Please Elaborate

“We have persons who get into politics for the wrong reasons. We have people who enter the political arena to become members of Parliament to make money for themselves.” – Branville McCartney, June 2014 (The Nassau Guardian).

“The Public Disclosures Act was created to prevent people from stealing. We’ve had MPs, some of whom are still in Parliament, come into politics as broke as the day is long and now they are millionaires. That cannot be right. Something is drastically wrong there.” – Branville McCartney, June 2014 (The Tribune).

Financial disclosure of Candidate Branville McCartney in 2007: $2.0 million
Financial disclosure of MP Branville McCartney in 2012: $6.5 million
(Bahamas Local).

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“Enemies of the State”: How Young Nerds Scare Grown Men

(Paper presented at the conference, “The Bahamas at Forty: Reflecting on the Past, Envisioning the Future,” hosted by the College of The Bahamas’ School of Social Sciences, 12th-14th June, 2013.)

Originally, this paper was supposed to be entitled, “‘A Prime Minister Who Listens’: An Examination of Social Media and the Public Discourse Surrounding the Referendum on Gambling in the Bahamas,” because when Bahamian Prime Minister Christie announced that the referendum on gambling would be postponed from 3rd December, 2012, to 28th January, 2013, he did so stating that he was “a Prime Minister who listens” referring to the wide array of criticism that the government’s plans had been met with from various sectors of Bahamian society. In this paper, I sought to explore if – or how – public commentary on this issue on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook may have influenced this debate, if its users were, perhaps, ahead of traditional media, ahead of the official opposition, and ahead of other interest groups chiming in on the issue.

During the so-called Arab Spring, mass media pundits were quick to dub these movements Facebook or Twitter Revolutions. However, academic researchers have since shown that, while these platforms played an important role in getting information about these events to the outside world, more confidential and easily accessible communication channels, such as text messaging, were far more important in coordinating the protests inside affected Arab countries. (1) The trend to credit social media with fuelling protest movements in the Islamic world can currently be witnessed again in Turkey, however, unlike in the countries of northern Africa, Internet access is widespread in Turkey, and 81% of Turkish Internet users have at least one social media account.

In the Bahamas, compared to most of the Arab world, Internet access is comparatively affordable and readily available, and fear of criminal prosecution for voicing one’s opinion is far less prevalent, albeit growing. Can social media, in such a setting, widen the base of participants in the political process and deepen democracy?

Originally, this paper was to look at a select number of Facebook groups, as well as the Twitter feeds of a cross section of Bahamian users of the platform that can, in social media terms to be adapted to the Bahamian context, be considered influential without being traditionally influential. It will attempt to highlight emerging patterns of how ideas can now be born in the virtual sphere and find their way into the conversation of the traditional political and media elite.

However, over the past few months, there were several important changes in the social media landscape of the Bahamas, which I will outline first, as they affect the approach taken to the paper – and, I trust, explain its new title. Regarding Facebook, the most important development impacting this study is that of the three major groups in which Bahamians like to discuss politics online, only one remains public: Crossfire. Crossfire, however, is known for its explicit PLP bias, so it may not be a very useful case study.

Not being able to conduct a more in-depth analysis of the discussion that took place on Facebook is disappointing, because Facebook is currently the most influential social media platform in the Bahamas; in September 2012, there were 165,820 Facebook users in the country, which in June of the same year had a little less than 236,000 Internet users; the 2010 census counted 234,744 individuals in the 15-64 year age range. A further demographic breakdown of Bahamian Facebook users is interesting, because it demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, Facebook is a platform appealing primarily to the adult population. In fact, recent figures from the United States and western Europe indicate a decline amongst Facebook users aged 34 years and younger in those countries.

