Published On: Thu, Mar 29th, 2012

EDWARD PHILLIP GEORGE SEAGA – FIFTH PRIME MINISTER OF JAMAICA

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Edward Phillip George Seaga was the fifth prime minister of Jamaica. He was the only prime minister too who was not born in Jamaica. Coupled with the fact that he is caucasian, he was at a calculated disadvantage at the polls, firstly with Michael Manley (Jamaica’s fourth prime minister), a caucasian too but a Jamaican-born leader, who kept Seaga at bay with a song called “My Leader Born Ya”. When Percival J. Patterson was the prime minister, the People’s National Party (PNP) played on Mr. Seaga’s colour by labeling him (Patterson) the Black Prince accompanied by a slogan “Blackman Time”.

However, things leading up to the General Elections in 1980 were so bad in Jamaica that they were willing to accept an alternative leader be he black or alien. So, Seaga took the reigns of government with a 51-9 landslide victory.

  The fact that Seaga came to Jamaica at the age of three months would seem unfair to deny him the brand of a Jamaican. His birth place is Boston, Massachusetts in the United States Of America where he was born to Jamaican parents on the 28th of May 1930. By December 5 the same year, he was baptized in Kingston’s Anglican Parish Church. He graduated at Harvard University in 1952 after attending Wolmer’s High School. His primary school days were spent between Kingston and St. James.

In 1959, Seaga’s long and distinguished career as a politician began when he was invited to become a member of the Legislative Council. This was the upper house of the legislature in the pre-independence era now known as the senate. He was 29 then and thus became the youngest member in the history of the legislative council (senate). He also holds the record for the longest serving parliamentarian since accepting the job as member of parliament for Western Kingston in April 1962.

His first recognized post was Minister Of Development And Welfare which he held under the leadership of prime minister Alexander Bustamante stretching from the 1960s to the 1970s. He was soon recognized as a key architect of the constitution that became the framework for Jamaican independence in August 1962.

Mr. Seaga fell in love with Miss Jamaica 1964 Marie “Mitsy” Constantine. He married her the following year and raised three children together Anabella, Andrew and Christopher. However, irreconciliable differences brought an end to their marriage in 1996. His matrimonial life continued the following year when he exchanged vows with Carla Vendryes who was born when Mr. Seaga was thirty years old. She was to produce Mr. Seaga’s fourth child – a daughter called Gabrielle – in 2002 the final election year of Mr. Seaga. As a result, JLP supporters dubbed him “Breeder” (at the age of 74) which did tremendous wonders to his image as he managed his best election showing since his glorious victory of 1980.

Mr. Seaga’s brilliance with figures elevated him to the position of Minister Of Finance under the leadership of prime minister Hugh Lawson Shearer. He continued to glow with flair in this post that he landed the reputation as a “financial wizard” which was the description used in the year book of Merit Students Encyclopedia in reference to Seaga. After the departure of Shearer from the top post of the Jamaica Labour Party in 1974, Seaga became the leader of the JLP and hence opposition leader of Jamaica. This was after defeating Wilton Hill.

Of all his pioneering effort to push Jamaica forward, it is in the field of music that many tip their hats to him (so to speak).  He started to promote Jamaican music through the West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) which he owned and operated. His first effort of producing was with the Trench Town duo of Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson better known as Higgs And Wilson. Their first major hit was “Oh Manny O” in 1959 considered as the first hit record in Jamaica reportedly selling over 30,000 copies. He also extended his generosity to other entertainers such as Slim Smith and Byron Lee And The Dragonaires. There were other recording facilities in Jamaica as well and Mr. Seaga put measures in place to ensure that the artistes were duly paid for their hit records.

The annual Festival Song competition was created by him in 1966 and is the top recognized calendar event that has done wonders for Jamaican artistes, composers and song writers over the years. However, his mission was too deeply rooted in politics and to avoid the distractions from his political career, he sold the WIRL label to Byron Lee who renamed it Dynamic Sounds.

The 1976 general elections would give Mr. Seaga his first opportunity to become prime minister of Jamaica. His style of campaigning was viewed by his opponents as reflecting a culture of violence which was inciting civil war. He was unable to unseat prime minister Michael Manley but continued to take jabs at him for aligning the government to Fidel Castro’s communist regime which was seriously resented by the American government. Because of this, America found an ally in Mr. Seaga as he made his intentions clear as to the direction Jamaica would take if the JLP formed the next government. In no uncertain terms, he informed the USA that he would break diplomatic relations with Cuba and abolish the levy that Mr. Manley had placed on bauxite that was hurting the US companies which imported this Jamaican commodity. Mr. Seaga was so relentless in this effort to form this alliance between Washington and Kingston that the Jamaican parliament censured him in 1979.

