The death this weekend of Janet Jagan (1920-2009, pictured speaking to the UN), former President of Guyana (1997-1999), is a reminder that the election of President Barack Obama in the USA last November was not the first time that a democracy has elected a national leader who was a member of an ethnic minority. Born Janet Rosenberg, Janet Jagan was a ruthless Chicago pol, although far to the left of Young Bazza. Indeed, since no ethnic group in Guyana has a majority, one could argue that every leader which that country has elected democratically (which, sadly, is not all of Guyana’s leaders) has been an example of a majority electing a leader from a minority. Elsewhere in South America, Alberto Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent, was three times elected President of Peru from 1990-2000.
And there are other examples, if one widens the definition of ethnicity: Britain currently has a Scottish-born Prime Minister, its second Scottish-educated PM in succession, and disproportionately many Scots Cabinet Ministers. Both Britain and Australia have in the past elected as leaders people whose first language was not English, and both did so around the same time: Lloyd George in Britain (PM 1916-1922), and Billy Hughes in Australia (PM 1915-1923), were second-language speakers of English, both having Welsh as their mother-tongue. Australia’s current Deputy Prime Minister (and this week again Acting PM), Julia Gillard, is also Welsh-born. One of Australia’s most influential politicians in its first two decades, and founder of Canberra as the national capitol, was King O’Malley (1858-1953), who was almost certainly born in the USA. Both Australia and New Zealand had several Cabinet Ministers in their first decades born in the other country. And the Australian state of New South Wales has had a Premier born in Hungary (Nick Greiner, Premier 1988-1992), one born in the USA (Kristina Keneally, Premier 2009-2011), and one whose first language was Armenian (Gladys Berejiklian, Premier 2017- ). Sydney has had a Lord Mayor born in Poland (Leo Port, 1975-1978). Australia currently has a Federal Minister for Finance born in Belgium (Mathias Cormann).
And Britain, as perhaps befits a former colonial power, has had a succession of Cabinet ministers from abroad (although not all of these have been elected). Lloyd George offered a position in his cabinet during WW I to American businessman, Herbert Hoover (who declined the post). In both world wars, the British PM established an Imperial War Cabinet, in which the dominions were invited to be represented, although not all took up the invitation. In recent years, Britons have seen Ministers who were born or raised in Australia (Patricia Hewitt), Dominica (Baroness Patricia Scotland), Ghana (Paul Boateng), Guyana (Baroness Valerie Amos), Iraq (Ara Darzi, although of Armenian descent), Kenya & South Africa (Peter Hain), and Yemen (Keith Vaz). Malcolm Rifkind, Defence Minister and Foreign Minister under John Major (1992-1997), spent part of his early adult life in Africa (in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia), as Major himself did also (in Nigeria).
“Only in America!”, as Yogi Berra might say.
POSTSCRIPT: Writing this, I forgot Bill Skate, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea from 1997-1999; Julius Chan, Prime Minister 1980-1982 and 1994-1997; and Peter O’Neill, Primer Minister since 2011. All three men are of mixed race ancestry. And there was also Paul Berenger, Prime Minister of Mauritius from 2003-2005, a Christian leader in a majority Hindu nation, and Guy Scott, briefly President of Zambia (2014-2015). These have been the only Caucasian leaders of African nations post Independence or majority rule.
POSTSCRIPT 2 [2012-03-14]: And one could also mention the leaders of various places who were members of religious minorities, and whose elections sometimes excited controversy: JFK in the USA is the most famous. Before him, we had various Jewish premiers in predominantly Christian or gentile dominions: Julius Vogel (PM of New Zealand, 1873-1875), Vaiben Solomon (Premier, South Australia, 1899), Francis Bell (PM, New Zealand, 1925), David Marshall (Initial Chief Minister, Singapore, 1954-1956), Roy Welensky (PM, Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, 1956-1963), and John Key (PM, New Zealand, 2008-2016).
And here is a list of people who served in more than one Parliament or Assembly.
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