Age Range

13-15

16-17

18-24

25-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65-100

%

4%

7%

29%

26%

17%

10%

4%

2%

Facebook Users in the Bahamas by Age (May 2013)

Sex

Female

Male

%

55%

45%

Facebook Users in the Bahamas by Sex (May 2013)

One of the non-public Facebook groups in which political matters are being discussed encompasses more than 15,000 members, a number close to ten percent of the 165.922 persons registered to vote during last year’s general election. Given these membership numbers, the level of confidentiality suggested by such groups’ non-public status may be questionable, but their privacy settings must be respected, and as such, a detailed analysis of the discussion within such a group would require the explicit permissions of every poster. In the framework of this paper, attempting to get permission from such a vast number of individuals did not seem feasible.

However, an exploration of the causes that lead to two of these groups switching to non-public can nonetheless be very informative, because it immediately points to some other developments and discussions that the country has witnessed over the past few months:

  1. On 4th April, 2013, Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade announced that certain posts on social media platforms could trigger legal action against users. The Tribune quotes Greenslade saying, “I send a clear message to all and sundry: have your fun on social media, send your messages to your friends; but this issue of posting lewd pictures of people, obscene pictures of people – whether they are alive or dead or injured – is an area that’s going to get you into grave problems.” And: “I sound that clarion call this morning and I demonstrate by action, how serious I am about that. I am prepared to speak to it again and again, until that message is clear. If you post on Facebook or any other social media anything that is contrary to law, that is obscene or indecent, and it infringes upon the rights of any other citizen, this commissioner and all members of the RBPF – I daresay all of us in public safety – are going to take action because we have a problem with that. We are not going to ignore it.”

While these statements alone seem perfectly reasonable, it is the interpretation of what is acceptable or not that has the potential to intimidate Bahamian social media users, because Greenslade did not make these statements in a purely hypothetical scenario, but made them to explain action taken by the Royal Bahamas Police Force against Rodney Moncur, a Justice of the Peace, former DNA candidate and self-proclaimed community activist who allegedly posted pictures on Facebook showing police brutality. One picture, or set of pictures, allegedly showed the bruised backside of a man who claims to have been beaten by police; the other picture, or set of pictures, allegedly shows the corpse of a man who died in police custody.

In light of the accusations against Moncur, Greenslade’s warning ought to have been clearer, for questions remain as to the precise nature of Moncur’s infraction or infractions. Were the pictures themselves lewd, obscene or indecent? Was it that they made allegations against the police that had not yet been proven in a court of law? Was it that at least the picture of the corpse was allegedly obtained without authorisation?

In the past, Moncur has alienated many Bahamians through his arguably misogynistic rants on Facebook and Twitter, but nonetheless many of those that he has alienated came to his support, and one Tribune editor tried to start an online conversation to discuss the state of free speech and freedom of the press using the hashtag #FreeSpeech242. (2)

  1. On 19th April, 2013, the Nassau Guardian reported that the Office of the Attorney General is working on legislation that would police information posted on the Internet. In the article, Attorney General Allison Maynard-Gibson is quoted as saying, “We have to balance freedom of the press with protecting the public.”

  1. A few days later, on 29th April, 2013, an opinion piece by Philip C. Galanis, coordinator of the Vote Yes campaign and associated with the governing party, originally published in August 2012 was reprinted in the Nassau Guardian, seemingly at the request of Galanis, in which he identifies several groups as “enemies of the state.”

Galanis writes, “Every day, enemies of the state perpetuate this ignorance and misinformation in our media and on the various blogs and social media sites. Sometimes it does not involve lying, but rather contorting the truth or omitting all the facts. Sometimes this is caused by ignorance of the exact facts, exacerbated by laziness in pursuing those facts to their source in order to glean the actual, seminal truth of the situation. Sometimes this is caused by agendas that exist deep within our so-called balanced media practitioners. It is those hidden agendas that cause things to be presented to an unsuspecting and trusting public in ways that cleverly erode and undermine the beneficial policies of the state. It is those agendas that cause information to be imparted in an insidiously slanted and unbalanced way in order to please and promote one side over another. Those who do this are clearly enemies of the state. The blogs and social media sites that impart their versions of the truth oftentimes are perceived as purveyors of the truth instead of what they really are: disseminators of self-serving rhetoric, often driven by purely political motivation and/or mischief. The individuals behind these sites are determined and committed, and their sometimes vile and always hard-hitting tone is crafted to destabilize belief systems, damage reputations and call motives into question. These are not places to find truth and concern for the welfare of the state. Therefore, these places, the bitter blogs and the poisonous social media sites, can also sometimes become enemies of the state. Nothing is more important to a healthy democracy than an informed electorate that is ever vigilant about these enemies that seek to undermine our state. Whenever they raise their ugly faces, we must be ready to stop them.”

