APPOINTMENT OF THE WADDINGTON COMMISSION
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The formation of the PPP in 1950 coincided with the anticipated appointment of the Constitutional Commission. On the 25 August 1948 the Legislative Council had debated the question of adult suffrage. Dr. Jagan, the only member of the Political Affairs Committee in the Council, took up the cudgel of the struggle for the vote for all citizens and spoke vigorously in support of it. However, the vote was defeated and his was the only vote of support for the motion. The representatives of the privileged plus leading lights in the League of Coloured Peoples - John Carter, Dr. Gonzales, Dr. Nicholson and Rudy Kendall - all voted against.
On the 16 December 1948, the Governor in his address to the Legislative Council announced that a Commission would be appointed "shortly" to examine the possibility of granting greater participation of Guyanese in governing the country. Even earlier, in 1941, the Franchise Commission which visited the colony had come close to granting universal adult suffrage after it had received a number of petitions which called for the removal of all property, income and literacy qualifications for the voting population.
Public meetings by the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) promoting constitutional change hastened the appointment of the Commission. The PAC Bulletin of the 17 December 1948 carried a strong appeal to "change the constitution" and calling for the introduction of universal adult suffrage. The Women's Political and Economic Organisation (WPEO) also took up the call for adult suffrage with special reference to women's exclusion from the vote. Then in April 1950, the PPP, as a new political party, issued its first call for constitutional reform and self-government.
On the 8 October 1950, the Commission comprising of Sir E.J. Waddington as Chairman and Dr. Rita Hinden and Professor Vincent Harlow as Members, was finally appointed "to review the franchise, the composition of the legislature and of the Executive Council . . . . and to make recommendations".
In December 1950, two months after the Waddington Commission was appointed, the PPP began circulating a petition for a "Free Constitution". The December 1950 issue of Thunder declared that a new spirit was sweeping the country, and added: "In all parts of this country of ours, men and women, students and young people are struggling to free themselves of the chains that bind them, and of the cultural tyranny that stunts their growth."
This petition was circulating and gathering thousands of signatures when the members of the Commission arrived in Guyana on the 15 December 1950.
The PPP presented both written and oral evidence to the Commission. Oral submission was made on the 2 February 1951 by a delegation made up of Cheddi Jagan, Forbes Burnham, Aubrey Fraser, Clinton Wong and Janet Jagan. Some other individuals and political, trade unions and community groups also made recommendations orally and in writing.
A number of pro-colonialist individuals and groups also submitted evidence to the Commission, and proposed measures which were in total support of colonial rule. These organizations included the political arm of the Roman Catholic Church, The Sword of the Spirit, which vehemently opposed the introduction of universal adult suffrage
In its memorandum submitted earlier to the Commission, the PPP proposed that the Guyanese people should be allowed to frame their own constitution by the election of a constituent assembly on the basis of adult suffrage. It demanded that any future constitution must allow full internal self-government with a unicameral legislature fully elected under universal adult suffrage without any literacy qualifications. The Executive Council, the PPP insisted, must be presided over by the Prime Minister and should consist of eight other Ministers. The Governor's position was to be that of a titular head of state with no veto, and he should act on the advice of the elected Ministers. However, he was to hold reserve powers limited to defence and external affairs.
Among other demands by the PPP were that the Speaker should be elected by and from the Legislative Council which should also have the right to change the constitution by a two-thirds majority; there must be fully elected local authorities based on universal adult suffrage; there must be no nominated seats in the Legislature or local authorities; and that all checks on the work of the elected Government were unnecessary and offensive.
The PPP objected to a bi-cameral legislature unless the second chamber was also elected. The Party saw no need for a State Council (or nominated Upper House) and insisted that such a body could only serve the reactionary and undemocratic purpose of curbing the will of the people.