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Jamaica's political journey to Independence

BY TROY CAINE

Sunday, August 06, 2017

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SINCE attaining nationhood in 1962, Jamaica's modern political system has been greatly enhanced by the success and proficiency of her electoral process. This could be defined as one of the nation's outstanding achievements since Independence, or indeed since nearly 73 years ago when the provisions of the New Constitution of 1944 opened the doors to the acquisition of Universal Adult Suffrage and a more progressive system, culminating in today's advancement and sophistication of the system.

This achievement has not been easy. It has entailed many problems, struggles, challenges and bumps in the road, which had to be overcome. But optimism, dedication and hard work have prevailed, and although not quite perfect, today our electoral system has become a world-class success story, with the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) frequently being solicited to supervise elections at home and abroad.

Even so, it has been most gratifying to fathom that after so many hiccups in previous years, the most recent general election in 2016 was relatively just as quiet and orderly as the first one held in December 1944 as reported by the Chief Electoral Officer.

Prior to 1944, Jamaica's old political system, dating back to 1868 (after the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion), had influenced the closure of the old House of Assembly and heralded the genesis of Jamaica as a Crown Colony of Britain. In 1884, on request, Jamaica was accorded a new Constitution, which included a partially elected legislature with very few powers and an extremely limited franchise.

The real power in the island was the governor and the heads of all government departments who were all appointed by the British Colonial Office. The governor was the president of the Legislative Council, which could consist of a maximum of 21 members, but was generally 19 voting members — 14 elected (one for each parish) and five nominated, thereby making 10 required for a majority.

This council, which lasted for 60 years, with its representatives titled as Members of the Legislative Council (or MLCs), was actually the precursor to the 1944 House of Representatives and later Parliament. Qualification for election to the Legislative Council meant a candidate had to be a British subject (as were all Jamaicans before Independence), a voter who paid 300 in annual taxes, and had an income of 150 from lands, or 300 from other sources, which naturally limited members to being men of affluence. But MLCs had little real power, received no salary or other remunerations for their services, and their only benefit was a free first-class pass on the Jamaica Government Railway.

Voters had to be over 21 years old, British subjects, were not legally handicapped, and paying annual taxes of not less than 1. So, while no one was excluded on grounds of race or religion, those specifications however excluded most of the peasants and virtually all of the unskilled labour force in the island.

Because there were no political parties the members, who were supposed to be true independent representatives, mostly sided with the plantation owners and merchant interest, and paid little attention to the welfare of the peasant population.

But one member with the dedication, quality and style of his representation would make a major difference during those days of Jamaica's restrictive political life and lead the charge for a new Constitution, for self-government and for self-determination. This was barrister James Alexander George Smith, Snr (or JAG Smith, as he was more widely known), whose record 25-year iconic service as the member for the parish of Clarendon (1917-1942) far outweighed his contemporaries in the council, and especially his life-long quest for Jamaica to be ruled by Jamaicans.

A peasant native of Hanover whose early life was a portrait of hardships and struggles, Smith's early education in elementary schools and at Rusea's High School landed him in the frustrations of civil service employment in the Courts. There, he clearly fell in love with the legal fraternity, and set his sights on becoming a barrister, a feat he achieved through arduous circumstances and challenges, but in record time and at the top of the class of 1908.

Indeed, by January 1910 when JAG Smith was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, Norman Manley was still a student at Jamaica College and Bustamante was still William Alexander Clarke, 26 years old and ready to take on the world.

Within a short time Smith became the leading barrister in Jamaica, and upon becoming an MLC it also took him only a few years to influence the membership of the council from mostly white to a majority of black members, mainly through the quality of his representation and the support he gave to specific colleagues at all times.

His classic battles with no fewer than some seven British governors (from Manning in 1917 to Richards in 1938) whose confidence and health he wore down with his courage and eloquence became legendary, and all for the cause of improving the welfare and status of Jamaica and Jamaicans long before Bustamante and Manley came on the scene or envisaged their lives in politics.

JAG Smith was not alone, nor was he the first to call for a new Constitution, but he was the most eager and the most consistent. His first call came in 1921 and by August of that year he formed and became president of the Jamaica Representative Government Association, which he used effectively at meetings, rallies, debates, etc to drum up support for the cause.

