaica leading into elections which were announced by Manley in Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay, on October 5.

A massive crowd turned up at Sam Sharpe Square that evening. It inspired a fiery Manley to predict victory with his now famous declaration that "50,000 strong can't be wrong!"

In February, the Prime Minister said that elections would be held later in the year. In the months that followed, the political hostility that sparked inner-city violence throughout the 1970s, spilled over into 1980.

In April, five persons were killed in what became known as the Gold Street Massacre, in Central Kingston. That month, the Hannah Town Police Station in West Kingston was attacked by thugs; two persons, including a policeman, were killed.

Things were just as unstable on the labour front. In January, Manley announced that 11,000 public sector jobs would have to be cut to facilitate the $50 million budget. Days after that statement, 300 Jamaica Public Service workers went on strike, leaving 70 per cent of the country without electricity.

Manley blamed the JLP for the instability.

"We have no reason for making our economic situation worse," he said in Barbados in March. "They have a record of using economic destabilisation."

Even though Manley remained combative, his Government was falling apart. Late into the second term, senior members David Coore and Vivian Blake had resigned. Two weeks after his speech in Barbados, Finance Minister Eric Bell also called it a day.

Despite the unfavourable signs, Colin Campbell who became the PM's press secretary in early 1980, said it was a confident Manley who went on the campaign trail.

"He always had very high popularity, even in those days," Campbell said in a 2000 interview. "Throughout he remained in a very determined mood."

Kenneth Baugh, who contested the North West St. James seat against Howard Cooke, recalled that the mood in the JLP camp was reflected in their campaign slogan, 'Deliverance Is Near'.

"We had very high motivation. At the start of 1980, the polls showed us in the lead and by the middle of the year we had gone into heavy campaigning," he said.

Just before Manley announced the election date, pollster and University of the West Indies lecturer Carl Stone, predicted in The Gleaner that the JLP would win as many as 40 seats.

Going into election day, there were several tragic and eventful incidents:

Manley's motorcade was fired on in May Pen.

Roy McGann, the PNP's candidate for East Rural St. Andrew, and his bodyguard, acting corporal Errol White, were killed in Gordon Town.

Seven persons were killed by gunmen on National Heroes Day in Kingston. Two children were killed in Top Hill, St. Elizabeth where JLP and PNP factions clashed.

Gunfire disrupted a PNP rally in Spanish Town.

Twelve members of the Workers Party of Jamaica, including Lambert

Brown, were arrested in Lucea, Hanover for possession of bombs.

On election day, the results were devastating for Manley and the PNP. Not only did the JLP return to power in a landslide, several big names in the former administration lost their seats in parliament, including P.J.

Patterson, Howard Cooke and Arnold Bertram.

The JLP victory was welcomed islandwide, with many persons participating in day-long celebrations. Many schools and business places remained closed.

Manley, who came to power as champion of the poor, was a beaten man. In his concession speech, he said his decision to stand by Cuba and other Third World countries not popular with the United States Government, proved his Government's downfall.

"Maybe what I did wrong was to challenge the power of the western economic structure ... And for this I will remain unrepentant and unreconstructed," he said.

Two days after the election, Edward Seaga was sworn in as Jamaica's fifth Prime Minister. Within days, he expelled the Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica, Ulises Estrada, severed ties with that country and attempted to rebuild Jamaica's ties with the U.S.

After three years in office, he too would feel the pressure of unpopularity.

1980 election trivia

In January, the Jamaica Government said the country would not support a U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics.

Prime Minister Michael Manley visits Cuba for talks with President Fidel Castro.

H. Charles Johnson, president of the United Front Party, is charged with treason for plotting to overthrow the Government.

Enumeration in 58 of the 60 constituencies started in June.

JLP announces boycott of Parliament that month.

Hugh Shearer, deputy leader of the JLP, is injured when his motorcade is attacked in Falmouth.

Director of Elections announces that 974,000 persons are on voters list.

The police reported that approximately 889 persons were murdered in

Jamaica prior to the 1980 general elections.

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