Adjective on Crime

One week into its administration, the official opposition is accusing the new government of being “soft on crime” – whatever that means. Of course, the official opposition was the old government that was accused by the then official opposition of being soft on crime, too. In either case, the critics suggests that they would be tougher on crime. However, regardless of the adjective either side chooses, the problem is the noun, and the fact that both of them are using the wrong one. They are not being anything on crime. The most benevolent interpretation I can make of their mistake is that they mean “criminals” instead, whereby being “tough” means supporting harsher sentences, and “soft” meaning lighter sentences.

This then means, that we are talking about convicted criminals only, not about all criminals, for there can only be a sentence if there is a conviction. Hanna’s study, “Reducing Murders in The Bahamas: A Strategic Plan Based on Empirical Research,” which looks at homicides between 2005 and 2009, shows that there were 349 cases of homicide reported in The Bahamas during that period. Of these, the Royal Bahamas Police Force considers 73% solved. However, during that same period, only 63 cases were completed by the court system, only 18 of which ended with convictions, which brings the respectable rate of 73% down to only 5%.

A look at the Supreme Court statistics for 2000 to 2009 shows 34 completed cases for that time period, only 18 of which (53%) resulted in a conviction. This means that in 47%, or basically half the cases, prosecutors and investigators could not mount strong enough cases in court. However, the way that the RBPF statistics are calculated, even the cases that result in an acquittal are counted amongst those that are solved.

In the vast majority of cases, nobody was sentenced. The discussion whether sentences are tough or too soft thus becomes purely academic. Two adjectives that come to my mind when describing this situation may be “slack” or “slow,” and it is understandable that whatever government is in charge would be criticised. However, too much of the criticism seems to be driven more by an opportunity for political gain than by a genuine desire to bring down murder rates.

When sentences are discussed in terms of soft versus tough, most statements are little more than pandering to large part of the electorate that views the biblical an-eye-for-an-eye principle as the only suitable and ultimately tough punishment for murder, as well as the best deterrent for others to commit murder. There are several problems with this argument.

For one, no punishment of any kind can work as an effective deterrent if conviction rates remain as low as they are. It is doubtful that many murderers in The Bahamas look forward to life in Her Majesty’s Prison in Fox Hill. It is more likely that they commit murder, because they feel that they will not have to, and for people who believe that they will not be convicted, no sentence in the world can work as a deterrent.

Another problem with capital punishment is the possibility that the wrong suspect may be found guilty, and that an innocent person might be executed. The number of cases that are brought to the courts by our investigators and prosecutors but that do not result in a conviction should make us very aware of that possibility, because it either means that our authorities are accusing the wrong people, or that our juries are making bad decisions.

Finally, as I did not intend for this to be a thorough discussion of the death penalty, I would like to draw attention to the brutalisation theory, which suggests “that executions cause more homicides than they prevent and thus increase homicide rates.” Even if I think that much of the criticism is motivated by hopes for political gain, I would like to think that politicians are not that cynical that they would wish for murder rates to increase even further, because it would afford them additional opportunities for criticism and scoring political points.

Finally, and that is the biggest problem with this discussion, it all focusses on the criminal who has already committed a crime. I don’t care what they do with you after your kill me, I can’t; I’d rather, you didn’t kill me in the first place. Very little of our public discourse is dedicated to curbing crime. We love the victim, and we love to hate the perpetrator, and we can no longer imagine our world without these ritualised reactions.

One discussion that we do have, and that may have something to do with curbing crime, is the bail discussion. According to Hanna’s study, a considerable number of murder suspects are out on bail, having been charged with murder or other crimes, when they allegedly commit murder. The public’s reaction is understandable. We do not want criminals out on bail.

However, when these people are granted bail, they are suspects, not convicts. One of the most important, most fundamental principles of our legal system is that people are considered innocent until proven guilty. Another important principle is the right to a speedy trial. Unfortunately, and that much should be clear by now, we cannot guarantee the latter. If we cannot do that, then, like it or not, we must not hold suspects on remand indefinitely.