Along the way he got much support and participation from most of his council colleagues, and even when the Colonial Office put an accepted proposition for a new Constitution on hold, owing to the outbreak of World War II, he persisted unceasingly with his agitation. Unfortunately, he passed away in April 1942, just a few months before his dreams were realised. However, in the period between 1865 and 1944, JAG Smith was regarded as the most important and influential figure in the island, and it is rather regrettable that after 55 years since Independence he has not been posthumously awarded a distinguished National Honour for his outstanding role as one of the earliest architects of Jamaica's status as an independent nation.

The Bill for a new Constitution proposed by the committee chaired by JAG Smith had been approved in 1939, and in 1943 the Colonial Office awarded a Constitution on the same lines proposed by Smith and his committee. It became the same New Constitution granted to Jamaica by Order in Council of October 27, 1944, and which formally came into effect on November 20, 1944 — a date that for many years afterwards was known as Constitution Day and celebrated as a public holiday.

In anticipation of the impending General Election under the new system, an announcement was made on October 9, 1944 that candidates seeking to be elected would be required to deposit 50 which would be forfeited if they attained less than one-twelfth of the votes polled. On November 1, 1944, Governor Sir John Huggins announced General Election to be held on Thursday, December 14, 1944 and Nomination Day on November 29, 1944. So, after being the country's legislative body since 1868, the Legislative Council ceased to exist on November 29, 1944, having completed all of the business on its agenda and leaving a clean slate for the new House of Representatives to be elected.

Initially, the New Constitution provided for (a) a House of Representatives of 32 elected members under Universal Adult Suffrage and with power to elect a speaker; (b) Executive Council of five of those elected, with three officials and two nominees presided over by the governor, and (c) a Legislative Council of nominated members with the power of review only. In later years, the House of Representatives would gradually increase in numbers and together with the Legislative Council (later the Senate) would constitute Jamaica's modern Parliament, and the Executive would become the Cabinet.

The New Constitution brought a complete change in election procedure, largely through two laws passed during 1944, which were: (i) The Special Registration Law (Law 26 of 1944), and (ii) The Representation of the People's Law (Law 44 of 1944). The former created the position of chief electoral officer as well as the duties of registration and revision officers in connection with the compilation of the voters list.

The latter provided for the division of the island into 32 single-member constituencies, the election of Members of the House of Representatives (MHRs), the franchise for such elections, the conduct and other matters connected to the process such as electoral and polling divisions, and the appointment of returning officers, presiding officers, poll clerks and others necessary to conduct the elections.

For the use of qualified voters, time would not allow for a period of enumeration, so it was decided to prepare a list from the then current 1943 census, which stood at 1,237,063 and yielded 663,039 (53.6 per cent) qualified voters aged 21 and over. Final confirmation of the 32 constituencies within the existing parish boundaries came by May 8, 1944, showing that on the basis of demography, three seats each were allotted to Kingston, St Andrew, Clarendon and St Catherine, and two to each of the other 10 parishes. The total estimate of 67,000 for the cost of the General Election was approved in July 1944.

By December 14, all systems were ready to go, and the first General Election under Adult Suffrage and under the first Chief Electoral Officer AJ Pelletier (a Canadian statistician who had served as a census officer in Jamaica) went very smoothly and set the stage for the tone and conduct of all the other general elections that would follow.

Formed out of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) in 1943, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) swept the first General Election by a massive landslide to become the 'Majority Party,' and the People's National Party (PNP), which was formed in 1938 (and declared itself a socialist party in 1940), became the Opposition or the 'Minority Party,' but without their president, Norman Manley, who failed in his bid to win the East St Andrew seat.

Neither of the two major parties contested all 32 seats. The JLP contested 29 seats, won 22 (69 per cent) and polled 144,661 votes (37.2 per cent), which increased to 23 when another seat (South Manchester) was awarded in the Resident Magistrate's Court. The PNP contested only 19 seats, won five and polled 82,029 votes (21.1 per cent) which was later reduced to four seats with the loss of South Manchester.

