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The Classics

The vote that changed Jamaica’s future forever

Published:Thursday | February 25, 2021 | 10:05 PMThe Gleaner Archives

There are those who say the vote to move away from the West Indies Federation was a backward step for Jamaica and the Caribbean and there are those who believe so strongly in the strength of being Jamaican, that going it alone is always the best choice. Wherever you stood on the issue, there is no questioning the fact that the day more than a quarter of a million Jamaicans said ‘no’, the political, social, and economic landscape of the island changed forever.

Published September 20, 1961

The Daily Gleaner



  • Referendum balloting-60.44 of electorate


  • NO - 251,935
  • YES - 216,400
  • LEAD - 35,535


THE ELECTORATE of Jamaica yesterday answered the referendum question with a decisive "No". Bells were rung throughout Jamaica from Negril Point to Morant Point.

The people had been asked to answer the question: Should Jamaica remain in the Federation of the West Indies?

Last night the count of 4,614 boxes showed that 251,935 persons voted “No” and 216,400 persons voted “Yes”, a clear majority of 35,535.

Bus clear as the answer was from those who voted yesterday; a clearer picture of the mind of the Jamaican people was shown in the final that of Jamaica’s 14 parishes, only four; Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Ann and Manchester voted in the majority for confirmed participation in the Federation, and of Jamaica’s 45 constituencies, 31 voted in favour of Jamaica’s withdrawal from the Federation and 14 voted in favour, a bigger margin that the PNP’s victory over the JLP in 1959.

The record poll, which had been expected by many political observers, did not materialise, although the poll was much larger than the poll in 1958 when the JLP won 12 of Jamaica’s 17 seats in the Federal House of Representatives in a 53-percent poll.


 The bulk of the people voting "Yes", other than in the parish of St Ann, were from the urban areas of Jamaica, with Kingston and St Andrew giving a lead to the PNP, but the lead was not sufficient to offset the avalanche of "No’s" which came in from the rural areas.

The result was that within one hour after the counting of the votes had got underway, while PNP partisans were giving the victory to the PNP on the basis of the Corporate Area returns, knowledgeable observers were able to predict a definite victory for the "No’s".

The "Yes" answers reached their peak at 6.55 pm. After that if fell swiftly, and by 7.30 the "No" answers had taken over the lead by 5,348 votes and this lead was never relinquished. The final box counts {from West St Catherine) reached Kingston at 11.40 pm.

When the referendum question was negative the Hon. Norman Manley, Q.C., Premier of Jamaica and principal protagonist of continued participation in the Federation declared "The people have decided finally.”

 Sir Alexander Bustamante, Leader of the Opposition and principal antagonist of continued participation in the Federation declared: "We told the people the truth about the dangers of Federation and they accepted it.”

There was jubilation in JLP and PPP camps; there was subdued reassessment in PNP circles.

Voting started out yesterday morning very slowly. Indeed, it was so slow that up to 11 o'clock only a minority of voters had cast votes in any of the island's 4,000-odd polling stations. Prospects of an unprecedented poll dimmed m the face of this early apathy of the island's voters, and this was particularly marked in the Corporate Area.

But after, 11 o'clock, things began to pick up and voters began to turnout in areas where it appeared to political observers that it would do the pro-Federationists no good. In fact, even in the slow polling of the Corporate Ares yesterday it was marked that the heaviest polling in the early hours were to Western Kingston and South-West St Andrew

By 4 o'clock-the rural areas had passed the Corporate Area far in the percentages of polling, and it was only a last-minute surge of voters in certain constituencies which brought the percentage at Corporate Area polling up to the level of the rural constituencies.

Incidents were few and far between during the actual period of polling. It was after the poll results that the demonstrations started which were in the Corporate Area and police squads tried to move demonstrations off the streets. In the island’s main capitals, anti-federation supporters erupted into the streets, ringing bells, shouting cries of “Freedom”.

Just a few

In most cases, the police removed the demonstrators quickly off the main streets, but in odd corners of the city and in some rural town, bells continued to be rung and children who had no bells beat with sticks and stones in the tin-cans making a tintinnabulation in accompaniment to the victory shouts of their elders.

At Drumblair, the home of Premier, the Hon. Norman Manley, Q.C., the atmosphere was subdued when the trend of the referendum became a steady final “No”. When it was clear that, so far as the referendum was concerned, all was lost Mr. Manley went into a huddle with his Ministers who were present. They were the Hon. Wills O. Isaacs, the Hon. William Seivright, the Hon. Keble Munn and the Hon. Florizel Glasspole.

At Tucker Avenue, Sir Alexander Bustamante, surrounded by most of his principal lieutenants, was in high spirits and there was an impromptu celebration party.

And since the outcome of the referendum was known, without doubt, by 8 o’clock and police vigilance was at peak, the night petered out with just a few incidents of violence reported.

The Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. O. M. Royes, decided to close down at 10 o’clock, when only two constituencies’ preliminary final counts had not come in.

“It is not really patting ourselves on the back”, he said, “but I would say we have broken all previous records for the results to come in the machinery working so smoothly. As far as the voting and the coming in of the results are concerned we have done our part.”

Mr. Royes was assisted at his office last night by his entire staff, led by Mr. E. M. Lampart, Assistant Chief Electoral Officer.