Accusing the political opponent of being soft on crime is not being tough on crime. Furthermore, the punitive character of our justice system has not only failed in curbing crime, but has potentially contributed to the violence that far too often characterises our society. By spending ever increasing amounts of money on aggressively fighting the symptoms of crime, we are headed down the path towards an Orwellian state, in which security becomes a privilege you have to be able to afford. On the other hand, rehabilitative efforts remain unpopular amongst a population that craves revenge, and restorative justice is one of the archipelago’s last unexplored islands.

The citizens of The Bahamas deserve to be safe in their homes and on the streets, and the government is tasked to protect said safety. However, regardless of whether murderers are executed or robbers behind bars, and regardless of whether or not suspects are out on bail, there will always be new people giving in to temptation if the opportunity arises. A government must therefore create a society in which not only the temptation is reduced, through educational and economic incentives, but in which also opportunities for wrongdoing are minimised.

The urban renewal programme of Christie’s first term in office between 2002 and 2007 has seen mixed reviews, and the outline for what the PLP’s charter has termed “Urban Renewal 2.0” is still a little vague, but as a society we need to understand that curbing crime has to start with reaching out to would be criminals before the “would-be” becomes a thing of their past. Urban renewal is only one ingredient, but there was a time during the first decade of the 21st century, when murder rates in The Bahamas decreased before increasing again, and this period coincided, to an extent, with Urban Renewal I.

At last year’s violence symposium at The College of The Bahamas, Michael Stevenson analysed the motives inmates of HMP Fox Hill gave for committing crimes. One main contributor was poverty, real as well as perceived. An improved educational system and ambitious economic programmes may help address the real problem of real poverty in The Bahamas. I see some of these issues were being talked about during the campaign, and it it now time that the PLP delivers what it believes in.

However, in order to address the also real problem of perhaps unreal, but nonetheless perceived poverty, we need to consider the growing gap between rich and poor in this country. In the 21st-century Bahamas, minimum wage cannot feed, house and clothe a mother and her children. In the 21st-century Bahamas, many who employ people at minimum wage can afford to live behind high walls, where they not only still feel reasonably safe from crime, but where they also do not have to see the poverty for which they are – at least in part – responsible.

In The Bahamas, we not only need to successfully treat the symptoms of crime, but we must also remove the motives and reduce the underlying causes. The government that realises this need and facilitates its solution will be the first government that can truly say that it has been tough on crime.


Let’s Talk about Sex

Normally, I would say that sex and politics ought not to be mixed, but Bahamian politics is full of sex talk. The latest statements by Cassius Stuart, misunderstood or not, have brought the subject to forefront once again. The Tribune quoted him as having said that he would be a better deputy leader of the FNM, because, unlike Loretta Butler-Turner, he was sexy and could deliver the female vote to the FNM. He then corrected the quote: “We must make our party attractive, appealing and sexy to attract the woman voters, the youth votes and the other voters out there.”

My understanding of the corrected quote is that Stuart still believes that women need a party to be sexy in order to give it their vote. He just does not state explicitly that he is the sex symbol that can deliver the female vote to the FNM. Dear politicians of the Bahamas, I do not care if your party is sexy; I care about your policies. That is why I have been demanding debates. For the record, I am not a female voter. However, many female voters, too, have been demanding debates prior to the general elections. None of the female voters I have discussed politics with indicated a desire for sexy political parties.

During the campaign, sex was discussed in other contexts, too. In some ways, I propose that that discussion was a turnoff for women, and not very enticing for them to vote for a particular party. Marital rape was discussed, and, thus far, we are stuck with an ancient status quo that allows me to rape my wife. I am not too sure how many female votes that one attracts.

Sexual education was discussed, too, and it was proposed that sexual education in our schools should focus on abstinence-only propaganda. Of course, supporting arguments for this proposal, as well as the ones for the continued legality of marital rape, were predominantly biblical in nature, despite the fact that research has already shown that abstinence-only education backfires. Nonetheless, I thank the one party that actually discussed policy during its campaign, and engaged the electorate in a dialogue.