The Jamaica Democratic Party (JDP), which was formed largely by influential business interests in 1942, contested nine seats, won none and polled 14,123 votes (3.6 per cent) and became the first third party, but at least three JDP candidates managed to regain their deposits.

A total of 68 Independent candidates contested 29 constituencies, polling a total of 104,814 votes (26.9 per cent), won five seats, then one (FLB Evans, East Westmoreland) joined the PNP, and another (JZ Malcolm, East Hanover) joined the JLP. The election produced a voter-turnout of only 389,109 or 58.7 per cent (the lowest until the turnout of both 2011 and 2016) , and an astounding 39,982 rejected ballots, due mostly to the level of illiteracy among the electorate.

The first five elected members to sit on the Executive Council were: Alexander Bustamante (communications), Harold Allan (finance), Frank Pixley (social welfare), ERD Evans (agriculture) and Jehoida McPherson (education), with Rev Felix Gordon Veitch as the first speaker of the House. That first administration also experienced a number of other firsts that would define the wide variety of political events and occurrences in later years, such as the first two parliamentary by-elections caused by the first deaths of incumbent members, Rev FG Veitch (West Hanover) and Matthew Thelwell (South Trelawny), respectively; the first woman to sit in the House as an elected member, the JLP's Iris Collins of North-West St James; and the first Parochial Board (later Parish Council) Election in October 1947.

As previously mentioned, there was also the first unseating by Court Order of a member, the PNP's Wendell Benjamin (South Manchester) where judgement by a resident magistrate reversed the result the final count (with a margin of 20 votes) in favour of the JLP's Lawton Bloomfield who won by 100 votes.

History would repeat itself in the same constituency 29 years later in the case of Dr Douglas Manley (PNP) vs Arthur Williams, Snr (JLP) when proven electoral irregularities forced the Chief Justice to reverse the 1972 result (declared for Dr Manley) in favour of Williams, Snr. Other instances of unseatings that required by-elections up to 1962 would occur in 1950, 1951, 1954 and 1956.

On January 9, 1945, the first meeting of the members of the new House of Representatives was held at Headquarters House on Duke Street in Kingston, with Rev Veitch as speaker and Sir Noel Livingston as the first president of the Legislative Council. JLP Leader Alexander Bustamante became Majority Party Leader, and Dr Ivan Lloyd (one of only four former MLCs who were successful in the elections) became the first Opposition Leader who led the PNP's first five-member team in the absence of party president Norman Manley.

By May 1945, Rev Veitch's failing health prompted the elevation of Clement Aitcheson (North Trelawny) as the next distinguished occupant of the speaker's chair, over a year in advance of Rev Veitch's passing in July 1946. On June 19, 1945, a Jamaican for the first time, elected Independent MHR, Harold E Allan, OBE (East Portland) made the first Budget presentation in the House which came into effect with the New Constitution that gave the elected members more direct responsibility in the affairs of Government.

As the country settled in its first term under the improved democratic direction enhanced by provisions of the New Constitution, all kinds of political activities picked up steam among the parties and other political groups for a variety of reasons. Having been totally crushed in 1944, the PNP embarked on a remarkable programme of party organisation that would pay high dividends in the next election and beyond, while many independents and third-party personalities began jockeying for positions or membership in the two major parties.

But it was perhaps the case of first-term jitters that started to affect the incumbent JLP House membership which took centre stage. In January 1947, they lost the South Trelawny seat to an Independent, Cecil Neita, in a by-election, and by March they lost five other Members — ERD Evans (West St Andrew), LL Simmonds (West St Mary), Gideon Gallimore (West St Ann), BB Coke (South St Elizabeth) and Hugh Cork (South Clarendon) — to a (first) Gang of Five led by Evans, a JLP deputy leader and the minister for agriculture — to become first, members of Evan's fledgling Agricultural & Industrial Party (AIP), then later as Independents in the House.

Shortly after he was awarded the South Manchester seat, Bloomfield had also resigned from the JLP, but returned just before the next election, as did Simmonds, and both were re-elected in 1949. Speaker Aitcheson also left the JLP shortly before the second election and served out his term as an Independent. By the eve of the next election, the political standings in the House would have approximately stood at: JLP – 17, PNP – 5, Independents (including JLP dissidents) -10.