While some of Galanis’ observations may fittingly describe some of the commentators in our present-day Bahamas, there are certain key phrases that should have journalists, bloggers and other social media users concerned, especially the premise that regards policies of the state as beneficial by definition and thus off-limits to criticism, and the notion that dissenters must be silenced, rather than argued with – or against – in the arena of public debate. For example, two currently influential examples of commentators that utilise an approach mixing social media, blogs and – to an extent – traditional media are “Bahamas Press,” known for its PLP bias, and “According to Me: Sharon T.” which is known for its FNM bias. Both are also known for preferring certain members of their respective parties over others. Both have – on occasion – raised interesting points which could have been valid contributions to a public discourse, but too often their credibility takes a hit when they lash out against the political opponent for no other reason than their party affiliation, or censor comments made on their posts, thus preventing discussion rather than fostering it. (3) However, regardless of one’s political affiliation and appreciation – or lack thereof – for these bloggers’ positions, the label of “enemy of the state,” which implies treasonous tendencies is inappropriate, and suggests that those who use it are uncomfortable with the notion of uncontrolled – and uncontrollable – free speech.

Switching the attention to Twitter now, where most accounts, and therefore most user contributions are public, we see the discussion being shaped by essentially the same dynamics as on Facebook, but due to the platform’s public nature, conversations often include different individuals, whereas on Facebook they are frequently limited to the proverbial usual suspects. For the purpose of this study, I have selected a handful of Bahamian Twitter accounts belonging to individuals who have chimed in on the matter of the gambling referendum held on 28th January, 2013, and who meet Berger’s and Strathearn’s definition of influence and/or exposure on the platform. (4)

One challenge I encountered while choosing which accounts to look at was that, without using third-party tools that require payment, one is quite limited in how far back one can access old tweets. Twitter itself proved insufficient, but a free service offered by www.twimemachine.com allowed me to go back approximately 3,200 tweets on the selected accounts. There was at least one account I would have liked to include, but its owner uses Twitter so much that even by going 3,200 tweets back into the past, I missed the time frame I was interested in, that is between Christie’s announcement of the referendum at the beginning of November 2012 and the actual day of the vote at the end of January 2013. Another criterion for this study was totally and utterly subject to my own personal bias: the users must – generally speaking – use the limited space of 140 characters available to them to compose coherent messages resembling some form of Standard English. I have, however, tried to include a spread in the selection, and ended up focussing on accounts that include representatives of the media, of academia, of the business sector, of the information technology sector, and of the blue collar working class.

With the help of Twimemachine.com, these accounts were searched for the following keywords: gambling, gaming, referendum, webshop and web shop (spelt as one word and two). Based on the observations made above, and from comparing the coverage provided by the Tribune and the Nassau Guardian to the online discourse, I offer the following three hypotheses:

  1. While traditional media dictate the topics of discussions on social media to a large extent, these online conversations are often a step ahead of the discussion in traditional media, and can in fact fuel the arguments made in the political arena.

  2. A self-sustaining social media discourse has not, or not yet, been achieved in the Bahamas, and online discussions fizzle out when the traditional media no longer provide a second arena for the same topic, even if the issue remains unresolved.

  3. Social media discussion of current affairs in the Bahamas, to an extent, provides a level of analysis that is often lacking from our traditional news media.

