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BLP COLUMN: Mass voting breakthrough

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

BLP COLUMN: Mass voting breakthrough

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BLP legacy: UDC and RDC repaired 440 houses and built 197 for the elderly; established Alternate Care Of Elderly Programme using private nursing homes; and the advice of the Committee On Ageing led to the completion of a Green Paper On The Elderly.
Sixty years ago, on December 13, 1951, the masses of Barbados exercised a right that was forever to change Barbados for the better when, qualified only by having reached age 21, they voted in the first Universal Adult Suffrage election. This momentous event was commemorated by a multi-faith service held by the BLP at Grantley Adams Memorial School, and featured a stimulating sermon by Canon Dr Noel Titus, retired eminent Anglican cleric and trained historian.
Among other things, he said: “To be specific, there would not have been any mandate from the people for Independence to be pursued, unless they were able to vote for their representatives and for what they wanted of them. The extension of the suffrage had made it possible for those chosen as representatives of the people to enunciate the real needs of the people and to set in train those social developments that might not otherwise have come to pass for some time yet.”
“Under the old system, the general population had very little choice, given the limited franchise. The wider suffrage permitted the people greater choice of those whom they wished to have as their representatives. Such choice enabled them, ironically, to cast a historic vote in December 1961 when they removed from office those who had made it possible for them to vote. And they have changed regimes regularly ever since.”
“A major consideration in the proposed change was the right to become a member of the House of Assembly, representing one of the constituencies. The mover and seconder of the bill were concerned to remove what they considered a greater disability than the lack of a vote: and that was the disability of not being able to participate in the decision-making process.”  
“This may be regarded as the final step in the process of Emancipation, part of which involved preparing the ex-slaves for responsible citizenship. Some persons sought to have a separate qualification for membership of the House, one of them for a while favouring a literacy test.”
“Another thing revealed in the debate was a concern about the lack of literacy of the population. The address of Sir Grantley Adams tackled head-on the opposition to granting the vote to illiterate persons. He showed illiteracy to be the result of family circumstances: the need of the very poor to assist with the financial support of their families. According to him, this resulted in many persons of school being kept of home.”
“The proposed change said that no one should ever be considered not good enough, either to vote or to sit in the parliament of this country, unless disqualified by criminality or insanity. It was a foundation for a worthwhile superstructure.
For all these reasons, I repeat that what was done 60 years ago is worthy of national recognition. It was part of a process of self-recognition sweeping across the region leading to civil and political developments in different territories.”