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.”

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10 responses to “Papa’s DNA Test came back Negative

  1. This article was a very good read. I was one of those who voted DNA this past monday. My primary reason was the hope for change – if only in the process of elections. I am one of those ‘nieve’ citizens who belive that one day a government will be elected in our country based on – not questionable promises but – strong and atainable progrssive natured plans.

    I have but one question based on the content of this article… If I am not mistaken, did not the members of the DNA collectively call for public debate among candidates?

  2. Yes, the DNA had publicly stated that it would debate. The PLP’s leader, Perry Christie, too, on Twitter virtually challenged the other party leaders to a debate. However, when presented an invitation to actually participate in a debate at The College of The Bahamas, all three parties ignored the call. They did not RSVP, they did not cancel, they just ignored the invitation.

    I personally faxed the invitations to the FNM and the PLP, and I would have faxed them to the DNA, too, but could not find a fax number on their website or in the phone book. I e-mailed them to the chairmen of the three parties, and I hand delivered the letters to the party headquarters.

    In the case of the DNA, the national headquarters were deserted when I got there at 10:30 (or thereabouts, but certainly what most of us would consider normal business hours) on a normal workday. The same day, however, I hand delivered the letter to the Ft. Charlotte constituency office, where I gave it directly onto the hands of DNA chairman Mark Humes.

    It looks to me like there were some guys afraid of their own courage…

  3. First of all Stephen, I want to say thanks for your article. It was comprensive and touched on a lot of important topics and that you have taken the time to help push the discourse forward in this was is commendable.

    If I’m being honest, I’ll have to say it was hard for me to swallow at times because despite the article containing some useful facts and opinions, I did have problems accepting many parts of the article as being fair in its observation. Before I go on, I would just like to say that I’m not loyal to any “party” and like most Bahamians, yourself included, I’m really hoping for the day where we have a government that really is representative of the best interests of its citizens and listens, and leads us in a transparent and inspiring way.

    To try to avoid making this post a really long one, I’ll just say that the issue that I have with the article is that it does not give enough credit to “progress” and focuses solely on perfect, as if progress doesn’t count. I know that perfect is the goal but it is progress that gets us there.

    For example, when talking about the achievements touted by Mr. Ingraham, the roads were lambasted as not smooth, the straw market potentially irrelevant and the new airport as not being adequate at times for high traffic volumes. I saw these as poor examples of why Mr. Ingraham should not be proud of his record. Poor examples because, despite having room for increased progress, I think we will be hard pressed to find any Bahamian that doesn’t agree that the roads are 10 x better than they were (not withstanding the fiascos and damage to our important local businesses), I’m referring to road quality and affect on traffic. Same goes to the airport. Is there room for improvement? You betcha.. but it is leaps and bounds better than what we had before, in many ways. And for the strawmarket, well anyone who works there or has family that works there and has had to suffer through years and years of horrible working conditions and a horrible first impression for many tourists cannot deny that what has been done represents progress. Can more be done? Sure. Should we try to develop programs that encourage true local crafts that are uniquely Bahamian and that tourists will flock too instead of 1000 t-shirts for 5 cents… you betcah, but it did represent progress and the ability to get things done, so I don’t think these achievements were portrayed fairly in the article. I think there were other things you could have more easily (and truthfully) pointed to to represent a lack of leadership by Mr. Ingraham (arrogance and a complete lack of desire to listen to and empathize with the citizens he represents being chief among them!)

    Ok, my post is has gotten long despite my best efforts. But I would quickly add, that your comment about “the FNM and DNA voters combined represented more than those who voted for the PLP” while this may be true, again I find it misleading. When you are running as a party, your job is to win. The PLP won. Their job wasn’t to get more votes than all parties combined.. what type of new metric is this? As to whether or not it was a landslide victory, I think before you say yes or no to this question you would have to define what your definition of landslide means. They won the majority of seats (the vast majority) so by this definition it was indeed a landslide. Now if the definition was different (out of all Bahamian voters, how much above 50% did you get) then the answer would be different, but (and I’ll admit I’m going into unchartered territory here because I do not know the exact population figures for each constituency) if we had 300k bahamians and 250k lived in one constituency and the other 50K lived across 30 different constituencies, then it would be possible to win a majority of seats, without getting the popular vote). I’m sure you understand all this as it is obvious you are in intelligent writer with good intentions. I’m only pointing it out because I believe many of your points and observations were sound but I found your examples to be what I think is wrong with politics in our country today; taking the easy way out to persuade people that what you say is right when you know better, and you don’t trust that if you presented arguments fairly that your audience would be intelligent enough to agree with you anyway.

    I know “truth” has hardly won elections in the past, but for once I’d like to see an opposition leader go “listen, while its true that the current administration is not responsible for the global economic crisis and hardships countries are faced with now, I believe we can do a much better job of helping to brunt its effects with these policies(a, b, c). I know its just easier to say, The PLP is the reason City Markets failed and The FNM is the reason there are tough economic times, but none of those states are true and fair (even if the case can be made that you can show they contribute to the problem.. which is something I can accept).