What is not openly discussed is politicians’ sex lives. And that is none of my business. However, there is something inherently hypocritical about our society where some politicians ride the moral high horse but buy their outside children fancy cars so that they may still ride, albeit separately, in the same motorcade. When our politicians’ sex lives are made a topic, it is usually through not so unexpected allusions, and the defense mechanisms have not evolved since time immemorial.

For example, during the advanced poll, Perry Christie was accused of being a “sissy.” I fail to see why such a remark deserves to be entertained, and if it is, maybe we should talk about attitudes that cause this word to be considered an insult, etc. However, Christie felt it necessary to defend his off the rack masculinity instead. Even 24 hours later, at a PLP rally, he still felt it necessary to comment about the number of attractive, young females in the crowd, as if to emphasise said masculinity.

We are almost full circle now. The broadcasts of those rallies, regardless of which party hosted them, often zoomed in on groups of young, physically attractive women who had altered their party-coloured t-shirts to be more revealing than the standard issue. At that point, politicians presented me, the male voter, with the sexy rally as a reason to vote for their party. It is hardly surprising that some are now inclined to believe that these sexy crowds need sexy leaders to vote for.

Here is what was barely talked about during the campaign season. In a country where the majority of registered voters are women, there were only 16.5% female candidates. In a country where the vast majority of college graduates are women, even the party who boasted that it had the most female candidates only had 23.7% of them. This small number of female candidates was then placed in constituencies that they lost rather than won, which is why the newly elected House of Assembly now has but 13.2% female MPs.

Let us stop talking about sex, and begin discussing issues instead. Social media guarantees that politicians who do not take the electorate seriously will become instant comedy stars. Election season may be over, but silly season has only just begun.

I’m Too Sexy, or: If Politics is not for you, try Comedy

One result of the 7th May general elections that did not surprise was the loss of the FNM’s Cassius Stuart in Bamboo Town, which saw the interesting race of of three transparty politicians. The FNM’s Branville McCartney ran on the DNA’s ticket, and came third. The BDM’s Cassius Stuart ran on the FNM’s ticket and came second. And the NDP’s Renward Well’s ran on the PLP’s ticket and won. So, Cassius Stuart lost. Again.

When the FNM unveiled its candidates, Stuart had shared with the voters why the leader of the BDM was now running for the FNM. He said, and I paraphrase, that he was sick and tired of losing, that he finally wanted to win a seat in the House and if that meant changing parties, so be it. Therefore, he said, he called both Perry Christie and Hubert Ingraham, and because Ingraham called back first, he was now with the FNM. What a fine, principled young man.

Now, the leader of the unsuccessful BDM and the unsuccessful FNM candidate for Bamboo Town wants to reach for the deputy leader of the opposition position. Because he is sexy. And that is how my day started. For the rest of the day, social networks felt a little like a Comedy Central Roast of @SexyCassius242: “Look at my new campaign video: Please Share the Sexy! #Bahamas2012”

As @TeejGrant commented, this announcement was “political abortion, because his political career hadn’t even been born yet.” Thanks for the laughs though.

Papa’s DNA Test came back Negative

Perry Christie’s PLP won the 2012 general elections in The Bahamas. They will send 29 members to the House of Assembly, the FNM only nine. A landslide!

A landslide? Actually, a closer look reveals that the victory was not as convincing as the numbers above might suggest. The PLP won 48.7%, that is less than half, of the popular vote. In fifteen of the constituencies that the PLP won, they won these seats not because they won more than half of the ballots cast, but because they were first past the post. However, FNM and DNA (and independent candidates) combined had appealed to more voters there than the PLP did.

It’s not Easy being Green

If the DNA had not contested these elections, where would these votes have gone? Given their leader’s political genesis, one cannot help but suspect that the party drew more votes from the FNM than it did from the PLP. The DNA presented itself as the socially conservative FNM – pro guns, pro death penalty, pro marital rape; in the minds of their roughly 13,000 voters, as the better FNM. Like other parties in our history that were formed by disgruntled members of existing parties, many thus viewed the DNA as primarily anti-FNM and by extension as anti-PLP, and not as a genuinely new group with new minds and new ideas.