Prior to the second General Election in December 1949, five amending laws to the existing legislation were passed to bring greater stridency to the preparation and holding of elections. They included provision for an extension of the review period, special enumeration of eligible voters to be taken when necessary, empowerment of the chief electoral officer to divest the institution of a special investigation where inaccuracies occurred in the voters lists, the precautionary measure of the electoral ink to safeguard against impersonation and multiple voting, specified measures for regulating the transportation of voters and the imposition of more severe penalties for illegal practices, and special provision for the police (for the first time) and soldiers to vote before Election Day.

Consequently, the 1949 General Election became the first for which an enumeration procedure was executed. But it was the final results that were to make the '49 election the most unique. It became the only election in which the unsuccessful party (the PNP) polled the most votes (by a margin of 3,510 (0.8 per cent)) over the victorious party (the JLP) which won the most seats (17 to the PNP's 13) and retained power in spite of its pre-election tribulations, while the other two seats went to Independents Sir Harold Allan (East Portland) and Stanley Scott (South-East St James) in a national voter-turnout which increased to 65.2 per cent.

PNP President Norman Manley finally won the East St Andrew seat and became the Minority Party (Opposition) Leader for the first time. JLP turncoats Coke, Cork and Aabuthnott-Gallimore (who had a name change by deed poll) all ran as Independents and lost their seats, while ERD Evans lost his seat to the dynamic JLP Chairman Madame Rose Leon and faded into obscurity.

Only Bustamante and Allan retained their membership and portfolios on the Executive Council. Donald Sangster (social welfare) replaced Pixley, Isaac Barrant (agriculture) succeeded Evans, JZ Malcolm (education) came in for McPherson, but he was incarcerated and the portfolio went to LL Simmonds who also ran into legal problems and was replaced by Edwin Allen (North-West Clarendon) in 1953, while Clifford Campbell (West Westmoreland) had eventually become the fourth speaker of the House in 1950.

With all of that activity, plus the unseating of both (third) Speaker-designate OA Malcolm and the new member for West St Ann (the PNP's Rupert Wilmot), both for electoral offences committed during the election, followed by the death of Sir Harold Allan in 1953, all combined to make the post-1949 election period one of the busiest ever encountered by the Electoral Office. A total of five parliamentary by-elections were held: West St Ann (1950), North-West Clarendon (1950), East Westmoreland (1951), East Portland (1953), and East Hanover (1954). Then, between them, the second Parish Council Elections in June 1951 and an astounding grand total of 21 PC by-elections throughout the island.

An interesting development at the time was also the PNP's expulsion of the 4-Hs — Vice-President Ken Hill (West Kingston), his brother Frank Hill, Richard Hart and Arthur Henry — from the party in 1952, allegedly for 'communist' infiltration, and with them went other left-leaning party members such as Osmond Dyce of Portland and Winsbert Grubb of Hanover, as well as the party's trade union arm, the Trades Union Congress (TUC). This led to the formation of the party's new and stronger trade union, the National Workers Union (NWU) in that same year. Within a few months out of the PNP, Ken Hill formed his own party, the National Labour Party (NLP), which accommodated a few PNP secessionists, but did little else.

It was during that period that the first major amendment to the New Constitution occurred which actually started a new political era for Jamaica. Signed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on April 30, 1953, the Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council, 1953 came into operation by a proclamation made by Governor Sir Hugh Foot, and the island entered into a state of wider and greater political responsibility with a Ministerial System in which the elected representatives of the people would be taking part in the day-to-day administration of the country.

Elected Members on the Executive Council were increased from five to eight and now formally called “Ministers” who were responsible for all internal affairs, except defence, the judiciary, the police and the civil service which still remained under the Colonial Secretary. The title of Majority Party Leader was also elevated to “Chief Minister” and that same day Sir Alexander Bustamante's appointment as Jamaica's first Chief Minister was approved by the House of Representatives. The other seven MHRs comprising his first group of ministers were: Donald Sangster (finance), Rose Leon (health & housing), Edwin Allen (education), Isaac Barrant (agriculture), Allan Douglas (trade & industry), Jehoida McPherson (labour) and Lawton Bloomfield (communications & works).

