The Miami Herald
Thu, Jul. 01, 2004

Opposition leader Seaga says he's ready to step down in November

KINGSTON, Jamaica - (AP) -- Under pressure from reform-minded colleagues, longtime Jamaican opposition leader Edward Seaga announced he will step down as leader of his party at its annual conference in November.

Seaga, prime minister from 1980-89, said the decision to relinquish the post he has held for 32 years would allow his opposition Jamaica Labor Party to reorganize ahead of local elections in 2006.

''I do not propose to lead the JLP in any further elections,'' Seaga said in a brief statement announcing his resignation Tuesday evening.

The 74-year-old politician said he would step down in November, when his party holds its annual conference. However, Seaga is expected to retain his seat in Parliament, which he has held since 1962, longer than any other Jamaican legislator.

Party delegates will choose a new leader at the November conference. The early favorite is party chairman Bruce Golding, considered the inspirational leader of the party's reformist wing, which has criticized Seaga for the party's narrow defeat in 2002 general elections.

Born in Boston to parents of Lebanese descent, Seaga earned a degree in social sciences from Harvard University in 1952. At 29, he was appointed to the upper legislative house of this former British colony by Labor Party founder and Jamaica's first prime minister, Alexander Bustamante.

As opposition leader in the 1970s, he railed against the socialist agenda of then-Prime Minister Michael Manley, under whom the economy struggled, pushing many Jamaicans to move abroad.

Seaga was swept into power in 1980, but not before clashes between rival supporters killed nearly 800 people.

As prime minister, Seaga instituted a pro-American, free-market economy, ushering in what many consider Jamaica's most prosperous era.