THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1953
Close this window to return to the main menu
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
The general election, held under the "first past the post" system, took place on 27 April 1953. The total number of voters registered in a house to house enumeration was 208,939. Almost 150,000 were newly qualified because of the extended franchise resulting from the granting of universal adult suffrage. Of this number, an estimated 40,000 were illiterate, and special arrangements had to be made to enable them to vote. These included the introduction of symbols for political parties and independent candidates, and separate ballot boxes for each candidate. Each ballot box was marked with the name and photograph and symbol of the candidate. The symbols were chosen long before nomination day, and all voters knew whom they represented. The PPP, as a political party, adopted the cup as its symbol and all its candidates used it during their campaign to educate voters, particularly the illiterate, on how to mark their ballots.
On election day, the ballot boxes were placed behind a screen and the voter, after marking his ballot in secret, folded it and placed it in the box of his chosen candidate. By the time the polls closed at 6.00 p.m., 156,226 persons or 75 percent had voted; the final tally showed that the valid votes were 152,231 or 73 percent of the electorate.
There was great excitement over the election, and most persons voted very early. The results were declared by the following morning and they showed that the PPP won 18 seats while obtaining 51 percent of the overall votes. The NDP won two seats, while independent candidates won four. Among the electoral casualties of the NDP was Lionel Luckhoo, the president of the MPCA, who lost badly to a PPP candidate in a district with a large sugar worker population.
Among the successful PPP candidates were three women - Janet Jagan, Jane Philips-Gay and Jesse Burnham. They became the first women elected to the Guyanese legislature.
The spectacular victory of the PPP caused much concern among the colonial authorities since they had not expected an outright victory by the PPP. They anticipated that no party would win a clear majority and that the new government would be made up of a diverse group of members of political parties and independents and, thus, could be easily manipulated. It was apparent that the colonial authorities based their analysis on the opinions expressed by the media which claimed that the PPP would be soundly defeated.
Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, was very critical of the Colonial Office which had predicted in a briefing to him that the PPP could not win a majority. The United States government was also concerned over the new situation and felt that the PPP victory presented a strong threat to British colonialism.
In a statement on the results, the PPP in the May 1953 issue of Thunder declared: "The victory of our democratic movement was a great shock and surprise to the ruling class, who, consequent upon their thirst for maximum profit, have isolated themselves from the people."
The party immediately set about during the week after the election to select its six Ministers and to submit their names to the Governor, Sir Alfred Savage. But new internal problems arose when Burnham, the chairman of the party, refused at a joint meeting of the general council and the parliamentary group to agree to the selection of Ministers unless he was named as the leader of the party. His demand was to be "leader or nothing!" Even though the members of the general council explained to him that the issue of the leader was settled in March at the third Party congress (when he made his first attempt to become the leader), he refused to budge.
For almost the entire week the party was plunged into a crisis. The PPP supporters who were very excited over the electoral victory could not understand what was happening.
On Thursday 7 May, Burnham had one of his close supporters call a mass meeting of PPP supporters in Georgetown. His plan was to get the crowd to demand that Dr.Jagan should surrender the leadership of the party to him. But his scheme backfired when Rudy Luck, a member the general council, attended the meeting and told the audience the real reason for the crisis brought about by Burnham's action. The meeting broke up in disorder, and Burnham, realising that he had no support, was forced to drop his demand, and he finally agreed to discuss the selection of the Ministers.
But he did not give in without making other demands. The original six names for ministerial appointments were Forbes Burnham, Ashton Chase, CheddiJagan, Janet Jagan, Sydney King and Dr.Hanoman-Singh. Burnham insisted that Jai Narine Singh, who joined the party only in 1953, and Dr.Joseph Lachmansingh, two of his close supporters, must be named as Ministers. He also wanted a change in the proposed nominees for the State Council, George Robertson and Herbert Thomas. In the end a compromise was reached. Jai Narine Singh and Dr.Lachmansingh were included on the ministerial list in place of Janet Jagan, who was nominated as Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, and Dr.Hanoman-Singh. For the State Council, Herbert Thomas was replaced by UlricFingal, one of Burnham's nominees.
With these matters finally settled, the PPP was ready to take up its seats in the House of Assembly which was inaugurated on 18 May 1953.