The nature of Bermuda’s government has evolved over the years. Beginning very simplistic, Bermuda’s Government has become more complex over time. On August 1st 1620, Governor Nathanial Butler convened the first session of Parliament in Bermuda. Those present included the Governor, an appointed Council, a Secretary, the bailiffs of the tribes, clergy members and 16 male representatives, two from each of the eight parishes on the island at the time. This format was followed until 1684 when direct administrative control of Bermuda’s affairs was transferred from the Bermuda Company to England. At this point Bermuda became a self governing colony. Eligible adults would vote within their parishes and elect representatives for the House of Assembly. This political framework remained intact until the early 20th century, when the suffragette movement, the universal adult suffrage movement, party politics and the development of Bermuda’s Constitution would shake things up.
The suffragette movement was launched in 1919 after women were given the right to vote in Britain. Unfortunately, this did not extend to the British colony of Bermuda. Voting was originally restricted to male landowners. Black men had the opportunity to vote, if they owned property worth 60 pounds and they also had the opportunity to run for the House of Assembly if their property was worth 240 pounds. However women, despite what property they may have owned, were denied these rights altogether. In 1923 the Bermuda Women’s Suffragette Society (BWS) was formed under the leadership of Ms. Gladys Misick Morrell and finally in 1943 their bill was passed through the House of Assembly allowing women the right to vote and run for Parliament.
Despite this triumph for women in Bermuda, the vast majority of Bermudians were still ineligible to vote. Strict property laws prevented the average man or woman from participating in the democratic process. As a result, in 1960 the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage, led by Roosevelt Brown (Dr. Pauulu Kamarakafego) and the long fought battle for equal voting rights was won in the 1963 Parliamentary Election Act. This acted created a number of modifications, including the extension of voting rights to every adult. This represented a pivotal and long lasting accomplishment for Bermuda’s civil rights movement.
Party politics in Bermuda traces its beginnings to this same year with the development of The Progressive Labour Party (PLP) in 1963 and, one year later in 1964, the formation of the United Bermuda Party (UBP). Despite the fact that these two political parties exemplified the rift between working class Bermudians and business class Bermudians, these were exciting times in Bermuda, a place full of newly-enfranchised people, eager to put their democratic power into action.
Representatives of both political parties met in London to initiate a new constitution which came into effect in 1967 and made a number of changes to the existing parliamentary structure. Some modifications include the removal of the “plus vote” – a clause which gave property owners an extra vote in elections – and a decrease in the legal voting age from 25 to 21. The following year, on May 22nd, 1968, Bermudians voted in the first election under this new constitution and the first contested by two political parties. The United Bermuda Party won by a landslide victory, and their leader, Sir Henry Tucker, became Bermuda’s first Government leader. Sir Henry Tucker held this post for three years before retiring and being succeeded by Sir Edward Richards, Bermuda’s first Premier.
The UBP remained in Government for over 30 years until the historic election of 1998 when the PLP won the Government under the leadership of Dame Jennifer Smith. This marked a significant change in Bermuda as the PLP represented the Labourites on the island. The PLP were in Government for 14 years until The One Bermuda Alliance, a newly formed political party, defeated them in December 2012. The Honourable Michael Dunkley is currently serving as the islands Premier.
Information Provided by: The Department of Community and Cultural Affairs