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BLP COLUMN: The right to vote

rhondathompson, [email protected]

BLP COLUMN: The right to vote

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Sociologists generally regard a “generation” as being an approximate 30-year period in which children grow up and in turn have their own children.
This being so, it means that the year 2011 amounts to a mere two generations or 60 years over which all Barbadians have been actually exercising the right to vote under Universal Adult Suffrage, or the right to cast ballots determined mainly by having reached a certain specified age.
Such a right would have been legally established in 1950 with the passing in Parliament of the Representation of the People Act. Actual voting under this new system was first practised in the 1951 general election.
The coming of Universal Adult Suffrage represented a genuine political and social revolution for the Barbadian society which was still fighting to wrench itself from the suppressive clutches of the still powerful mercantile and plantation elites of the then colony.
For under the old and odious system, only a narrow set of Barbadians who held property of a certain value or earned income of a specific level could vote. The undemocratic nature of this arrangement was further reinforced with the realisation that these qualifications were decided upon by the very same people who held them.
The objective behind this horrendous political and social system was for the ruling elite to maintain its repressive stranglehold over the country, fighting hard to push back the just demands by the expanding progressive forces for the democratization of Barbados.
This demand for “one man, one vote” summarised and exemplified the calls by the anti-conservative elements for recognition in law of the principle that all persons, regardless of colour or of economic or social class, were of equal intrinsic human value. This brigade of political militants was led by (Sir) Grantley Adams, suitably and popularily dubbed “Moses” and “The Father of Democracy”.
In a time when it is understandable that after 60 years the public has come to take Universal Adult Suffrage for granted, younger Barbadians might not appreciate what the society was like with a highly restrictive franchise and how far we have been able to advance since that handicap was abolished. Before the right to vote under “one man, one vote” came into being in law and practice, only persons constituting a very exclusive group of property owners and income earners had the right to influence the affairs of the island.
But thanks to the relentless and courageous battle by the Grantley Adams-led brigade, this sacred right to vote was accorded to all Barbadians with the only qualification generally, being reaching a certain age, unless persons were imprisoned . . . .
Being able to vote in this manner accelerated the drive to place control of affairs of state in the hand of persons directly and democratically elected by the public and representing mass-based political parties expressing the will of the people.
Universal Adult Suffrage was the foundation for the positive social, economic and political advancement that Barbadians have subsequently come to enjoy from that time on.
• Beresford Leon Padmore is a pseudonym for the Barbados Labour Party.