Bermuda’s MPs took time out to commemorate “the greatest change” in Bermuda’s “social and political” history, marking the 50th anniversary of the historic General Election of 1968.
Speaking at a special sitting of the House of Assembly yesterday, Walter Roberts, who represented the Progressive Labour Party in 1968, 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.”
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.
The situation was “gerrymandering at its best, giving white voters a large advantage in the electoral system”, he added.
Bermuda’s political power was “in the hands of the Front Street, white, merchant and banking crowd”, but he said change was under way.
The Bermuda Constitution Order five years later resulted in Bermuda’s first election with universal adult suffrage.
Back in those days he said Members of the Colonial Parliament met each Friday for a pay of 26 shillings in 1963 — about $1.75.
“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.”
Speaker of the House, Dennis Lister noted that candidates from both parties were now canvassing for the upcoming by-elections on June 7.
Back when Mr Roberts was elected, he said: “He had to knock on five doors — he got five key individuals in his community, and with their endorsement, he was elected”.
He also 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.
The Speaker also noted 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.
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.
Opposition Leader Jeanne Atherden, said the Bermuda Constitution Order of 1968 was 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”.
“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,” said Ms Atherden.
She also noted that her mother had been able to do “something that would have been unheard of before 1968” and run for office.
“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,” she said.
And she said 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.”
Senate President, Senator Joan Dillas-Wright said 1968 could be “considered the watershed in Bermuda’s 409-year history”.
“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.”
Former Speakers Stanley Lowe and Randy Horton saw their portraits unveiled which will hang on the walls of the Lower House, following a salute to the class of 1968.
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.
Students from various schools joined the ceremony, while other public and private schools held their own observances, in addition to the First Church of God and the Anglican Cathedral.