The march to Majority Rule, pt. 4
By PHILIP C. GALANIS
“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.” - Senator Edward M. Kennedy
As we noted in the first three parts of this series, the march to Majority Rule in The Bahamas can be characterized by two words: Sustained struggle.
Earlier this month, we celebrated the first public holiday to commemorate the day that Majority Rule came to The Bahamas on January 10, 1967. It was a life-changing event that catapulted the lives of many thousands to unimaginable heights. We began the march to Majority Rule with the discovery of these islands by the Europeans in 1492 and the subsequent accelerated population growth, aided as much by the American Loyalists who sought sanctuary here following the American Revolution, as by the trans-Atlantic slave trade which engendered numerous attempts by those slaves for freedom from their masters.
We also reviewed how the Burma Road Riot, Bahamians who were “on the Contract” and participants in the General Strike helped to create the framework for the attainment of Majority Rule.
In the final installment of this series, we will continue to Consider This… what were some of the major final milestones that contributed to the centuries-long march to Majority Rule?
The Women’s Suffrage Movement
The 1950s was a decade of tremendous activism by Bahamian women who were deprived of many of the benefits of citizenship. Women could not vote, could not be elected to Parliament, and could not serve on juries, on public boards, as justices of the peace or in many of the established institutions in the colony. Much has been documented about the women who led the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and the leading “Suffragettes” included Mary Ingraham, Eugenia Lockhart, Georgiana Symonette, Mabel Walker and Althea Mortimer. The Suffragettes petitioned Parliament for the right to vote and were largely supported in their efforts by the Progressive Liberal Party.
Through Doris Johnson, the Suffragettes asked permission to address members of the House of Assembly in 1959, which was refused. However, Magistrate Maxwell Thompson allowed them to use the Magistrate’s Court for their presentation. The Suffragettes’ activism also included a petition to the governor of the colony to change the law for universal suffrage, which, having failed, resulted in them (along with Henry Taylor, then chairman of the PLP) travelling to London to seek assistance from the British government.
The movement sent another petition to the government of the Bahama Islands in 1960 which was also rejected. The PLP took up the cause and held rallies in Nassau and the Out Islands. Following a relentless, focused and sustained struggle, on February 23, 1961 Parliament passed a bill, which came into effect on June 30, 1962, to allow women to vote and to serve in Parliament. Registration of women immediately followed and on Monday, November 27, 1962, women voted in The Bahamas for the first time. That election marked a tectonic shift in the body politic.
The general election of 1962
The general elections of 1962 were historic because it was the first general election in which women voted, the first time that the property and company votes were not allowed to vote and an election in which the PLP actually polled a majority of votes cast although it won significantly fewer seats than the incumbent United Bahamian Party (UBP). In that election, the PLP polled 32,261 votes or approximately 44 percent, winning only eight seats, compared to the UBP which polled 26,500 votes or 36 percent, but winning 18 seats. The Labour Party polled 3,049 votes which represented four percent, winning only one seat.
Several reasons were given for the PLP’s defeat, notwithstanding its decisive plurality. Clearly there was considerable gerrymandering of seats, allocating a larger number to the Out Islands where it was much easier for the governing party to influence voting behavior by economic threats and political intimidation. In addition, many voters were still out of the colony “on the contract” and, finally, there was a level of trepidation and concern about the ability of black government to govern and maintain the level of political and economic stability to which the colony had become accustomed. The victory by the UBP resulted in deep-seated racial polarization for the next five years.
The next five years would witness considerably greater political activism in anticipation of the general elections in 1967. The PLP organized and orchestrated its activities with pin-point precision to maximize its political agenda. On February 4, 1965, during the debate on the report of the Constituencies Commission to which the PLP objected, Milo Butler and Arthur D. Hanna, both PLP members of the House of Assembly, were named and ejected from the House when they refused to take their seats after having exhausted their 15 minute time limit.
Several months later, on April 27, 1965, Lynden Pindling, then leader of the opposition, stated that Premier Symonette and his government appeared to be intransigent on the issue of boundary changes and, given the gerrymandering experience of the 1962 general elections, determined that more radical recourse was required. Regarding the government’s intransigence, Pindling stated that he could have “no part in it” and picking up the mace (the symbol of the authority of the House), said that “the mace is supposed to belong to the people of the country and the people are outside”. He then threw the mace through the second-floor window to the people below. Milo Butler followed Pindling’s lead by tossing the hour glass, which was used to time speeches, out of the window.
That event, which came to be known as Black Tuesday, stirred the emotions of the people, so much so that the police had to be called to quell the fervor that had been excited by Pindling who left the House to join the people outside.
Over the next two years, the PLP accelerated its political activity including the appeal to the United Nations Committee on colonialism, a boycott of the House of Assembly and the enlistment of support from noted American freedom fighters and celebrities, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. The PLP also galvanized the support of the unions, churches, and lodges. The stage was set for the general elections of 1967.
General election of 1967
In addition to the domestic political activism that preceded the elections of 1967, the PLP was successful in exploiting the specter of corruption and conflicts of interest by the UBP government which arose out of several Wall St. Journal articles late in 1966 which alleged the involvement of underworld figures in the casinos in Freeport. Lynden Pindling and Paul Adderley called for a Royal Commission to investigate these allegations and Sir Roland Symonette, the premier, responded by calling a snap general election for January 10, 1967, over 10 months before an election was due.
When the votes were counted, there was a tie: 18 seats for the incumbent UBP and 18 for the PLP with two additional seats: one for an independent, Alvin Braynen, and one for the Labour Party’s Randol Fawkes. The stage was set for both parties to invite the two individuals to break the tie. Randol Fawkes, who was more closely aligned with the PLP, threw his support behind the PLP. The story is told that Mr. Braynen had wanted to be the speaker of the House of Assembly but was snubbed by the UBP in 1962, just five years earlier. So when Pindling called Braynen to offer him the speakership, Pindling began the conversation with “Hello, Mr. Speaker,” to which Braynen responded: “Hello, Mr. Premier”. And the rest is history. The PLP, now with 20 seats in its voting block, formed the first majority rule government, with Pindling as the nation’s premier, going on to be prime minister for the next 25 years. Fawkes became the minister of labour and Braynen served his remaining years in Parliament as speaker of the House of Assembly.
The long march to Majority Rule in The Bahamas was a sustained struggle that started with Pompey and culminated with Pindling. Six years later, the Colony of the Bahama Islands joined the community of nations and became the independent Commonwealth of The Bahamas. The sustained struggle that marked the way to a majority-ruled, independent nation still continues as Bahamians now engage in a journey towards the economic empowerment and freedom that Pindling identified as the final struggle in the centuries-long voyage from enslavement to full freedom for generations to come.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 27, 2014