Many voters are disenchanted with our version of democracy, and feel disenfranchised when asked to vote, every five years, for the lesser of two evils. Many voters are hungry for truly modern ideas, rather than the reenactment of a decade old struggle. Yet, the DNA could not fully capitalise on this mood. The DNA peaked too early. After a strong start and an excellent media presence early on, the novelty had worn off by the time Ingraham rang the bell.

Without knowing the inside scoop, I still believe that the DNA’s campaign in 2012 was also underfunded and did not allow them to compete on par with the two established parties in terms of posters, freebies and grandiose rallies. On second thought though, I am tempted to suspect that the PLP’s and FNM’s campaigns were overfunded. Allegations of outright bribery aside, it would be interesting to see how much money these parties spent on their campaigns, and to translate that into a cost per vote calculation. In fact, the OAS observers’ preliminary report also made a case for the need of campaign financing disclosure.

Nonetheless, the third party idea keeps surfacing again and again. In 1977, the Bahamian Democratic Party (BDP) even relegated the FNM to third place. Since then, no third party has managed to repeat this success. Some of them were too extreme for the Bahamian electorate in one way or another. Others were too impatient, and were not prepared to invest more than one election cycle, or even just one bye-election, into the project. Their operatives often ended up joining forces with either the PLP or the FNM in the hopes of getting the seat in the House of Assembly they so craved, while at the same time demonstrating that, for them, it was not really about political principles.

The jury is still out on the DNA. Many voters who did not vote for the DNA were impressed nonetheless by how the party was prepared to engage the public in an ongoing dialogue. However, their campaign, which was quite modern in many ways, also gave the DNA a Family Island problem, and many candidates will not see their deposit money again. In MICAL, Jamarl Chea of the DNA scored three votes; despite MICAL being the smallest constituency, that is only 0.2% of the popular vote. In urban constituencies, however, many DNA candidates reached double digits, and Branville McCartney got a respectable 20.6% in a four-way race, despite Bamboo Town being also contested by an independent who, with 6.6% of the popular vote, scored far higher than the national average of 0.8% for independents and Bahamas Constitution Party (BCP) combined. The only constituency in New Providence where the DNA pulled less than 5% of the popular vote was Englerston, which saw a total of seven candidates competing for votes.

Now, the DNA needs to show if they can keep the interest alive despite the slump of interest in politics that has already set in, and that will be with us until the next politician decides to start playing with toy bells. The DNA’s members and candidates now have to decide whether they view a national average of 8.4% and a peak result of 20.6% as encouraging for 2017, or whether they view a national average of 8.4% and a low of 0.2% as discouraging beyond 2012. From an outsider’s perspective, we see that the DNA was potentially the spoiler in as many as fifteen seats won by the new governing party. We can hardly say that they did not impact this election.

Red Flags were Raised

Back in January, before the campaigns gained momentum, most observers of Bahamian politics suspected that the election was going to end the way it did, because headlines of murders, mismanaged road works and an economy whose recovery many did not feel, never bode well for any incumbent. Against these odds, the FNM ran a rather impressive campaign, which had many Bahamians hoodwinked into thinking that they may just turn it around.

Twenty years ago, the FNM won its greatest victory by promising “deliverance,” and by campaigning against Pindling’s monopolisation of power. For 2012, they changed the theme to “delivery” – by “Papa.” This was a big gamble from the start. Would the FNM campaign succeed in making us feel like children looking up to a father figure? Would the FNM campaign succeed in convincing us, like children, that this father would, somehow, magically, make all our problems disappear? They ran on Ingraham’s record of achievement. He solved problems in the past, he will do so again, was the message. He built a new straw market. He built a new airport. He built new roads. He, he, he.

This strategy was problematic from the start, and many voters, even traditional FNM voters, were deeply disturbed by this brazen paternalism. Brave Davis’ campaign nickname for Ingraham – “Papa Clown” – may not have hit the right note with many an undecided voter, but many could not help but be reminded of another politician in a nearby country who had also used the “Papa” brand during his reign. Many of his compatriots are now immigrants in our country, and his policies contributed greatly to this flow of people. This is not to suggest that there were real fears of torchbearing Tonton Macoutes raiding opposition strongholds before the elections amongst the population, but there was a genuine uncomfortableness with Ingraham’s over-inflated ego, and a campaign that celebrates a leadership style seems out of place in a modern democracy, in an open society.

