(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.
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.