The third General Election in January 1955 brought no constitutional changes to Jamaica's political system as some recent media reports have inferred. All that it brought was a change of Government when the PNP scored their first national victory over the JLP by a margin of 58,821 votes (11.3 per cent), but by only four seats (18 to the JLP's 14). Norman Manley succeeded Bustamante as the island's second Chief Minister and inherited the same responsibility to select seven PNP elected Members for the Executive Council. Those were: Noel Nethersole (finance), Dr Ivan Lloyd (education & social welfare), Wills O Isaacs (trade & industry), Florizel Glasspole (labour), Dr Glendon Logan (local government & housing), AGS Coombs (communications & works) and CLA Stuart (health).

BB Coke (who had joined the PNP and regained his South St Elizabeth seat) became their first Speaker of the House and the fifth overall. Sir Robert Barker and Rudolph Burke were also appointed ministers without portfolio, and Vernon Arnett succeeded Nethersole as finance minister when the latter passed away suddenly in March 1959.

In the wake of the 1955 election came another frenzy of electoral activities and political consequences. The Farmers' Party, which came on strong in the '55 election, won no seat, but perhaps cost the JLP the election and at least six of their 13 candidates saved their deposits. Ken Hill's NLP went nowhere, except to establish him as the spoiler who cost the PNP the West Kingston seat that ushered in young Hugh Shearer as an elected Member for the first time.

There were the 1956 PC Elections which turned out to be a huge victory for the PNP, and four parliamentary by-elections — in North-East Clarendon (December 1955) and West St Andrew (February 1956) caused largely by the unseating of the JLP's Rose Leon and George Peryer for electoral offences committed (by Leon) during the election campaign, and in East St Thomas (December 1956) and Central St Andrew (May 1959), following the deaths of Isaac Barrant and Noel Nethersole, respectively.

West Hanover's William Dickson, who resigned from the JLP after the '55 election, reconciled with the party in 1958, but East Westmoreland's very colourful FB “Slave Boy” Evans, who became the first politician to conquer an entire parish and after three terms of resignations, suspensions and other assorted misdemeanours, eventually became disenchanted with the PNP and finally resigned from the party in 1958 to form his own — Jamaica Independent Movement (JIM) — then turned his back to the Rising Sun and rode off into the sunset.

For Jamaica's entry into the West Indies Federation, a Federal Election was held in March 1958 which took on the mood and the partisan nature of a regular general election, influenced by both the PNP and the JLP. Allotted 17 seats in the Federal Parliament and to avoid confusion with its existing 32 constituencies, Jamaica decided to use her 14 parishes and three counties for those 17 'Electoral Areas', so that, for the first time on election day, voters were instructed to vote once for two candidates — their choice for the parish and their choice for the county.

In a voter turnout of only 53.6 per cent, the JLP scored a landslide victory, at a time when the PNP ruled, picking up 12 (71 per cent) of the 17 seats (including all three county areas) to the PNP's five seats, and polling 52.2 per cent of the ballots to the PNP's 44.2 per cent. Except for Kingston, St Ann, Trelawny, St James and Manchester, the JLP conquered all of the other parishes from Negril to Morant Point, but perhaps the biggest surprise was Ken Hill who had abandoned his NLP and flip-flopped to the JLP to batter the PNP's Balfour Barnswell by over 10,000 votes in the Surrey Electoral Area.

However, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), to which the JLP was aligned, lost badly in the Eastern Caribbean territories to the West Indies Federal Labour Party (WIFLP), and therefore became a part of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament in Port of Spain.

The next major change in the political life of the country came the following year, on November 11, 1957 when a new Constitution was proclaimed, heralding the beginning of Internal Self-Government for the island, and the Executive Council over which the governor presided met for the last time. With that Constitution, the office of Chief Minister was changed to “Premier” who would preside over a “Cabinet” of 10 ministers and two ministers without portfolio, replacing the former Executive Council, and reducing the title and power of the Colonial Secretary.

The new Executive body headed by Jamaica's first premier, Norman Manley, no longer consisted of nominated members, and took on the responsibilities of all Government activities, except foreign trade and defence. The first PNP 10-member Cabinet consisted of: Norman Manley (premier), Noel Nethersole (finance), Dr Ivan Lloyd (home affairs), Wills O Isaacs (trade & industry), Florizel Glasspole (education), Dr Glendon Logan (housing & local government), AGS Coombs (communications & works), CLA Stuart (health), Johnathan Grant (labour) and William Seivright (agriculture).

