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Saturday, 19 October, 2002, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Calming Jamaica's bloody elections
Former PM Edward Seaga with members of his Labour Party at a rally in Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay
Mr Seaga is greeted by shouts of "breeder, breeder"

The sickly sweet smell of marijuana smoke hung over a feverish crowd in the Tivoli Gardens area of Kingston.

With ragga music blaring out, they wave their green flags of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

We CAN take the violence away without destroying loyalty to our parties

Former gang member Neville
They wait for their leader and local member of parliament Edward Seaga, who has held this seat for much of the last 40 years. He gets up on stage to shouts of "breeder, breeder".

Despite his age, the 72-year-old Mr Seaga recently became a father again - for that alone he has the respect of his fans.


This was the JLP's final rally and Mr Seaga and his team were telling the crowd that their time had come. "The breeder" tells them Jamaicans would be better off under Labour, that he is a safe pair of hands.

It is a calm, statesmanlike performance, true to the spirit of his and his rival, Prime Minister PJ Patterson's, pre-election pledge to avoid inciting their supporters during polling.

PNP supporters celebrate victory
The PNP emerged victorious
This working-class area has been a Labour Party stronghold for decades and the election held on Wednesday confirmed that dominance with another thumping majority for Mr Seaga. It is a pattern repeated in many other areas of the island for both Labour and the People's National Party.

What is special here is the size of the victories - it is not unusual to find 95% of the vote going to one candidate. And it is all the more surprising when you consider there is precious little ideological divide between the two parties.

The reason lies deep in Jamaica's political past. In the 1970s when the PNP was in power the party's leader, Michael Manley, aligned himself with Cuba and carried out policies with a socialist slant. Labour in opposition advocated a more free market approach of privatising state-owned companies.


It was a classic confrontation from the Cold War era. Both main parties are thought to have armed their supporters to secure loyalty in what became known as "garrison constituencies".

It is not surprising that Jamaican politics has become synonymous with violence. Some 800 people died in the run-up to 1980s parliamentary elections.

This year the violence was nowhere near that, with just a handful of murders linked to politics. That is largely due to the work of one man, Bishop Herro Blair.

I caught up with him in the garrison area of Southside in Kingston. Bishop Blair is a plain speaking man in his 50s and a well-known face here because of his regular appearances on Jamaican television.

I found him talking to two groups of rival political supporters.

A barricade of tyres and branches in the road separated them. The PNP supporters are dressed in the party's orange T-shirts, the Labourites in their trademark bottle green hats.

They are sizing each other up across the divide. Bishop Blair believes in hands-on mediation.

Showing results

"We have to get the heads of rival groups together otherwise the pattern of mistrust perpetuates," he told me between bouts of shuttle diplomacy between the two groups.

"We've been welcomed in almost all the trouble spots, Jamaicans are starting to believe that what came before isn't the only route politics can take." Bishop Blair's direct approach is beginning to show results.

Police in Jamaica
Police presence on the streets was heavy during polling
On a football field in Kingston's August Town former gang members are sweating under the steamy tropical sun. It is a more healthy form of rivalry to the one they are used to.

A few months ago they agreed to call an end to the political feuding that had been dividing their community.

"We realised that if we're going to be able to live with any kind of security, go to the shops in a rival groups territory, we'd have to take action," left back Neville told me after the game.

"We CAN take the violence away without destroying loyalty to our parties."


Conciliation though didn't appear to be at the forefront of the minds of many of the speakers at the final rallies of either political party.

Back in the haze of the Tivoli Gardens meeting, firebrand speeches reminded the crowd that 25 of their supporters had been killed last year by police - they say the government covered up the investigations.

From their podium, speakers point to a nearby building from where police opened fire. It gets the crowd worked up into a frenzy of anger against the government and its supporters.

Whilst some people are moving on it is clear that Jamaican politics has got a long way to go before burying the violence of the past.

See also:

17 Oct 02 | Americas
16 Oct 02 | Americas
16 Oct 02 | Americas
18 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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