Of course, these three points are interrelated. Much of it is probably true for the social media phenomenon worldwide, but arguably, the last point, where Bahamian social media users attempt to analyse developments in lieu of analysis by media professionals plays out differently. A COB student research project conducted last year, concluded that contrary to popular belief, newspaper reporting in the Bahamas shows little to no political bias, not necessarily because of a deliberate effort at neutrality, but because of a lack of analysis and the strong emphasis on stock phrases, stock expressions and quotes, (5) which are not put into context and do not trigger the reporter to ask further questions.

Many of the obvious pertinent questions regarding the January 2013 referendum were then first asked on social media sites, even before representatives of opposition parties then asked them in front of microphones. A few examples:

  • What exactly did the report of the government’s UK-based consultants say that led the government from excluding the question about a national lottery from the referendum, despite the promise made in the PLP’s Charter for Governance?

After hesitating for a while, and denying the existence of a formal report, the government flew in a representative of the consultancy firm to explain his firm’s negative projection regarding a national lottery. Arguably, a consultant admitting that he has never seen the inside of a webshop did not manage to convince the opposition or the wider public, and the lottery question was subsequently added due to mounting popular pressure.

  • Can the government legally hold a non-constitutional referendum?

Seemingly rushed and reacting, the government tabled legislation to make provisions for non-constitutional referenda. However, many observers were surprised when it became clear that the Christie administration was planning to have a non-binding vote on the gambling issue, henceforth causing many Bahamians to refer to the exercise as an opinion poll.

  • Is it proper to ask voters their opinion on the regulation and taxation of webshops without asking about legalisation first?

First posed on Twitter immediately after the release of the referendum questions, DNA leader Branville McCartney prominently stressed this point, and prompted a response from Maynard-Gibson, in whose legal opinion the term regulation by definition automatically includes legalisation. This in turn sparked a brief online conversation on whether it should then not be regularisation instead of regulation, but seemingly the political sphere accepted the Attorney General’s position.

  • Why is the question of discrimination against Bahamians residents in local casinos not being addressed?

Less than a week after the original announcement of the referendum, an online petition was launched demanding to include casino gambling on the ballot, arguably not for the sake of expanding Bahamians’ gambling habits, but to remove a law that many in the country see as discriminatory. While the petition itself attracted only 125 signatures in two weeks, opposition leader Hubert Minnis then asked this question repeatedly of the government, which was forced to respond that this would – probably – be addressed in the constitutional referendum pending the final report of the constitutional review commission. This response, too, sparked further online debate with many arguing that it would be best to remove the discrimination as soon as possible, i.e. now, and to then remove the exemption of gambling laws from being non-discriminatory later, i.e. after the final report of the commission. Especially, as was pointed out by social media users, an earlier commission had already recommended to allow Bahamians access to casinos – in 1967.

  • How reliable were the numbers presented by the government and the Vote Yes campaign about webshops and their role in Bahamian economy? How were they arrived at?

This is an area that highlights how the online discourse quickly fizzles out if ignored by news media and politics, for neither representatives of the opposition nor representatives of traditional media questioned the numbers put forth by the Vote Yes campaign, or the numbers presented by the prime minister in parliament, despite their glaring discrepancies; for instance the alleged 4,000 jobs and the annual payroll of $15 million, which would have meant that a webshop employee earns a weekly salary of $72.12. The topic came up online, every so often, but never gained much traction.

  • Should webshop gambling become legalised, or in the terminology of the referendum question, “regulated and taxed,” will webshop operators be made to pay backtaxes for years of profits they raked in outside of the scope of their business licences which supposedly merely allowed them to provide Internet access on their premises?

Like the question before, the financial implications of the referendum for webshops seemed to be off-limits to both the Bahamian media as well as politicians, regardless of whether representing the government or the opposition. However, both of these points prove that social media users were attempting to seriously discuss different aspects of the gambling referendum, whereas news media and politicians frequently contented themselves with talking points and catchphrases. Of course, even before the referendum, in fact before the 2012 general election, speculations were rife as to the influence that webshop money had on politics and the media and their lack of scrutiny regarding webshop operations.