The FNM’s strategy was also problematic, because many of the things that “Papa delivered” are of questionable value. The straw market serves a small clientele, and opinions are divided both about whether the 21st-century tourism product still requires a straw market, as well as about whether the FNM administration’s design is adequate. The new airport has also already raised some questions, as it already seems to be maxing out its capacity at times despite the sharp decline in air arrivals from the United States over the past couple of years, which some see as a design flaw. And finally, the roads: most of them are not finished, and the ones that are, frankly, are not the smooth, modern roads that the FNM had promised. Or maybe, they are not finished yet? In that case, see the previous comment.

And the FNM’s strategy was problematic, because the narrative that equates the PLP with corruption is losing its stickability. MonaVie may not have stuck in voters’ memories, but the Arawak Cay development still raises eyebrows, as do Bahamas Hot Mix’ profits in light of an out-of-control roadwork budget. At the last minute, the BPC scandal hit the local news media. At that time it was conveniently too late to have an informed discussion about oil exploration in The Bahamas, but it was not too late to repeat the “same old” story. It would appear that this time, though, the news did not reach the voter. Maybe it got stuck in traffic.

Finally, the FNM repeated a mistake that cost them the government ten years ago. Ingraham was elected in 1992 on the promise to run for two terms. By 2002, however, there was no front runner in the FNM that could sway the electorate, and Tommy Turnquest suffered a humiliating defeat, from which the party only recovered by getting Ingraham out of retirement. Now, in 2012, after the party’s deputy leader had retired, Ingraham asked the Bahamian public to elect him without a potential successor in place. Ingraham is 64 years old, he will be 69 for the next elections. 69 happens to be the average life expectancy for Bahamian men.

And still, and despite the DNA, the FNM pulled 42.1% of the popular vote, compared to the PLP’s 48.7%, making 2012 the closest defeat the FNM has ever suffered in its history. The only post-independence Bahamian election where the popular vote was closer was in 2007, when it was the other way around, and the FNM beat the PLP by 2.8%. In 1972, the FNM lost by 17.9%, in 1977 by 39.1%, in 1982 by 15.8%, in 1987 by 10.3%, and in 2002 by 10.9%. Who is calling this year’s 6.6% a landslide again?

Not all that Glitters is Gold

In their victory, the PLP would do well to remember all of this. No matter how huge their majority feels in the House of Assembly, they must remember that the majority of voters did not vote for them, but that, as a democratic government, it is now their duty to govern for this majority, too. They should also consider that the 2012 campaign shares some commonalities with previous Bahamian elections, and it may be suggested that, these elections were not won by a party, but rather lost by the other party. With such a slim mandate, a new government would be well advised to bear in mind that they will be held accountable by the electorate in 2017 – at the latest.

The FNM lost, but just like the FNM, the PLP, too, got DNA’ed. Their campaign was louder and brighter, but in comparison to the new kids on the block, it was also old-fashioned despite the alleged use of hologram technology. The PLP chose the traditional path of rallies and t-shirts. However, they did learn something from their mistakes in 2007, and chose to mount a forward looking campaign around the catchphrases “believe” and “invest,” instead of the negative “no turning back.” Of course, this time around they also had the advantage of being in the opposition at a time when there were a lot of problems they could blame on the government, whether justified or not.

Their Charter addressed a lot of issues that matter to concerned citizens. If it had not been a booklet of political promises, but a business plan presented for a loan application, any prudent analyst would most likely have rejected it, for it lacks attention to detail and remains vague about financing, but such is the nature of the game. Five years from now, however, they will not just be judged on the next charter, but also on the delivery of this current one. They will be judged on how their policies benefited the 48.7% of voters who voted for them, as well as the 51.3% who did not. For now, I wish them good luck, for the challenges facing our country are serious. As is good democratic tradition, though, a first evaluation of their performance will take place after the first 100 days. The 100th day of this government’s term in office will be 15th August, 2012.