However, this did not stop Mr. Seaga’s campaign from getting continued traction as he had done enough to lay the foundation for his massive landslide victory in the October 1980 elections which earned him 57 percent of the popular votes. His first action on the night of victory was to expel the Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Ulises Estrada. On November 1, 1980, he was inaugurated prime minister. A year later he eventually severed diplomatic relations with Cuba after accusing the communist government of giving asylum to Jamaican criminals aligned to the PNP.

Early 1981, Mr. Seaga was one of the first foreign heads of state to visit Ronald Reagan who himself had just become president of the United States. Intense lobbying by Mr. Seaga in tandem with Tom Adams of Barbados, inspired Mr. Reagan to sponsor the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

Seaga continued to gain grounds in his relations with the United States and showed his support for the collapse of the Marxist regime in Grenada that prompted a US-led invasion in that Caribbean island in October 1983. By this time, Michael Manley’s opposition party was caught napping after Mr. Seaga called a snap election which was viewed as coming on the back of the Grenada invasion. The PNP seemed to have no other option but to boycott the election thus giving Mr. Seaga’s JLP control of all the seats in parliament. But because the Jamaican constitution demanded to have an opposition in the appointed senate, in an unprecedented move, Mr. Seaga appointed eight independent senators to form this official opposition.

As Mr. Seaga’s second term began to take shape, Mr. Manley’s popularity showed signs of resurrection. On the other hand, Mr. Seaga was losing support in the USA as newspaper articles launched attacks on him and the government itself was far from pleased with his protracted delay of removing the bauxite levy. At home, the opposition was portraying him as a warmonger and bandied about a phrase that he reportedly made about “locking down Jamaica tighter than a tin of sardines”. There were also reports of foreign investors fleeing the country. And as if that were not enough, Hurricane Gilbert dealt a devastating blow to the country in 1988 thus adding pressure to the domestic turmoil. These were alleged to be some of the crucial factors which cost Mr. Seaga the ensuing polls on February 10, 1989.

Seaga remained leader of the opposition but not without dispute as he has had to contend with a series of setbacks one of which was a clique of JLP parliamentarians formed what was dubbed the Gang Of Five backed by the Dissension 11 from the west of the island who were opposed to his leadership style and incited disunity in the party.

By the time P.J. Patterson emerged to face Mr. Seaga for the 1993 elections, the disunity in his party never abated as the seemingly insurgence of the “Gang Of Five” and the “Western 11” continued. The Gang Of Five consisted of Pearnel Charles, Errol Anderson, Edmund Bartlett, Karl Samuda and Douglas Vaz..Things got worse when the chairman of the JLP Bruce Golding defected from the party on February 27, 1995 to become the first president of the new National Democratic Movement (NDM)  on the invitation of the founders Brascoe Lee and Bobby Marsh. Some of the top brass from the party islandwide shared membership with Mr. Golding.

To rub salt in his wound, Mr. Seaga, it was around this time that he was confronted with his new nemesis in the form of the slogan called “Blackman Time”. Mr. Patterson got an additional title of “Fresh Prince” which boosted his popularity tremendously. So tremendously in fact, that he recorded a handsome victory over Mr. Seaga with some observers placing much of the loss on the existence of the NDM which woefully divided the JLP votes.

The JLP got back some of its supporters when the NDM failed to win a single seat. JLP financiers managed to woo back Mr. Golding on October 26 to drum up support for the party by taking an active role in the campaigns of that same year (2002). As a result, Mr. Seaga managed a better showing in the 2002 elections which he still lost.

With Mr. Golding back in the fold of the JLP, unbearable pressure began to mount on Mr. Seaga to quit with the PNP on the other hand continuing to demonise him, and also clamour for his retention claiming that it was a guarantee for the party’s continued success at the polls thus magnifying the opposition leader’s status as a liability to the party.

Mr. Seaga thus called it quits in 2005 when an academic post as a Senior Research Fellow awaited him at the University Of The West Indies in Mona. He also bowed out of politics as having served on the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and was given awards by countries throughout North America (including the United States) and South America, as well as Europe.

Today, Mr. Seaga continues to show physical strength as he doesn’t seem like giving up his post yet as president of the Tivoli Gardens premier football league team and can be seen almost everywhere the team plays. He is also the chairman of the Premier League Club Association.

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