  • How much preparation time is needed to have a referendum on gambling?

As soon as the referendum was first announced at the beginning of November, to be held on 3rd December, 2012, voices could be heard that one month would not be sufficient time to educate voters on the matter, though I suspect “educate” may have been code for “campaign,” as this argument was most often used by people who admitted to having a horse in the race. In fact, I would also argue that of all the hot topics surrounding the gambling referendum, this was one barely resonating with individual social media users, and more frequently repeated on partisan platforms. It would appear that most social media users feel more comfortable about their level of awareness on national issues than many of the so-called leaders in the Bahamas are willing to give them credit for.

It were the first and last examples that ultimately had the most striking impact on how the referendum would unfold. Because a wide disapproval of the government’s handling of the process was so vocal and visible, Christie was forced to make major concessions: “I am a Prime Minister who listens, … and in listening to the still evolving public discourse on the forthcoming referendum it has become clear to me that more time is needed before the Bahamian people are called upon to vote. … Notwithstanding that initial advise, the government has decided that it would be in the interest of the broadening of democracy and consistent with its charter for governance to include a national lottery in the referendum question.”

Seeing the role that online discourse plays in overall Bahamian conversation, we conclude that, while it may at times constitute a vanguard, its influence remains limited and fickle. One possible explanation for this may be the lack of a critical mass of “nerds” to create a self-sustaining “online community” (6) to join the online conversation at any given time, to sustain it and to carry it further. What is true for Bahamian society in general, is in a paradoxical sense even truer of the Bahamian online community: it is a face-to-face society. When discussing politics online, you are always in dialogue with the same familiar users. While Bahamian social media use is heavily characterised by the use of aliases, it is not uncommon to piece together certain clues and feel pretty confident about a suspicion as to who may be behind a username.

Another reason may be people’s perception or interpretation of the function and purpose social media. A survey asking users why they used Facebook found that the wish to express political and/or social views ranks low – in fact last; light social interaction, entertainment and procrastination all rank much higher.

Unfortunately, I missed last week’s contribution to the budget debate by Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs, but was told that he elaborated on the influence social media has had on last year’s general election. When I wrote about the subject last year, I concluded that the PLP’s, FNM’s and DNA’s social media strategies all demonstrated “an insecurity about the medium, and an uncertainty in the approach.” Fan pages steered by party operatives were ineffective, but it appears that our political class has not become aware of this yet.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week remarked, “There is now a threat called Twitter. … As far as I’m concerned, social media are the biggest threat to society.” We thus see a recurrent theme from Erdoğan to Galanis, and recognise that while social media does already have the power to effect some changes in the discourse and influence events to an extent, perhaps its biggest power right now is that it has put on alert all those politicians who confuse their structures of state power with society – or even democracy.

(1) Miriyam Aouragh and Anne Alexander. “The Egyptian Experience: Sense and Nonsense of the Internet Revolution.” in: International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 1344-1358.

(2) The original hashtag was #FreedomOfSpeech242, but shortly after it was changed to #FreeSpeech242, which is shorter and thus better suited for use on Twitter due to the limit of 140 characters per message. Stephen Hunt (@chippychatty). “Commissioner Greenslade has warned about what people can post on social media. Share your views at #freedomofspeech242 – who has the say?” 4th April, 2013, 5:56pm. Tweet.

(3) Naturally, it is difficult to prove the existence of deleted posts. At this point, I can only offer my word that I myself have seen comments disappear merely for correcting factual background information, even if they did not attack the message of the rest of an article.

(4) J. M. Berger and Bill Strathearn. Who Matters Online: Measuring Influence, Evaluating Content and Countering Violent Extremism in Online Social Networks. London: The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, 2013.

(5) Rashad Rolle. Media Bias in Major Bahamian Newspapers. unpublished term paper at the College of The Bahamas (SOC 200, Social Research), Fall 2012. p. 16.

