The by-election in North Abaco is a reason for the PLP to celebrate, in partisan terms, but it is not a reason for the Bahamas to celebrate. The results suggest that our democratic process fuels an ochlocratic machine; our democracy is broken.
Indeed, North Abaco has, for decades, voted for a representative, Hubert Ingraham, first as a PLP, then as an independent, then as an FNM. Many claim that in our system voters are supposed to do exactly that. However, with most candidates being members of a party, they will, regardless of their personal convictions, tow party line once in parliament. Therefore, voting for a personality that is weaker than party pressure makes precious little sense.
For a long time now, North Abaco has then been an FNM constituency, most recently on 7th May, 2012, when the FNM lost the general elections. Hubert Ingraham, then leader of the FNM, offered himself as a candidate for the House of Assembly in the North Abaco constituency. However, instead of taking the obligation seriously to represent that constituency for five years to come when he successfully defended that seat, resigned as a result of his party losing the election nationally. This could be a reason for voters in North Abaco to be disappointed in the FNM; it should be a reason for voters in North Abaco to be disappointed in Hubert Ingraham.
Nonetheless, North Abaco went into this by-election with local conditions that had changed precious little since 7th May. Nationally, the PLP has been in power for just over five months, and Christie’s administration, on their one-hundred day mark, had earned an F from Bahamian voters. Given this tangible frustration amongst Bahamians, an election victory for the Progressive Liberal Party is cause for surprise.
However, as observed before, North Abaco has been loyal to a man regardless of his party affiliation for a long time, so maybe this by-election requires us to indeed look at the candidates rather than just their parties. Renardo Curry had been rejected on 7th May, and is otherwise a remarkably unremarkable candidate. On the other hand, Greg Gomez is a remarkable candidate, but in what sense?
Greg Gomez, rumour has it, was handpicked by his predecessor, Hubert “Papa” Ingraham, to the point where Ingraham delayed his resignation so that Gomez would become eligible, under the constitution, to run. Some observers have speculated that Ingraham’s choice was not motivated by what was best for the party, but by what might add to his legacy to the FNM. Like in 2002, when Ingraham sent Tommy Turnquest into the race, he now proved to the nation that the party cannot win an election without him.
Even in the tame media landscape of the Bahamas, Gomez could not stand his own ground in an interview. And it was not even difficult policy issues where Gomez could not give convincing answers; he could not remember his on curriculum vitae. When he finally memorised it, in time for the next rally, he stood awkwardly at the podium, reciting it while referring to himself in the third person. No, Greg Gomez was not a viable candidate.
Unfortunately though, the PLP did not focus its campaign on the unsuitability of the opposition’s candidate, nor did they focus it on policy issues. They openly advertised a spoils system, and brought the carrot and the stick to North Abaco. In a rather Machiavellian move, the Prime Minister called a full cabinet meeting in Abaco, when the seat of government is Nassau. Now, in an archipelagic nation, there may in fact be some justification to have cabinet meetings on a variety of islands. However, to have the first such one on the island where a by-election campaign is underway, with no other such meeting on any other island being in sight, reeks of “carrot.”
Then, of course, there was the “stick,” when Christie openly threatened North Abaco with victimisation in the form of stagnation should they return an FNM member to the House of Assembly. Yes, Ingraham, too, tried to play a similar card in the Elizabeth by-election in 2010, but two wrongs have never made a right. Elizabeth was a close call, and the PLP won a seat formerly held by the PLP; Ingraham’s statement most likely had some impact. The PLP, whose performance since 7th May has been met with little enthusiasm, turned an FNM seat in this by-election, and many Bahamians, for the next five years, will suspect that the Hon. Renardo Curry owes his seat in parliament in part to those not-so-subtle threats uttered by the Prime Minister.
North Abaco By-Election Results, 15th October, 2012
Renardo Curry, PLP: 2,367 votes
Greg Gomez, FNM: 1,513 votes
S. Ali McIntosh, BCP: 7 votes
Registered Voters: 4,517
Ballots Cast: 3,887
Voter Turnout: 86.05%