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Continued reflections on the advent of adult suffrage

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One can imagine what the first elections under Adult Suffrage would have meant for the working people who were for the first time given an opportunity to vote.{{more}} There was a lot of effort put into explaining what was to be done, even teaching persons to mark an X had enormous significance. This is where symbols became very important because the society was still one with a large number of illiterates and it was easier to get them to identify with a symbol rather than with the name of the party. Although symbols are still used today, and continue to be important, they have been replaced by T-shirts, symbols in another way of the parties. The working people’s hopes soared and they felt they were beginning to see the dawn of a new day when through the political kingdom they would be able to fulfil their hopes and realise their dreams. While the focus was on the political kingdom, advocacy on the estates by trade unions was still needed and still considered important. This is perhaps where the St.Vincent Workingmen’s Association failed, for even though they spearheaded the development of workers organisations and trade unions, they appeared not to have put as much effort into it as was needed.

I had indicated in an earlier article that in 1949 the establishment of village and town councils began. The Kingstown Board had been in existence before this, and in 1951, in the wake of the first general elections under Adult Suffrage, the Kingstown Town Board elections of December acquired some significance. Sixteen persons were nominated to contest those elections. Eight of them were identified by the Vincentian newspaper as being put up by a new party called the Peoples Progressive Party. They were Leroy Adams, Arthur Connell, Ebenezer Duncan, George McIntosh, George Lewis, C.McRichards, R.I Samuel and Edward Henry Wilson. The others were contesting as independents. They were H.A Davis, R. DaBreo, B.R James, R.N Eustace (the father of the Leader of the Opposition), H. DaSilva, Gabriel Forde, S.O Jack and Milton Cato. There was a great deal of mystery about the new party because after the announcement about its slate of candidates, nothing further was heard about it. In fact, later when I spoke to Arthur Connell about this, he could not recall ever having been associated with such a party. Some significance should be attached to Milton Cato’s name since he was to appear later as the Leader of the Labour Party and our first Premier and Prime Minister. It was expected or hoped that he would have run for the Eight Army in 1951 in the North Windward constituency. This, however, did not happen.

Although only 500 of 1200 registered electors cast their ballots, the election was very keen. The Vincentian newspaper of December 8, 1951, gives us a picture of what happened on that day; “All the candidates with one or two exceptions gathered at the entrance of the Council Chamber where the voting took place and in a friendly way jostled with each other to take hold of the arm of each elector as he came upstairs and usher him to the polling desk to receive his ballot papers.” The winners were Milton Cato, George McIntosh, H.A Davis, S.O Jack, G. Lewis, H.Wilson, Arthur Connell and R.N Eustace.

The next general elections were in 1954. The only organised party then was the Peoples Political Party of Ebenezer Joshua that was formed after a split within the Eight Army. Contesting for that new party were Ebenezer Joshua, Edmund Joachim, Herman Young, Joseph Conrad Joshua, Conrad Forbes, Conrad Lewis, Ebenezer Griffith and Gabriel Forde. The nominees for the elections were: North Leeward- Edmund Joachim and Samuel Slater; South Leeward- Herman Young and St.Clair Bonadie; Kingstown- Rudolph Baynes, Joseph Conrad Joshua and George McIntosh; South Windward- Levi Latham, William Falby, Chieftan McDowall, Alban Radix and Conrad Lewis; St.George- Julian Baynes, Afflix Haynes, Conrad Forbes and Wilbert Phillips; Central Windward- George Charles, Ebenezer Griffith, Leopold Martin, St.Aubyn Cato and Maurice Browne; North Windward- Ebenezer Joshua and Noel Baynes; The Grenadines- Clive Tannis, Cyril Mitchell, Gabriel Forde and Floris Simmons.

The results showed the winners to be: North Leeward Edmund Joachim (winning by 50 votes); South Leeward- Herman Young; Kingstown- Rudolph Baynes; St.George – Julian Baynes; South Windward- Levi Latham who had first entered the Legislative Council in a bye-election for the seat held in 1951 by Evans Morgan; Central Windward- George Charles; North Windward- Ebenezer Joshua and the Grenadines- Clive Tannis. The Peoples Political Party saw three of their members elected- Joshua, Joachim and Young. An election petition was filed against Joachim’s victory that resulted in a bye-election held on November 22, 1954, and had Slater reversing the result of the general election by winning that seat. In 1957, when the next elections were held, there were three parties, the Peoples Political Party, the Labour Party and the Peoples Liberation Movement.

Today we are reflecting on 60 years since Adult Suffrage. What does it mean to us today? In fact, do many of our young people realise the significance of Adult Suffrage? I did not see Sir James Mitchell’s interview with Jerry George, but one of the things which has come out is about political bribery. Sir James is quoted by the News newspaper as saying, “…How do you break up a government with a one-seat majority? In 1966 we broke up the one, I was in Labour Party, we broke up the one-seat majority by bribing Sam Slater with $50,000.” I am not sure why after so many years Sir James is making that confession. What was the point he wanted to make? Was he simply depicting this as part of our political reality? Is it something he will recommend today or is it something with the benefit of hindsight that he is appalled about? Having not seen the interview and looked at the body language and the manner in which it was said, I am not sure how we are expected to take that today. It is really a sad commentary on what we have done to hold on to power. What is being in power or parliament all about? Is it to satisfy egos, is it about service? Or is it just about getting material rewards?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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