By mid-1959, the Constitution measure was further advanced and extended to full External Self-Government within the framework of the West Indies Federation. The Jamaica Constitution Order in Council, 1959 was actually timed to coincide with Norman Manley's 66th birthday on July 4, 1959, and on July 28 he seized the opportunity to capitalise on his constitutional gains and other achievements and called Jamaica's first early general election in which he consolidated power and cushioned his federal defeat the year before.

The 1959 General Election was the first to be conducted with an increase in the number of constituencies from the original 32 to 45. Of the 13 new seats, three were added to St Andrew, two each to St Elizabeth and St Ann, and one each to Kingston, St Mary, St Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester and Westmoreland. With 853,539 listed voters and a voter-turnout of 66.1 per cent, the PNP chalked up their first parliamentary landslide victory, polling 305,642 votes (54.2 per cent) and securing 29 seats, to the JLP's 16 seats with a poll of 247,149 (43.8 per cent).

It was the first general election without any direct Independent candidates (the only other occasion would be 1976), but there were 42 straight fights and the successful candidates gained an absolute majority in all 45 seats. However, it was also the first to be marred by charges of gerrymandering, political violence and bogus voting, as well as the first after which no parliamentary (nor parish council) by-election were held, although the regular PC Elections were held in March 1960 and again swept by the PNP.

Compared to his 1957 Cabinet, there were only minimal changes to Premier Norman Manley's post-'59 election Cabinet of ministers. Only CLA Stuart was dropped and his health portfolio went to Dr Ivan Lloyd. The only new member was Keble Munn (East-Rural St Andrew) who was assigned agriculture, formerly with William Seivwright who now had home affairs, and Vernon Arnett had already succeeded Nethersole as finance minister from soon after his by-election victory two months earlier. The other five — Wills O Isaacs, Florizel Glasspole, Dr Glendon Logan, AGS Coombs and Johnathan Grant — all retained their 1957 portfolios, while BB Coke became the first speaker to serve two consecutive terms, and Iris King (West Central Kingston) became the first woman to serve as deputy speaker.

But largely due to the 1961 referendum, which effectively removed Jamaica from the West Indies Federation and set her on the course to Independence, the 1959 to 1962 period of just two years and nine months has remained the shortest parliamentary term in Jamaica's political history, and mostly devoid of events and happenings that pervaded the other periods.

Perhaps the exceptions were the break-up between the PNP and AGS “Father” Coombs shortly before the 1962 election, and the furore between the Leons and the JLP at the 1960 party conference which resulted in the resignation of party chairman Rose Leon and her husband Arthur Leon, both of whom had served as JLP MHRs for West and West Rural St Andrew, respectively. A few months later when a group of concerned constituents visited Sir Alexander to ask him to try to patch things up with Mrs Leon, Busta only retorted: “Patch up!!? But my party nuh tear! It nuh have no holes to patch up!!”

Mostly because of Bustamante's constant antagonism towards the West Indies Federation from its very outset, and specifically of his refusal to contest the by-election for the St Thomas Electoral Area left vacant by the resignation of the JLP's Robert Lightbourne from the Federal Parliament (to successfully contest the West St Thomas seat in the '59 General Election), Norman Manley decided that it was time to put the issue to the people for them to determine Jamaica's fate in the Federation.

So in late 1960, he announced that a referendum would be held on September 19, 1961 for the people to decide. For the referendum, voters were simply asked to vote “Yes” or “No” to the question on the ballot: “Should Jamaica remain in the West Indies Federation?” Again, like the '58 Federal Election, the referendum took on the mood and partisanship of a regular general election, with the PNP assigning their symbol the “Tree” to “Yes,” and the JLP allotting their symbol the “Bell” to “No,” and in support of Jamaica's Independence.

