MPs honour class of ’68’
A veteran former MP and member of the “class of ‘68” remembered “the greatest change in the social and political make-up of Bermuda” as the island marked the 50th anniversary of the historic General Election of 1968.
Walter Roberts, who represented the Progressive Labour Party in the parliamentary intake of 1968, was speaking at a special sitting of Parliament in the House of Assembly yesterday to mark the 50th anniversary of universal adult suffrage in Bermuda.
Mr Roberts told Parliament: “I was first elected in 1963, under some dastardly, restrictive, oligarchical electoral rules.
“The elector had to be at least 25 years old.
“If the elector had land worth at least £60, or approximately $150, he had two votes for each constituency that he owned land in.”
Mr Roberts, elected as an independent in 1963 like most of that year’s intake, said that anyone who owned enough land could vote in every constituency on the island.
He added the situation was “gerrymandering at its best, giving white voters a large advantage in the electoral system”.
Mr Roberts said political power was “in the hands of the Front Street, white, merchant and banking crowd” — but that change was under way.
The Bermuda Constitution Order five years later resulted in Bermuda’s first election with universal adult suffrage.
Mr Roberts told the gathering that the then Members of the Colonial Parliament met each Friday for a pay of 26 shillings in 1963 — about $1.75.
He added: “If you were absent, you were not paid. Needless to say, I attended every session.
“It was supposed to be enough for lunch — the power elite looked after their membership in other ways.”
Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House, told Parliament that both parties were now canvassing in two constituencies for the by-elections on June 7.
He said that when Mr Roberts was elected in 1963 “he had to knock on five doors — he got five key individuals in his community, and with their endorsement, he was elected”.
The Speaker welcomed other veteran parliamentarians of 1968 — Stanley Morton, Stanley Lowe, CV “Jim” Woolridge and Bill Cox.
Arthur Hodgson, the last remaining member of the 1968 Senate and later a long-serving MP, also attended.
By the Speaker’s chair was a copy of the report from the 1966 constitutional conference in London that led to the changes of 1968.
The Speaker said that the island had seen six political parties since 1968 — the PLP, the United Bermuda Party, the Bermuda Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, and the One Bermuda Alliance, while Stuart Hayward was the only MP elected as an independent.
Mr Lister said there were 14 heads of Government over the same period, starting with Sir Henry Tucker, under the title of Government Leader.
The UBP’s ET Richards was the first to hold the title of premier.
Parliament has since had a total of 172 MPs pass through its doors and nine Speakers.
Jeanne Atherden, Leader of the Opposition, told the gathering that the Bermuda Constitution Order of 1968 had been composed by “a team of people including Dame Lois Browne-Evans and Sir Henry Tucker, working together to craft and agree on the content of this order”.
She said: “They took universal adult suffrage across the finish line” which was “a step towards a better Bermuda” that “paved the way from a Bermuda ruled by a landed gentry to a democracy where adult citizens had the right to elect the Government to represent them”.
Ms Atherden added that her mother had been able to do “something that would have been unheard of before 1968” and run for office.
She said: “She didn’t expect to get elected, but given the right and the opportunity to improve things on the island, she felt she had a responsibility to do so.”
Ms Atherden added that the island still had further to go to secure greater inclusion in its electoral system.
But she said: “The only impossible step is the one you never take.”
Joan Dillas-Wright, the president of the Senate, said that 1968 could be “considered the watershed in Bermuda’s 409-year history”.
She added: “The advent of true adult suffrage is something many throughout the world have striven for over the years.
“Bermuda can be proud of the part it has played in seeing this come to fruition.”
After a salute to the class of 1968, former Speakers Stanley Lowe and Randy Horton were given pride of place as the portraits which will hang on the walls of the House of Assembly were unveiled.
Plaques were also unveiled at three buildings that have been used as polling stations since 1968: Dalton E. Tucker Primary School, the Horticultural Hall at the Botanical Gardens, and Francis Patton Primary School.
Meanwhile, at City Hall, a symbolic “vote of thanks” was held with Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, paying tribute to the trailblazers in voting rights — including the labour movement, the Progressive Group and the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage.
Gerald and Izola Harvey of the Progressive Group cast ballots, followed by activist Eva Hodgson and members of the Senate, ministers and former premiers, as well as Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, and the Right Reverend Nicholas Dill.
Students from various schools joined the ceremony, and more public and private schools held their own observances this week, as well as the First Church of God and the Anglican Cathedral casting ballots of thanks this Sunday.
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