Close this window to return to the main menu

Previous Chapter     Next Chapter

In October 1956, the Governor, Sir Patrick Renison, announced that the constitutional proposals made public in April had been modified and that the new legislature would be made up of 14 elected members, three ex-officio nominated members and up to 11 other nominated members. The 14 constituencies (for the elected members) would be the same as for the 1947 election, before the introduction of adult suffrage.

The PPP accused the Governor of "gerrymandering" since the constituencies did not reflect a balanced distribution of the voting population in 1956. Dr. Jagan, in a protest to the Chief Secretary, Derek Jakeway, pointed out that the unfair division of the constituencies was aimed at helping those who opposed the PPP. It showed that in Georgetown, Burnham's area of strength, five constituencies (for the 1953 elections) were made into three, while in the Corentyne (East Berbice), a stronghold of the PPP, three and a half constituencies (for 1953) were made into one. The East Berbice constituency had 31,947 voters compared to the anti-PPP area of New Amsterdam which had 5,879.

Jakeway dismissed the protest of the PPP and admitted that the object of the manipulation of the constituencies was to bring about a defeat of the Party.

The general election was fixed for 12 August 1957, and in preparation for it, the PPP attempted to form a united front, particularly with Burnham's group. As was stated earlier (in Chapter 141), efforts were made by Dr. Jagan in Ghana to forge an understanding with Burnham, but this failed. Through the All-Party Conference, Dr. Jagan had also hoped that a broad united front would have been formed to contest the election on a joint slate and to form a national government aimed at winning independence for the country. After these efforts failed, the PPP decided to contest against four other parties C the United Democratic Party (UDP, the National Labour Front (NLF), the PPP (Burnham), and the tiny recently-formed Guiana National Party.

Early in 1957, an attempt was made by leading supporters of Burnham to unite the UDP and PPP (Burnham) but this failed. Burnham was very upset about this and he attacked the leaders of the UDP as "collaborators", "traitors" and "loyal Kikuyus". He also labelled the PPP as "communist", as did the NLF and the UDP in their election campaign against the PPP. The NLF, in an effort to win over Indians, also added anti-federation to its platform.

The PPP faced a number of disadvantages during this period. The 1955 split had divided its mass support and during the 1953-57 period many leading members were detained, restricted or jailed. However, the Party was able to win sympathy and support due to the fact that it did not succumb to colonial repression and the detention and imprisonment of its leaders, particularly Cheddi and Janet Jagan, during the period of the Interim Government.

British officials and foreign big business also joined in the campaign against the PPP. They claimed that a PPP Government, because of its socialist policies, would not attract foreign investors and that it would receive no cooperation from the British Government. They were able to influence all the West Indian Governments, which also expressed opposition to the PPP.

On 16 February 1957, the PPP received an indication of its support among rice farmers in the country. In the Rice Producers' Association election, its candidates won almost every position that was contested. These results apparently encouraged the Party to contest the general election after it failed to win support for an all-party alliance.

But the PPP felt a severe blow just before nomination day (in early July) when Sydney King refused to be one of its candidates. Dr. Jagan and other leaders pleaded with him to accept nomination for the East Demerara constituency, but he adamantly refused. No doubt, King was still bitter over Dr. Jagan's criticisms of his close friends at the Party's 1956 congress, but he, at least up to the time of the Party's fifth congress in April 1957, firmly opposed those who tried to bring about a rift between himself and Dr. Jagan.

When King refused to be a PPP candidate, the Party nominated Balram Singh Rai to contest the East Demerara constituency. Rai, who had opposed the PPP in 1953, joined the Party after the suspension of the constitution when it faced repression from the British authorities. The PPP also named candidates for 12 other constituencies; it did not contest the North West District constituency because of lack of resources,

With an open rift now existing between the PPP and King, Burnham immediately began to express support for him. The two men soon formed an alliance even though King had always been a strong critic of Burnham. King then entered the election race against Rai as an independent candidate with strong support from Burnham whose party did not nominate a candidate for that constituency. Burnham campaigned heavily in the constituency and urged his supporters to vote for King.

During the election campaign, the PPP appealed to the electorate to give it an overall majority which would allow it to select the five ministers and the one of the two nominated members of the Executive Council. The Party argued that by winning a majority of the seats it would be able to win advanced constitutional concessions like those recently granted to Trinidad, Malaya and Mauritius.

The PPP also presented its manifesto which outlined its planned programme for labour, trade and industry, communications, the interior, health and housing, agriculture, social services, local government, education, art, culture and sports. With regards to the West Indian Federation, the Party stated that it would join if the Federation was granted dominion status with internal self-government for each unit territory. It added that Guyana would enter the Federation only after the people vote for it in a national referendum.

The PPP contested 13 constituencies, the PPP (Burnham) 13, the UDP 8, and the Guyana National Party 1. Only the NLF, which was heavily backed by big business, contested all 14 constituencies. There were six independent candidates.

On election day, there was an obvious lack of interest among the electorate. One of the reasons was because many of the Indian and African voters, who had solidly supported the united PPP in 1953, were disappointed that the rift was not healed. Also, on the East Coast Demerara, voters were also confused over the alliance between Burnham and King. At the end of the day, only 56 percent of the voters cast their votes. When the results were declared, the PPP had won nine of the 13 constituencies it contested, acquiring 48 percent of the total votes; PPP (Burnham) won three (all in Georgetown), the UDP 1 (New Amsterdam) and the NLF 1 (North West District).

Sydney King, even though he received more than 6,000 votes, was defeated by Rai. The results of the election for that seat saw a clear division of the voters along ethnic lines since much of the African supporters of the PPP in East Demerara deserted and voted for King.

Dr. Jagan himself won a huge majority in East Berbice, and the amount of votes he received was more than the total votes received by the five opposition members. Among others who lost badly were Dr. Joseph Lachmansingh, Burnham's lieutenant, and Lionel Luckhoo, the leader of the NLF.