THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONFERENCE (1960)

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Acting on the resolution of June 1958, the British Government called a Constitutional Conference which was held in London on 7 March 1960 under the chairmanship of Ian Macleod, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. This conference was originally scheduled for the last quarter of 1959, but was delayed to allow the new Governor, Sir Ralph Grey to familarise himself with the local situation. The British Government also used this delaying approach because it was biased towards the PNC's position of support for internal self government rather than full independence, as demanded by the PPP.

At the London conference, the PPP was represented by Dr. Jagan, Brindley Benn and Balram Singh Rai. The delegates from the elected opposition were Forbes Burnham and W.O. Rudy Kendall of the PNC, and Jai Narine Singh of the Guiana Independence Movement. Rahman B. Gajraj and R.E. Davis represented the nominated section of the Legislative Council.

All the delegates supported the principle of independence, but were divided on the process to achieve it. The PPP asked for independence to be granted by August 1961, and Jai Narine Singh called for immediate independence outside of the Commonwealth. Burnham limited his demand to "full internal self government", saying that the country would achieve full independence as a unit within an independent West Indies Federation. The PPP insisted that on this issue an independent Guyana could not be prevented from joining the Federation if it wanted to do so at a later date.

There was much disagreement on whether the new legislature should be unicameral or bicameral, and if the electoral system should continue as one of plurality within the district constituencies, or proportional representation based on the countrywide vote. Macleod's suggestion of an elected lower house of 35 members and a nominated senate comprising 13 members 8 to be nominated by the ruling party, 3 by the opposition and 2 by the Governor was accepted by all the delegates as a compromise.

The PPP's demand for the voting age to be reduced to 18 years was denied, and Macleod sided with Burnham who wanted the voting age to be retained at 21 years. The British support for Burnham and the PNC was clearly demonstrated when Macleod announced that Guyana would not be granted full independence as the majority of the delegates requested, but only internal self government, with the Governor placed in charge of defence and external affairs.

In a statement issued at the conclusion of the conference, the PPP delegates stated that they were "far from satisfied with the result of the conference". They added: "We came here with a mandate for independence. We are going back still as colonials with Crown Colony status." They added that the decision imposed by the British Government did not measure up to the aspiration and democratic rights of the people of Guyana. This statement received full support from Jai Narine Singh who stated that the conclusions were "impositions" and were "not in accordance with equity and justice under a democratic system."

As a result of the conclusions of this constitutional conference, the British Government later issued an Order in Council which set out the new constitution for Guyana to come into effect in August 1961. An Electoral Boundary Commission, with a single Commissioner, was also established to demarcate the electoral boundaries for the elections to be held in 1961.