Two political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP), dominate Jamaican politics. Their fortunes have risen and fallen dramatically over the past thirty years. Both parties have held more than three-fourths of Parliament. The JLP, founded in 1943 by Sir Alexander Bustamante, is the more conservative of the two parties. Its original political base was the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, which Bustamante organized in 1938. The JLP held a parliamentary majority during the first 10 years of independence, and again from 1980–89 under Edward Seaga, who remains opposition leader.
The PNP, founded by Norman W. Manley in 1938, held to a moderate socialist program and from its foundation sought responsible government and independence for Jamaica. The party formed its first government in 1972 under Michael Manley. In 1976, the PNP remained in power, increasing its majority by 10 seats in a House that had been enlarged by 7. After losing in 1980, the PNP refused to participate in the parliamentary elections called by Prime Minister Seaga for December 1983, two years ahead of schedule. The PNP draws much of its support from the National Workers' Union, Jamaica's largest trade union, and is primarily an urban, middle-class party that has moved toward the political center since its defeat in the 1980 elections. Both the JLP and PNP stand for a broad program of social reform and welfare and economic development with the participation of foreign capital. The PNP was returned to power in 1989. In 1992, its founder and longtime leader Michael Manley retired and was succeeded by Percival (P.J.) Patterson, who has led the party to four consecutive parliamentary victories since 1993.
A third political party, the National Democratic Movement (NDM), was formed in October 1995 by Bruce Golding, who was the former chairman of the JLP. In October 2002, Patterson led the PNP to a four consecutive parliamentary victory in national elections. Yet, the PNP fell from 50 seats in 1997 to 34 seats in 2002. The opposition JLP went from winning 10 seats in 1997 to clinching 26 seats in 2002.