    I’ll end with this. When you talked about how proud Bahamians were that they could vote out one govt and put another in, you questioned if that was really something to be proud of, and questioned whether they should feel badly that they choose poor governments both times, I think this is another example of perfect being the enemy of the good. We are on a journey. We are maturing. You see it every election cycle and we are getting better. Recognize this please. The truth is, we are choosing between the options that are available and we are encouraging and demanding new options. I’m not sure if the DNA truly realizes what they accomplished but I find it particularly amazing. I know people who KNEW the DNA wasn’t going to win but voted for them anyway. Why? To let their voice be heard that the status quo is not acceptable and we are dying for change and if this is a way for the leaders to pay attention, then this is a stance I will take. I think the fact that the Bahamian people are confident enough and resilient enough to vote out ANY party that is not performing in a way they desire, IS INDEED a sign of maturity. Because it forces everyone who does get in, to be on their toes and take the people seriously, and as we demand more and more, and show leaders that their is no “automatic power” they can rely on, then new leaders will emerge who actually listen to the people and we will reward them with our support. So, we are helping our governments to improve since we hold their feet to the fire in this way, until we can reach a more mature place.

    I’m sorry I spent so much time talking about the issues I had with the article and not lavishing enough praise, because I really did enjoy the good points and I really want to say hats off to you again for taking the time to do this. Hey, you’ve even inspired me to get off my laurels and join in the discourse, and for this I say thanks as well.

    DGP

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, and for taking the time to comment in such depth. I truly appreciate it, and won’t respond to all of it. Many of your observations I agree with, in fact, and I, too, am happy that we had a third party that made such an impact on the elections. While I do not support many of their positions, I had hoped that they would win one or two seats, because I do not believe that a democratic society can be adequately represented by only two parties.

      That brings me to the question about whether or not the PLP won the elections, and whether it was their duty to win the popular vote. Obviously, they won. And obviously, in our system, it is not required to do more than beat one’s opponents by more than a single vote in a majority of constituencies. The reason I point out the popular vote is merely to show the government (and if I had had a blog five years ago, I would’ve said the same to the then winners) that the support for their proposals on election day amongst the population was not as great as the parliamentary majority may suggest, and to caution them to bear this in mind when making decisions that will affect the entire country and its entirey citizenry.

      I would much rather a government succeeds at convincing more voters that they have done good, and will do good, so that we may grant them a second term. We need some fundamental changes to be implemented, and I am not sure that a one-term government can achieve this. So, whether PLP, FNM, DNA or XYZ, I wish them well, and I wish that they tackle deep-rooted systemic issues so convincingly that they will be given the chance to finish their job.

      This brings me to the next point, one of my examples. I also believe that it is a newly elected government’s duty to be respectful to its democratically elected predecessor’s decisions. Ingraham violated this when he stopped the first straw market to build a different one. I do not want for us to start from scratch every time we elect a new government.

      That is one reason I chose the straw market as an example. The other is that I understand that the new straw market’s stall rents are so low that we (the taxpayer) will not only not recover the construction costs, ever, but that we will also have to subsidise its day-to-day operations. As I question the value of the products sold there in the overall picture of our tourism product, then maybe it is time for us as a nation to think of better ways to utilise our human resources, for obviously selling trinkets to tourists does not make cents. (Pardon the pun.)

      As for the airport: I can’t say I’m impressed. Yes, it’s prettier, and it’s got more ways for me to spend money while waiting than the old one, but I don’t see that its functionality (getting people on and off planes) has increased sufficiently. Many gates still have insufficient seating, depending on where you wait, you still have a hard time hearing announcements, and too often, you are forced to use stairs, not just on those little American Eagle planes.

      Finally, roads: There are a few new new ones that are nice, mainly Cable Beach. Of the repaved ones, I have yet to see one that is a genuine improvement. As I said, maybe they’re not really ready, it’s hard to tell. The one road improvement job of recent days that gave me, the ordinary driver, the impression that I am indeed driving on a better road than before, is the East-West highway from Blue Hill going west. That, however, was done under the previous PLP administration.

      Bottom line, I don’t think that achievements like these were enough to campaign on. And neither did the majority of voters.

      However, I really appreciate your feedback, and I believe that agreeing to disagree is essential for a democracy. If I presented so much for you to disagree with so strongly that you felt the need to comment, I probably achieved more than if I had convinced you. Our democracy needs more voices. Welcome to the dialogue!

      • Thanks again Stephen. In your initial post, you actually presented quite a bit that I agreed with as well, but that was easily summed up with “I agree” 😉 I had to spend more times on the other points. I appreciate your clarifications, I believe they hold merit. On your point about being respectful of your predecessor’s decisions, again spot on, the straw market was one of many areas where that was evident. I just find this level of clarification more balanced, you’ve reiterated what you’ve said, but you’ve clarified what you are aren’t saying and I think it helps to keep the debate honest. Thanks for taking the time to respond and I look forward to your future posts.

        DPG

  4. Wow! What a very interesting read! If the facts are accurate, I would say this is the closest thing Bahamians will ever come accross in the way of a fair and unbiased review.

  5. A very enlightening article ! Perhaps what the Bahamas needs is the MMP ( mixed member proportional )method of electing members of Parliament and not the FPP (first past the post ) . In this way, most voices are heard .

      • Yes, I read the post and it makes sense to me ! The key words you used for MMP are”working across party lines” and “compromise” . Changing from FPP to MMP is a long process – lots of discussion and most important – a referendum – where everyone has his say. New Zealand had a massive publicity campaign through the schools and media to explain how it worked. In 1996, New Zealanders used this system for the first time where a voter has 2 votes on election day – one for the party and one for a local candidate. These could be 2 different parties ! Up to now it all seems to be working .

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