The Struggle to Majority Rule

The event that brought the PLP to its position of domination started on November 23, 1953, with the formation of the party by the late Sir Henry Taylor, Cyril St. John Stevenson, M.V.O., KM.; and William Cartwright.

At the time, Sir Henry, who later became the country’s third Bahamian Governor General, and Mr. Cartwright, were members of the House of Assembly, representing the Long Island and Cat Island constituencies respectively.

The formation of the PLP was a first for The Bahamas because it introduced party politics. The majority group in the House of Assembly, popularly known as the Bay Street Boys, later form the United Bahamian Party led by the late Sir Roland Symonette, Kt., and the late Sir Stafford Sands C.B.E.,Kt.

On June 8th, 1956, the first step towards majority rule was made when six members of the PLP were returned as members of the House of Assembly under r thleadership of the late Sir Lynden Pindling. They were Sir Lynden, the late Sir Milo Butler, who became the first Bahamian Governor General, Mr. Cyril St. John Stevenson, Mr. Sammie Issacs, the late Clarence A. Bain and the late Sir Randol Fawkes father of the labour movement in The Bahamas.

Sir Lynden and Sir Randol represented the Southern District of New Providence, Mr. Issacs, the Eastern District, Sir Milo, the Western District and Mr. Bain and Mr. Stevenson, Andros.

The principle of majority rule has been one for which the PLP fought long and hard. In the early years of the party, one of it objectives was to see that there was implemented with the greatest possible dispatch a positive programme of preparedness by which Bahamians could be trained to assume and manage their own affairs at all levels.

In October 1956, the PLP pleaded the cause of the Bahamian people in London on the doorsteps of the Colonial Office. At that time, only a few men, those who owned land, could vote. In addition, a man could vote in as many placed as he owned land, every company that owned land could vote, no woman could vote, and 21 years was the qualifying age. The PLP sought to change this desperate state of affairs and the UBP fought them every inch of the way. The UBP even sent a powerful delegation to London seeking full executive authority to run the affairs of the country.

The 1958 general strike led by Sir Randol Fawkes, Sir Clifford Darling, who later became the Governor General of The Bahamas, and other labour leaders, paralyzed the country for 19 days and forced the visit that year of Allan Lennox Boyd, then Secretary of the Colonies.

He ordered the first constitutional steps towards majority rule, including the right of every male to vote the abolition of the company vote the reduction of the unlimited plural to two, and the increase in the number of seats in New Providence by four.

Between 1959 and 1961, the Women’s Suffrage Movement took up the cause of votes for women and in July 1961, the Votes for Women Act became law. Some of the heroes of that struggle were the late Doris Johnson, Bertha Issacs, the late Eugenia Lockhart and the late Georgina K. Symonette, all PLPs.

In the general elections of 1962, the PLP captured 44 percent of the total votes but won only eight seats, while the UBP received 36.6 percent of the total votes yet won 57.6 percent of the representation in the House of Assembly.

The event that is believed to be the most significant in the struggle for majority rule occurred on April 27, 1965, nwo known as Black Tuesday. Sir Lynden, then Leader of the Opposition, during a heated debate over the issue of boundaries but in a carefully orchestrated move, threw the Mace, the Speaker’s symbol of authority, out of the window of the House of Assembly. The act led to the defection of three MPs from the PLP who formed the National Democratic Party (NDP), led by Paul L. Adderley, Orville Turnquest and Spurgen Bethel. However the PLP emerged stronger as the party’s popular support increased heading into the general elections of January 10, 1967. Both the PLP and the UBP won 18 seats and the remaining two seats went to Randol Fawkes of the Labour Party and Alvin Braynen, a white Independent.

Sir Randol and Sir Alvin threw their support behind the PLP and Sir Lynden was asked to form a government by British governor Sir Ralph Grey, thus ushering in majority rule. Sir Randol was made Minister of Labour and Welfare in the first PLP Cabinet and Sir Alvin became Speaker of the House of Assembly.

the death of Uriah McPhee, a PLP Member of Parliament in February 1968 forced another general election and the PLP won 29 of the 38 seats in the House of Assembly. However, the attainment of majority rule did not automatically end the struggle to improve the lot of the Bahamian people.

In 1968, an attempt by the PLP government to reduce the qualifying age of voters from 21 to 18 years was killed in the Senate.

In 1969, with a new Constitution, which rearranged the composition of the Senate, the PLP government succeeded in having the voting age reduced to 18 years.

Upon defeating the white oligarchy, led by the UBP that had been entrenched for three centuries, Sir Lynden and the PLP promised the Bahamian people a “Square Deal”. The PLP government began the dynamic thrust for educational change in The Bahamas by making secondary education available to all Bahamians in 1967. This was key to removing the scales of ignorance from eyes of a people through a massive committment to educate. The late Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield, one of the members of the first majority rule Cabinet, was given the task to improve and Bahamianize the educational system.

Huge capital expenditures were made to multiply and upgrade primary and secondary schools, to institute technical education and train new Bahamian teachers. The government’s White Paper on Education provided for the implementation of broad parameter involving teachers, parents and students, and was supportive of the high ideals with the government advocated – self help, equality, the dignity of labour and service responsibility and co-operation.

The establishment fo the PLP government also brought about a new outlook on economic development. The objective was directed towards opening up greater economic and social opportunities for the citizens of The Bahamas and for greater flecibility of the economy. One of the major battles to achieve this objective was making Freeport Grand Bahama, safe and desirable for all Bahamians.

During the 1970s, the PLP government launched the “Social Revolution,” which included the introduction of the National Insurance Scheme, a system of social security, which is continuing with a massive low cost housing programme.

The PLP government also moved to improve the delivery of health care by adding an extension to the Princess Margaret Hospital, upgrading and building new polyclinics throughout New Providence and the Family Islands.

There were many other achievements and milestones attained by the PLP government, including the spectacular growth of tourism and the banking and finance sectors and the establishment of a national flag carrier and the country as a major ship registration centre. But, the single greatest achievement of the PLP government was on July 10, 1973, when the Union Jack was lowered and the aquamarine, gold and black Bahamian Flag was raised at the handing over the instrument of Independence at Clifford Park. That was truly when Bahamians began to step to the top posts in the most important offices in the land.

Sir Milo Butler, one of the national heroes became became the first Bahamian Governor General, representing The Queen as Head of State. Sir Lynden became the first Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. However, some of the founding fathers did not live to see that glorious day, including the late Clarence A. Bain and Uriah McPhee.