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Sunshine Election in the Bahamas
Rallies, rhetoric and motorcades ahead of the May 2 vote
Dona Gibbs (dlfgibbs)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-25 15:36 (KST)   
The Bahamas are full of charm -- and politics.
©2007 Dona Gibbs

The Bahamas are heating up. The political climate, that is. Election day is May 2.

A little background: The Bahamas is a parliamentary democracy with regular elections. As a Commonwealth country, it is still closely tied with British political and legal systems and is a bicameral legislature. Queen Elizabeth II is the formal head of state, and the Crown appoints the Governor General, a post currently held by Arthur Dion Hanna.

Elegant boats crowd the docks
©2007 Dona Gibbs

The head of the majority party serves as prime minister and head of government. That post is now held by Perry Christie.

The House of Assembly's 41 members are elected by their local constituencies and serve five-year terms. Prime Minister Christie dissolved parliament on April 4 and called for new elections with the new parliament to convene on May 23, 2007.

At any time under the Westminster system the parliament may be dissolved and elections called for. Only those people who registered up to April 3 will be eligible to vote on May 2. The cut-off date has some grumbling.

The Governor General appoints the 16 Senate members. Nine of whom are appointed on the advice of the prime minister, four on the advice of leader of the opposition, and the other three on the advice of the opposition party after they are conferred with. That's a lot of meetings and -- if people still smoked -- corridors of closed doors and fume-filled rooms.

New runway, taxiway and terminal expansion announced by PM Christie
©2007 Dona Gibbs

The tourists at play on the sugar sand beaches, splashing in the emerald and turquoise waters, rolling dice in the casinos and sipping rum drinks decorated with the prerequisite umbrellas are largely unaware of the political swirl.

Two major parties are slugging it out -- the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement, led by Hubert Ingraham. Both are centrist parties. The PLP is half a step to the left and the Free National Movement is half a step to the right. Many of those running are millionaires, successful in the islands' businesses.

A visitor to this island-dotted country would be hard pressed to discern the differences between the parties' positions. Until last weekend, the parties didn't make their platforms known. However, each party proved it knew how to party with motorcades and rallies, featuring local musicians and food.

When the positions were made public, they were the usual litany of addressing education, healthcare, crime, illegal immigration, affordable housing, business development and national security.

Ingraham, the opposition leader, would like to give more power to civil servants, who cannot run for office at the present. He'd also like to foster Bahamanian culture, expressing dismay at Bahamanians' adoration of all things American.

"We want the latest things out of America, the latest music and latest dress even if the music is bad and the dress is awful," he said at a FNM rally.

British tradition mixes with a love of U.S. goods
©2007 Dona Gibbs

However, after hours and hours of reading archives of Bahamian newspapers, this reporter came up with almost no discernible differences between the parties.

Opposition parties perhaps always have political fodder. They can point to the past failures of the other party. No matter what the party and how well-intentioned, there are going to be failure. Cost overruns, suspected conflict of interests, cronyism and the ever popular seamy scandal.

The biggest division is that one party is in the majority (the PLP) and the other party (the FNM) would like to be. The FNM's platform was in bullet point form while the PLP contained fuller explanations.

Up until last weekend, it was a campaign of personalities, rhetoric and T-shirt giveaways. Both sides, the local press reported, could not keep the eager would be supporters supplied. It was even cynically suggested that scoring a red or gold shirt was more about its being free than any true political convictions.

A group of Bahamian clergymen distributed a questionnaire to find out the candidates' opinions on abortion, capital punishment, homosexuality and same-sex marriage. When few questionnaires were returned, they expressed puzzlement, saying that U.S. voters were informed on their candidates' stand on such "moral issues."

Religion has a major role in these islands. Wikipedia reports that "there are more places of worship per person in the Bahamas than any other nation in the world."

One clergyman couldn't contain himself and launched into a diatribe flinging innuendos. A dissident on a verbal rampage is a familiar fixture of the democratic process. No election would be complete without one.

Tourism brings in big revenues
©2007 Dona Gibbs

There are 148,055 registered voters, out of a total estimated population of 303,770. Ninety percent turned out for the 2002 election when the PLP defeated the FNM.

PLP. FNM. To this outsider it seems a matter of personalities. Since this reporter is not an old Bahamian hand, I'd have to rely on the proliferation of party flags. In a highly suspect informal count, the orange PLP outnumbered the FNM.

May 2, we'll know the results.

Party flags are in abundance
©2007 Dona Gibbs

None of the above is meant to suggest that the Bahamians lack seriousness of purpose. The Bahamas has a per capita income that ranks 30th in the world. While 40 percent of the revenues come from a healthy tourism business, there are diversifications into financial services and international shipping. The literacy rate is estimated at 98.2.

It, like other nations, has problems. It encompasses a land area of 3,888 square miles (6257 kilometers). Only half of that is arable. It imports far more than it exports.

The Bahamas has had a swell of illegal Haitian immigrants, many of whom live in shanty towns -- places called Pigeon Pea and Mud. Mud in Marsh Harbour was recently set afire accidentally by a candle. The fire left 100 Haitians homeless, The Abaconian reported.

There is a love/have relationship with foreign landholders. The question hovers, "are the Bahamians 'giving away' their birthright?" Fingers are pointed at developers who build gated communities for foreigners seeking second homes in the sun.

What about the enormous gap between the middle class urban dwellers and the poor rural people? It's long been a sore subject.

The Bahamas were an infamous haven for pirates, among them Sir Francis Drake, yes, indeed he was a pirate, and Blackbeard. There are hundreds of coves and harbors, hidden away among treacherous shoals and coral reefs.

Where rum runners once plied their stealthy boats, now drug runners lurk, waiting for a dangerous, illegal but lucrative passage to the South Florida coast. How can they be halted?

These are big questions that the Bahamas continues to wrestle with. Big questions for a small, proud nation whose economy remains dependent on the United States a scant 45 miles away.

Something to contemplate as a tourist while sitting in a tiki bar having a Planter's Punch.

Emerald, turquoise and pink beguile visitors
©2007 Dona Gibbs
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Dona Gibbs

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