(6) The term loosely describes activists concerned about Internet accessibility and control, but is highly controversial, especially within the group it is supposed to describe. Sascha Lobo. “Unsere Muetter, unsere Fehler.” in: Sascha Lobo: Autor, Vortragsredner, Internet, 22nd March, 2013. http://saschalobo.com/2013/03/22/unsere-muetter-unsere-fehler/ (accessed 7th June, 2013); Ole Reissmann. “Leistungsschutzrecht: Versagensangst in der Netzgemeinde.” in: Spiegel Online, 25th March, 2013. http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/leistungsschutzrecht-versagensangst-in-der-netzgemeinde-a-890736.html (accessed 7th June, 2013).

Rien Ne Va Plus

It is interesting that some pundits accuse “the pundits” of the Bahamas to be too silent on the issue of a question being put before the nation’s voters on 3rd December, because a number of pundits, such as Larry Smith or Front Porch Simon, have weighed in on this issue, which has been looked at from many different angles, but few have come out in support the proposed referendum.*

There are supporters of the referendum, but their contributions tend to find their way into established media as paid advertisements rather than as op-eds. The campaign relies heavily on social media and the mass appeal created there by “liking” or “retweeting.”

The official opposition has not regained its composure after the by-election in North Abaco, and, except for tepid, timid criticism when the silence becomes too awkward, instead relies on a few mouthpieces with no official connection to the party. This cacophony of voices we hear is either exaggerating or obscuring the issue, and all too often focussing on utterly irrelevant aspects of it, as personal gain or political loyalty determine their stance.

One of the PLP’s campaign promises for its first 100 days in office was this: “Provide details for a referendum on a National Lottery and gambling in The Bahamas.” Needless to say, the promise was broken, as details for the event on December 3rd are still shrouded in fog 23 days before the date, but 187 days after the election; only yesterday did Perry Christie announce that another announcement would be forthcoming next week.

When we talk about gambling in the Bahamas, we are not just talking about gambling, but rather a whole array of issues:

