One Lone Election Observer

Tomorrow, Silly Season 2017 will be over. What will follow Silly Season though? In an ideal world, we would have elected a government which, with a fresh democratic mandate, will get to work to implement its plans for a better future for our Bahamaland. And an opposition that will constructively criticise the government and ensure that their policies truly benefit all Bahamians, and not just members of one political tribe.

However, there have been signs that Silly Season 2017 may just be the prelude for Election Court Season 2017, and that we run the risk of deadlock administered by a government of questionable democratic legitimacy. Unfortunately, our opposition parties have been suspiciously quiet on the issue so far, perpetuating a pattern that we have observed across the political landscape over the past five years. Instead of playing their part in the responsible governance of our country, opposition parties have sat back and enjoyed watching a train wreck from front row seats – only speaking out when they considered it politically expedient.

This is a list of some occurrences around the 2017 general election that raise doubts about the integrity of the exercise:

  1. Non-Registration of citizens whose outfits the employees of the Parliamentary Registration Department found objectionable. While BJ Nottage, as Minister with responsibility for elections, spoke out relatively quickly on the issue and reminded the PRD of their duty to register all eligible voters, the response from the Parliamentary Registration Department and its then-Commissioner Sherlyn Hall lacked sincerity. More importantly, though, it may have already deterred persons from trying to register again, and thus de facto suppressed their votes.
  2. The Report of the Constituencies Commission was not prepared and submitted to the Governor-General within the timeframe mandated by the Constitution. Article 70 states that this must be done “at intervals of not more than five years.” Being late is not being slack. It’s being in violation of the country’s fundamental law.
  3. The Order by the Governor-General laid before the House of Assembly as a result of the Constituency Commission’s Report contained changes. These changes were made by the Prime Minister after the opposition representative had signed the Report. This is very poor style in a democracy, but, according to the letter of the law, within the realm of what is constitutional in the Bahamas. However, in such cases, the Constitution demands that the PM “lay before the House of Assembly together with the draft a statement of the reasons for the modifications.” Whether the reasons for the change were satisfactorily stated is a matter for debate.
  4. The Voters Register contained glaring errors. Weeks before the election, it became apparent that the information contained was in many cases erroneous, with some voters’ birth dates as far back as the 18th century or as recent as this year. It also became apparent that some voters were registered more than once. Given the level of disorganisation that the Parliamentary Registration Department and its Commissioner Sherlyn Hall have displayed over the past couple of years, especially during the Constitutional Referendum where some results were reported that were not only obviously wrong but plain impossible, the public’s confidence in the Parliamentary Registration Department having discovered and rectified the errors in the short time since is minimal at best.
  5. The majority of candidates filled in their nomination papers incorrectly, and the Parliamentary Registration Department did not check. We all know that the veracity of the information contained in these documents is not checked, but one would expect that the Parliamentary Registration Department would not accept nomination papers that did not even meet the formal requirements. The most common error made, incidentally, was that most candidates forgot to put their names on Form E – the Declaration of Assets, Income and Liabilities. Unfortunately, there were further mistakes made by the Parliamentary Registration Department in the transmission of the candidates’ nomination papers to the newspaper, and by the newspaper in the layout stages, so that for some candidates some or even all of the information has not been published, meaning the electorate is prevented from scrutinising the information.
  6. By the previous Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall’s admission, the voter register was certified late. Given the errors mentioned above, it is remarkable that Hall was confident enough to certify it at all.
  7. The certified register must be made available to all candidates upon request but apparently, some candidates are more equal than others. One candidate proudly declared on social media that this was done in the time stipulated by law, however, other candidates not affiliated with the same party suggest that this was not done in all cases in the timeframe stipulated by law, that it was still not done by the end of the advance poll.
  8. The advance poll was a disaster. The lines were so long that this led, in some cases, to de facto voter suppression. In many cases, participants in the advance poll found that their names were not on the lists and were prevented from casting a regular ballot; they were not given the opportunity to cast a protest vote either and thus stripped of their right to vote. Furthermore, many overseas polling stations ran out of ballots; this, too, de facto disenfranchised a number of voters.
  9. The replacement of Sherlyn Hall must raise eyebrows. To replace a Parliamentary Commissioner in the seven days between the advance poll and the general election is unfortunate, though given the level of incompetence displayed by Sherlyn Hall, keeping him on may have been even more unfortunate. However, questions remain. Officially, to save face, Sherly Hall left because his contract happened to expire between the advance poll and the general election, that he did not seek a renewal, that he was going to retire. If you organise an election and overlook the date on the contract of the person in charge of that entire exercise, then you are either incompetent or deliberately want to create chaos. However, a few days later, the Acting Parliamentary Commissioner Charles Albury declares that the previous Parliamentary Commissioner and now retiree Sherly Hall has in fact been retained as a consultant. This makes no sense. What makes the least sense though is who orchestrated the replacement. Newspaper reported that in the aftermath of the advance poll, high-ranking representatives of the governing party have been seen going in and out of the Parliamentary Registration Department, and the announcement that an Acting Parliamentary Commissioner had been appointed came from the Cabinet Office. However, according to law, it is the Governor-General, which at least in theory is a non-partisan position, who appoints the Commissioner, and not the politicians running for (re)election.
  10. By the Acting Parliamentary Commissioner Charles Albury’s admission, the register, despite certification, contains “clerical errors.” Albury’s choice of words – “think” and “would” – does not instill confidence: “I think to that extent in terms of the multiple names or rather the double registering, I think that would have been cleaned up.”
  11. The political parties’ campaigns seem to be fuelled by potentially illegally obtained information about the competition. The political opponents are frequently accused of illegal doings. However, this is only ever done on the campaign trail, demonstrating that our politicians do not care about enforcing the law and making offenders face legal consequences for wrongdoings, but rather use such information for blackmail and politricking. One thing that has been lacking from the campaign is visions and policy proposals and discussions of the same.

If you can think of any more irregularities surrounding the 2017 Bahamian election, please share them with me, and I will see if I can update this list. In an anxious, nervous way, I am looking forward to reading the reports of the four international organisations observing our elections this year.