Depending on Ingraham’s next move, however, a first judgement on the new administration may be passed sooner. If he, as announced, vacates his seat for the North Abaco constituency, a bye-election would have to be called. The remarks by Renardo Curry in this regard were rather unfortunate, and suggest a curious understanding of the democratic process. Nobody likes a sore loser, but, please, also be a good winner.

Our Democracy

The elections delivered a slate of parliamentarians that could hardly be more unrepresentative of Bahamians if you tried. The vast majority of them are men (86.8%). Their average declared net worth is $2.5 million. Their average age is above 50. Most are lawyers.

As most female candidates ran on the FNM’s ticket, many of them did not win their seats, but even the FNM’s slate was lopsided. When in the aftermath of the elections, very few FNM veterans were left in the House, many suspected – and hoped – that Loretta Butler-Turner would be given a chance to represent Bahamians, but Bahamian women in particular, as leader of the opposition. Instead, her colleague Hubert Minnis secured that title for himself, for now. In a country where upwards of 80% of the graduates from the national tertiary institution are female, it is sad to see that in the political arena the patriarchy is alive and kicking.

Our House of Assembly is a peculiar representation of our people. In many ways, it still consists of elitist circles – different ones, but still circles – just like it did in the days of the Bay Street Boys, who also could not, not genuinely, relate to the ordinary citizen and their problems. The Bahamas is a demographically young country, and a diverse country. Our democracy should reflect that better.

In light of this, the parties’ lack of engaging the citizens in the democratic process, which culminated in all three parties ignoring an invitation to a debate, was not really a surprise. However, since the elections – because of the election – the Bahamian presence and activity on social networks has increased dramatically, the event serving as a catalyst. It stands to reason that as the global democratic discourse develops, the Bahamian people will not overlook that. It then stands to reason that Bahamian politicians, too, will have to engage a more empowered electorate if they want their votes. Re-tweeting and copying one another’s Facebook posts will not sway voters in 2017. Candidates will have to use social media personally. Then, they will have arrived where their voters were years ago.

Several observers have opined that our democracy has matured, and that us voting out two single-term governments in a row was a sign of that. I am not sure I can agree with that verdict, because it either means that we elected two poor governments into office in the first place, or that we made two foolish decisions in a row. For me, a sign of a maturing democracy would be a broadened base of public discourse, where more and more Bahamians not only find a way to voice their concerns, but find a fora where their voice is being heard, their questions answered, and their ideas considered.

If there was one sign about the 2012 general elections that I consider a sign of a maturing democracy, it is the fact that, for the first time, we invited election observers from CARICOM, the Organization of American States, and the United States of America to observe our democracy in action. I say this not because I have deep rooted doubts about the fairness of our elections and these observers put me at ease, but because I feel that we finally trust ourselves enough to demonstrate confidence in our democratic process. We can proudly say, “Come watch. We’ve got nothing to hide.”

An Utterly Unrepresentative Poll – with a Lesson

Disclaimer: This poll says absolutely nothing about the outcome of tomorrow’s election. The sample group is in no way representative of the Bahamian electorate. Here is how these numbers were arrived at: I spoke to my friends. My close friends. My really close friends.

Generally, I do not believe in sharing what I do inside the voting booth with other people, certainly not publicly. However, there are a few, very few people, with whom I can agree to disagree easily and amicably enough to share this information. These are the people represented in this poll.

Apart from being my friends, these voters also have a few other things in common. They have all lived abroad for some time, in most cases to pursue university degrees. And none of them remember what they did on 10th July, 1973, either because they were too young, or because they were not born yet. They are, in a way, representative members of that group of voters who feels at home in this digital and global age.

And here is what they said about voting tomorrow:

Polls open in ten hours, and the majority of my sample group are either undecided, or have already decided that they cannot decide. The FNM and the PLP have been unable to sway these voters with the smokescreens and trashtalking at their panem et circenses rallies, with jingles and free t-shirts. And, while everybody gives the DNA credit for at least talking to voters about issues, the DNA’s conservatism on social issues has caused the majority in my sample group to consider anyone but them.

