THE EVENTS leading up to Jamaica's independence moved at a fast pace between 1958 and 1962. The West Indies Federation, formed on January 3, 1958, had raised many questions in the minds of Jamaicans. First of all, the choice of Chaguaramas in Trinidad as the capital site had not gone down well on our side. Further, both Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante had declined to run for a seat in the West Indies Parliament. The absence of these two leaders suggested a lack of commitment to the federation, although Manley continued to champion its cause.
Then came Bustamante's dramatic announcement on the night of May 30, 1960, that he was recalling the Jamaican members of his party from Trinidad.
Bustamante's withdrawal was a signal that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was now determined to oppose federation on all fronts. Stung by this move, Premier Manley announced the next day that he would call a referendum for the people to decide.
The referendum was held on September 19, 1961, and the JLP captured 54 per cent of the vote. There was no question that having voted to secede, Jamaica would now seek independence outside of the federation. And there was no question that an election would have to be held to determine which party would lead the country into independence.
Events continued to move at an even faster pace. The two leaders led a joint delegation to England in February 1962, to discuss the new Constitution and to set the date, August 6, for independence. The JLP and People's National Party (PNP) worked in unison during the conference, prompting Bustamante to quip in his final speech, "I am happy that Mr Manley and I were able to work as if there was only one party - the Jamaica Labour Party." Much laughter all around.
The election date, April 10, was announced by Manley immediately following the conference.
The campaign was officially launched on the tarmac of the Montego Bay Airport on February 12, when the two leaders returned to Jamaica on separate British Overseas Airways Corporation flights.
Jamaica was once again plunged into election fever, this marking the fifth time in eight years that the country was going to the polls.
Manley took off from the airport on a motorcade to Charles Square and then through all the major towns, en route to a monster meeting at Kingston Race Course that evening.
The JLP wound up a similar motorcade with a giant meeting at Coronation Market the following day.
The leaders put everything they had into the eight-week campaign. The PNP urged Jamaicans to "vote for the man with the plan", in reference to Manley's successful development programmes that he had introduced since coming to power in 1955. The party also campaigned on its record of championing a vision for independence since the early days of the political movement in Jamaica, and portrayed Manley as the 'Father of the Nation'.
The JLP countered with their slogan, 'the party with the programme', presenting Bustamante as the hero who had pulled the country out of an unpopular union. Night after night, the JLP crowds would chant, "Let eye water fall on the man with the plan, Busta come back again."
This was the election where a third party made its debut, with Millard Johnson's People's Progressive Party fielding 18 candidates running on a Black Nationalist slate. They all lost their deposits. The election also saw three future prime ministers in the hustings: Clem Tavares, who acted as prime minister when Donald Sangster became ill in 1967; Sangster himself who acted for Busta as PM 1965-67, and who won the election as JLP leader in 1967; and Edward Seaga, who took on 'Burning Spear' Dudley Thompson in Western Kingston and went on to serve a record 45 years in Parliament.
By April 5, the election race seemed headed for a photo finish. The parties were wrapping up their campaigns. Busta was being serenaded in Spanish Town as the comeback kid, and Manley was dancing to the singing of some lively party tunes in Highgate. And two Russian ships were nosing their way from the Atlantic into the Kingston Harbour. The exciting last lap was about to begin.
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