Timeline: Seaga's political life and contribution to nation building
Late former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, opens the 1983 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives. To his right is the late former Prime Minister, Hugh Shearer. (PHOTO: JIS)
The country has been plunged into mourning on news of the death of former Jamaican Prime Minister and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Leader, Edward Phillip George Seaga on Tuesday.
His passing marks the end of an era as he was the last of Jamaica’s pre-Independence politicians, having been appointed to the then Legislative Council (now the Senate) in 1959.
He was also the last surviving member of the framers of Jamaica’s Independence Constitution.
The country’s fifth prime minister, who was admitted to a hospital in Miami, Florida just under three weeks ago, died on his 89th birthday. He had been battling cancer for some time.
Seaga served as prime minister from November 1980 to February 1989.
THE EARLY YEARS
He was born on May 28, 1930 in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States of America to Jamaican parents. He was named after his father, Phillip George Seaga. His mother was Erna (nee Maxwell).
His parents took him to Jamaica when he was just three months old and he was baptised in Kingston’s Anglican Church. The young Seaga attended Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston where he excelled both academically as well as in half-a-dozen sporting disciplines.
He later attended Harvard University in the United States, graduating in 1952 with a degree in sociology. It was his work as a sociologist that brought him into contact with the people of West Kingston, an area he would transform into a political fortress.
ENTRY INTO POLITICS AND WEST KINGSTON
Seaga was nominated to serve in the Legislative Council by Sir Alexander Bustamante in 1959 when he was just 29 years old. In 1961, he served on the committee that drafted Jamaica’s Independence Constitution.
He would soon rewrite history as, after winning the West Kingston seat that had been a political graveyard for even senior Labourites, with none managing to hold the seat for more than one term, Seaga not only won it in 1962, but held the seat for 43 unbroken years until his retirement from politics in 2005. That is a record for both Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region.
FIRST MINISTERIAL APPOINTMENT
Seaga was appointed Minister of Development and Welfare in 1962 and that marked the beginning of a stint that would lead to him being regarded as the politician who has done the most for nation building in terms of institutions with far-reaching and long-term impact. It was during that time that he started the transformation of ‘Back-o-Wall’ or ‘Dungle’ into Tivoli Gardens, complete with a maternity clinic, community centre and all the trappings of a modern community. The people of West Kingston would send him back to Gordon House for 10 consecutive elections.
After the JLP won the 1967 General Elections, Seaga was named the Minister of Finance and Planning. The JLP lost the 1972 General Elections to Michael Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP) and in 1974 Seaga became JLP Leader, a position he held for nearly 31 years.
1980 GENERAL ELECTION
Seaga’s biggest political achievement came in October 1980 when he famously won a landslide victory over Manley and the PNP – securing the largest mandate ever by a political party. Seaga won 51 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives as Jamaicans bought into his “deliverance” message.
In 1983, Seaga won a snap election as the PNP boycotted polls. He appointed independents to serve in the Senate during that period when his party controlled all 60 seats in the House of Representatives.
Seaga was defeated in the 1989 General Elections by Manley, and he would go on to serve as Opposition Leader until 2005. He lost several general elections in between, to PJ Patterson who succeeded Manley at the helm of the PNP.
OPPOSITION LEADER 1989-2005
Often seen as one of the most polarizing figures in Jamaican politics, Seaga’s last 16 years in active politics were often tumultuous. During this time, he openly sparred with members of his own party. He beat back the challenge of the so called ‘gang of five’ which included JLP stalwarts such as Pearnel Charles, Edmund Bartlett, Karl Samuda and the late Errol Anderson.
Seaga also thwarted the challenge of the much larger ‘Western gang’ which was similarly made up of JLP stalwarts. On every occasion he fended off the challenges to his leadership and, although he did not win another national election after 1989, he remained JLP leader until his retirement.
Seaga was also big on the Constitution and, while he served as Opposition Leader, he initiated the rewrite of the section on human rights leading to the current Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
The former prime minister is widely regarded as the greatest nation builder in post-independence Jamaica. His credits are large and include the establishment of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, the Students’ Loan Bureau, JAMPRO, Ex-Im Bank and the National Development Bank.
Seaga is also credited with the reclamation and development of the Ocho Rios waterfront, the reclamation of the Montego Bay waterfront, the creation of the Urban Development Corporation, the building of the National Arena and the creation of the HEART-Trust/NTA.
Additionally, the former JLP leader created the Jamaica Festival, National Heritage Week and was responsible for the repatriation of the body of Marcus Garvey who was later named the country’s first National Hero.
Before he was a politician, Seaga was a music producer and he was also a researcher at the University of the West Indies.
LIFE AFTER POLITICS 2005 to 2019
After his retirement from politics, Seaga served in academia and, being an avid sportsman, was actively involved in sports, in particular football. He was chairman of the Premier League Clubs Association and President of the Tivoli Gardens FC.
He was appointed honorary distinguished fellow at the professorial level at the University of the West Indies (UWI), in 2005. At the time of his death, he was Chancellor of the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica where he was half-way through a three-year term.
Seaga is survived by wife Karla and children Andrew, Christopher, Anabella and Gabrielle.