Ironically, both the referendum and the Federal Election provided stark similarities in landslide victories for the JLP during periods when the PNP appeared so formidable. And in spite of Manley's ace achievements in attaining self-governing status for the island, as well as being the dominant political force in the second half of the 1950s with some rather bountiful victories, the Jamaican people just seemed to put more trust in Bustamante regarding any matter dealing with the Federation.

In a 61.6 per cent voter-turnout, the JLP's “No” votes scored a decisive victory in 31 (or 69 per cent) of the 45 constituencies, with a poll of 256,261 ballots (53.5 per cent), while the PNP won in the other 14 seats, polling 217,319 “Yes” votes (45.3 per cent), a victory margin of 38,942 votes which generated Jamaica's exit (Jexit, if you may!) from the “Federal Folly”. By May 31, 1962, the Federation of the West Indies ceased to exist.

As a result of the overwhelming negative vote in the referendum, Premier Norman Manley, disappointed but gracious in defeat, announced that Jamaica would formally secede from the Federation and seek to become independent on its own. Demonstrating great statesmanship, he declared that a General Election would be held as early as possible, really to determine which party would lead Jamaica into Independence.

A joint Parliamentary Committee was appointed in the third week of October 1961 “to prepare proposals for a Constitution for Jamaica to take effect on Independence”. The draft constitution was taken to London for discussion, altered and was ratified by the Jamaican Parliament on February 27, 1962. Independence Day was set for August 6, 1962, and the pre-independence General Election for April 10, 1962.

So essentially, the 1962 General Election ended up being a snap election, yet one that truly set the trend for a very successful democratic journey taken by this country over the past 55 years. By 1962, Jamaica's electorate stood at 796,540, and after weeks of hectic campaigning, the election yielded a voter-turnout of over 70 per cent for the first time and with another impressive JLP victory. Returning to power after only seven years in opposition, the JLP won 26 seats (58 per cent) and polled 288,130 votes (50 per cent), to the PNP's 19 seats (42 per cent) and 279,771 votes (48 per cent).

As a Dominion within the Commonwealth, the Constitution provided for Jamaica's full control over all internal and foreign affairs, with a Parliament of 45 elected members headed by a prime minister that automatically replaced the title of premier, and a Senate of 21 appointed members which replaced the Legislative Council. In what was to be his final election, Sir Alexander Bustamante became Jamaica's first prime minister who appointed a (first) 15-member Cabinet, with Tacius Golding, the sixth in a long line of distinguished educators, to serve as speaker of the House, and Norman Manley as the first Opposition Leader of Independent Jamaica. The last British governor, Sir Kenneth Blackburne, became our first governor general, and the first president of the Senate, Sir Clifford Campbell, was sworn in as our first native governor general later in 1962.

Prime Minister Bustamante's outstanding 15-member Cabinet on the dawn of Independence consisted of: Donald Sangster (finance), Robert Lightbourne (trade & industry), Clem Tavares (housing), Edward Seaga (development & welfare), Edwin Allen (education), Lynden Newland (labour & national insurance), John Gyles (agriculture & lands), Dr Herbert Eldemire (health), Roy McNeill (home affairs), Leopold Lynch (local government), Ken Jones (communications & works), with Sir Neville Ashenheim, Hugh Shearer and Wilton Hill from the Senate as ministers without portfolio.

On the Government side, the first 13 members appointed to the Senate in 1962 were: Sir Clifford Campbell (president), Sir Neville Ashenheim, Hugh Shearer, Wilton Hill, Hector Wynter, Gerald Mair, Dr Frederick Duhaney, Sir Frank Worrell, Esme Grant, Austin Taylor, Sydney Phillips, Joseph McPherson and Rupert Chin See. And the first eight senators on the Opposition side were: Dudley Thompson, Vivian Blake, Douglas Fletcher, Michael Manley, Dr Kenneth McNeill, Howard Cooke, Rudolph Burke and Edward VV “Dawda” Allen.

The story of Jamaica's political journey to Independence is one of perseverance, courage, determination, difficulties and the establishment of our unflinching democracy that got better with age. The journey since Independence has been interesting, adventurous, troublesome, wasteful, yet productive and creative in parts, and the resilience of Jamaicans to succeed against the odds, despite the many setbacks, is an optimistic recipe for national pride, survival and success as the journey continues.

— trodencorp@gmail.com

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