Bye-Bye-Election

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%

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Doing History, Part I

This year’s Shakespeare in Paradise will feature a production entitled, “Speak the Speech,” which tells the Bahamian story through historic speeches and other primary sources. While working on this project with Festival Director Nicolette Bethel, I discovered and rediscovered a trove of interesting documents that many of my readers may not necessarily be familiar with.

Today, I share with you a “proclamation and address” by Lieutenant Governor Balfour shortly before Emancipation in 1834. In it, Balfour advises the population on the changes that are about to happen. This document was published in the Royal Gazette. I thank my students for their assistance in unearthing it from the National Archives on Mackey Street.

PROCLAMATION AND ADDRESS,
TO THE POPULATION OF THE BAHAMAS.

By His Excellency BLAYNEY TOWNLEY BALFOUR, Esquire, Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief in and over the Bahama Islands, Chancellor, Vice Admiral, and Ordinary of the same.

FELLOW SUBJECTS AND FRIENDS.

IN a few weeks Slavery will be at an end, and I therefore address you, that you may all know the chief points in the new system, and that you may not offend the Laws through ignorance.

MASTERS, remember that you must feed and clothe your Apprentices, and otherwise provide them, according to the Law. – Remember that you have no right to strike or imprison an apprentice; but if he deserve punishment, you must take him to a Special Justice.

SLAVES, you will, on the 1st of August, lose this name, and become free; but as I told you last year, you will not be altogether free, but for a few years you will have to work for your Masters as Apprentices; that is to say, as Free Servants who receive Food and Clothes and House, instead of Wages in Money.

Now, what is the difference between a Slave and an Apprentice? It is great – A master may flog a Slave; he may not, dare not, strike an Apprentice, or he will be punished.

A master may imprison a Slave in the Workhouse; he may not imprison an Apprentice.

A master may make a Slave work every day in his plantation, he may only make an Apprentice work five days in each week, and only nine hours each day, and the master must feed his Apprentice every day, and find him a House and Clothing.

But some of you are Sailors, and some are House Servants – and of course those must work every day, and perhaps for more than nine hours – But then, in return, the Law says that those who work every day shall be entirely free in four years, and those who work in the Fields cannot be entirely Free until the end of six years.

When you become entirely free you will have to pay for the House and Food and Clothes and Medicine which your Masters are now obliged to give.

If you are idle, or insolent to your masters, they will complain to the Justice, and you will be punished. If your masters treat you badly or strike you, or imprison you, you may complain, and they will be punished.

And now Farewell; be obedient and quiet, and the Law will protect you; but if you are not so, remember the Law can and will punish you.

Given under my hand and seal at Arms at Nassau, in the Island of New Providence, this twenty seventh day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty four, and in the fifth year of His Majesty’s reign.
B. T. BALFOUR.
By His Excellency’s Command,
J. H. PERPALL,
Dep. Pub. Secy.

The attentive reader will no doubt notice that there is a lot of talk about the work apprentices are required to do, but not a word about any training they should receive, as one might expect for an apprenticeship system. That is because apprenticeship in this context was but a euphemism for continued slavery, which is what five full days a week of forced labour really amounts to.

“Apprenticeship” was one of the attempts on behalf of the British government to make emancipation more palatable to the slave owners. After all, in a legal sense, emancipation amounted to a large scale expropriation of private property. Now, not only were British slave owners financially compensated for the loss of their human property, but apprenticeship allowed them to perpetuate established modi operandi for several years.

Balfour emphasises that apprentices were entitled to food and clothing, but, while the particulars may have changed, this basic principle had long been established for slaves, too. In the Bahamas, it had been regularised by the Consolidated Slave Act of 1797, and arguably, even after the end of apprenticeship, it the truck system continued exploitation of labour for payment in kind throughout much of the nineteenth century.

The first Bahamian slave law had been passed in 1723, though arguably, the “Articles and Orders of the Company of Eleutherian Adventurers” (1647) already contained aspects of slavery. Since then, ameliorative elements had found their way into newer legislation, but the main means of controlling the masses remained the same: threats of punishment, especially physical punishment.