Yes, spoilt ballots do not count against a candidate, and while undecideds may mark their X for somebody after all, there is a possibility that, if ten hours before voting begins you do not know whom to vote for, you may stay home rather than line up. Both of this will damage the mandate of a government, and it erodes the public’s trust in the democratic process, for it shows the lack of trust in its trustees. Maybe, just maybe, it was not such a good idea for Ingraham, Christie et al. to ignore voters who #DemandDebates.

Election Campaign in The Bahamas: A Small Revolution on the Internet

(This article was written by Frederik Fischer, a journalist from Berlin/Germany, and was first published on the ZDF Hyperland blog on 6th May, 2012. ZDF is one of Germany’s largest and most reputable TV networks. The article was translated by Stephen B. Aranha.)

Election season in a vacation paradise: this Monday, the citizens of the Bahamas are asked to cast their ballots. For the first time, the election campaign also takes place on social networks and blogs. Politically, the island nation is deeply divided, which is why comments are full of expletives. However, it is in “real life” that this campaign becomes nasty. Perry Christie, former – and maybe future – prime minister and leader of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), experienced this as he and his wife went to vote at the advanced poll. Supporters of current prime minister Hubert Ingraham and his party, the Free National Movement (FNM), cussed and spat at the couple.

Heaven for Tourists, Hell for Locals

The tone on blogs and social networks is not quite as rough, but tense nonetheless. The West Indies, of which The Bahamas are a part, have undergone severe changes over the past couple of years. For many locals, the island paradise has turned into hell. Even before the financial crises, the thirteen sovereign nations between North and South America only fared moderately well. Since the big crash, however, the region’s economy has failed to get back on its feet. With an expected economic growth between 2.5 and 2.7 per cent, The Bahamas is still doing well compared to its neighbours, but it, too, definitely feels the aftershocks of the crisis. Apart from the ailing economy, the themes dominating the campaigns are the fight against crime and the sale of oil exploration licenses to a multinational corporation.

Winner Irrelevant

Both the two established parties PLP and FNM as well as the recently formed Democratic National Alliance (DNA) with its leader Branville McCartney have failed to present convincing policy proposals. The anonymous author behind the blog Bahama Republic thus writes that “regardless of which party will send more MPs to the House, and regardless of whether the Prime Minister’s name is going to be Hubert Ingraham, Perry Christie, or Branville McCartney, the policies put before us, and the style of governance will not significantly change.”

Dusty Policies, Modern Online Campaign

Blogger Nicolette Bethel adds, “Why should I cast a vote for men who were educated before Bahamian Independence, and whose philosophies are, must be, out of place in this digital, global age?”

Yet, on the social networks, the candidates and their parties present themselves as remarkably modern. All three have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Even the political newcomer McCartney has accumulated more than 6,000 Facebook fans and casually interacts with his followers as “Bran.” However, on Twitter these politicians are rarely active. For the most part, their posts there were automatically transferred from Facebook.

Opinion Leader Facebook

Facebook is the undisputed leader when it comes to shaping political opinion online, as blogger G. R. Wilson of Straight Talk Bahamas tells Hyperland: “I don’t think that blogs have a lot of influence. Facebook is in a whole different league. On Facebook, there are groups that have shaped the political discussion. Some of the administrators of these political groups have found their way into the major parties this way.”

Direct Dialogue with Voters

The number of people who leave comments on Facebook posts frequently reaches double digits – a remarkable number for a country with a population of only 350,000. This level of participation can be explained by the direct dialogue of politicians with the voters. Candidates do not merely plaster their walls, but they follow the discussions below their posts and personally respond to some comments. Blog posts on the other hand rarely generate comments. Blogger Richard Lowe confirms this to Hyperland: “Only a small number of people follow the discussions on blogs.”

Nonetheless, in media terms, this election campaign must be considered a small revolution for the island nation. Now, it is time for the dust to be removed from the parties’ platforms.

Note: If you would like to follow the elections on Twitter, you can do so under #Bahamas2012. If you would like to keep up with the topic after the elections, Janine Mendes-Franco reports on the Caribbean regularly at Global Voices.