  1. Gambling as such, and a criticism thereof based on their interpretation of the Bible as well as their interpretation of their religious role in our society, is the focus of the “Christian Council.” That body, as is often the case, made its case heard “proactively,” when nobody had asked for it – most notably during this year’s independence celebrations.
  2. Economic benefits for an abstract bigger picture is what the “Vote Yes” campaign chooses to focus on. Of course, this argument not only neglects that these benefits are the result of countless Bahamians foolishly gambling away their money, but their campaign is, upon closer analysis, nothing but smoke and mirrors. Their numbers do not add up, and the website has been changed to disguise this fact, but no real numbers have replaced the fraudulent ones that vanished. Initially, it was claimed that the numbers industry generates an annual revenue of $40 million, creates 3,000 jobs, and could contribute, if taxed at 25%, $26M to the public treasury. Revenue, by definition, is the amount of money taken in before subtracting expenses, and should not be mistaken for profit. $40 million taxed at 25% is $10 million, not $26 million; if untaxed, it can pay for 3,000 jobs, but then your rent and utility bills would remain largely unpaid, even if they are all minimum wage jobs, because you also claim huge donations to charities. All of this would mean you make no profit. Apparently, the numbers men expect is to believe that they are not in it for the money. These, more so than the current illegality of some of the webshops’ activities is probably the reason why the “Vote Yes” campaign is trying to hide the identities of the individuals behind it.
  3. The one argument of the “Vote Yes” campaign that I can sympathise with, is that gambling can be seen as a form of entertainment, and that it is none of my business how you use your money to entertain yourself. Agreed, as I also do not want you to tell me how I use my money to entertain myself. Need an example? Some people spend frivolous amounts of money on golfing. I do not find golf entertaining, and instead am inclined to agree with Mark Twain, who said, “A game of golf is a good walk spoiled.” I also do not find gaming entertaining, but then again, I am a plane spotter; you probably do not find that entertaining.
  4. Then there’s the question of discrimination. The 1969 Lotteries and Gaming Act prohibits residents from participating in casino gambling. When the constitution was written for independence, clause 26, paragraph 4, subsection e was included to permit the possibility that the gaming law might not follow more general anti-discrimination clauses, however, the constitution does not ban gambling. It leaves it up to the legislators to allow or ban gambling, and it allows legislators to discriminate against Bahamians when doing so. While I strongly feel that any kind of legally sanctioned discrimination is wrong, it does not require a constitutional amendment to allow Bahamians to gamble, despite some pundits claiming that Perry Christie may be about to commit treason if he allows Bahamians to gamble under the current constitution. However, the PLP’s “Charter” never planned to address the question of discrimination written into section 50 of the 1969 act, as casino gambling was not included in their plan.
  5. A referendum on a national lottery on the other hand was included in their list of campaign promises. However, shortly after Christie publicly announced that the government would look at local experts, for instance from the College of the Bahamas, for consultancies, as opposed to foreign consultants, they hired a UK-based consultancy firm, which in record time produced a report that said that a national lottery in the Bahamas would not be viable due to the country’s small size. I will not go into any more detail here, as I have a gut feeling that future developments may shed some more light on this issue before the referendum – see the next two points.
  6. This then brings us to the question of transparency. The consultants drew their conclusions faster than gamblers pick their numbers. To convince the public that thorough research was done, demands began to be heard that the report ought to be made available for review by the public. This prompted Christie to deny the existence of any formal report.
  7. Yesterday, Christie announces that another announcement will be forthcoming. BahamasPress (usually in Christie’s pocket) announced shortly afterwards that the announced announcement will see the consultants reporting to the Bahamian public about a non-existent report. We shall wait and see.
  8. If a national lottery in the Bahamas would not be viable, how are they viable in even smaller Caribbean nations which have them, and how are webshops, which are essentially privately-operated, competing and thus smaller lotteries, viable? A national lottery, clearly, would not be in the interest of the number bosses; it would hurt their business model. A national lottery, however, should be of interest to the Bahamian people, for they would be the owners, collectively, and all profits – not just a taxable percentage – would contribute towards the common good of the Commonwealth.
  9. There is debate on whether the referendum question has been announced, even Christie is trying to play semantics with that one. My ears heard it as having been communicated by Christie in the House of Assembly: the question would be whether or not we “support the legalisation and regulation of webshops. (7:30 minutes). Yet webshops are already legal, and they have business licenses. Some of their activities are currently not legal, but how would this unannounced but announced question address that issue?
  10. The above video goes on to hint at future licensing practises, but these hints remain so vague that I can already hear, through a portal in time, cries of victimisation that will make us forget any and all previous cries of victimisation ever heard in our Bahamaland.
  11. Legalisation of webshop gaming will enable a privileged few to come clean with their currently illegal fortunes, but will not benefit the many. The numbers they themselves provide demonstrate that, while the number of jobs may sound impressive, they are poorly paid jobs, continuing the exploitation of the masses by a small mercantile minority.

A referendum should be the ultimate tool in a democracy allowing for all citizens’ direct participation, however, given the lack of transparency and the nature of this referendum, which in reality is an extravagantly expensive opinion poll, we are witnessing a farce. Christie appears to be indebted to the numbers men, but seems to lack the chuzpe to take on the “Christian Council” on their behalf, thus trying to pass the buck to the populace on a non-sensical question he could easily push through parliament with his more than comfortable majority of seats.

Playing games with a referendum is being disrespectful to the electorate, the sovereign in a democracy. Am I willing to be a pawn in Christie’s game? No, I am not willing to take that gamble.

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%

Christie gets an F

On the 100th day of Perry Christie’s swearing in as prime minister, I asked my readers to complete a questionnaire about the PLP’s first 100 days in office. Specifically, I used the promises the PLP’s Charter made of goals to be achieved during this period, and I asked readers to share their impression of how effective the Christie administration has been in fulfilling these promises.

Now that the 100th day since the opening of parliament has passed, too, I am sharing the results. The numbers require not only some analysis, which will follow, but also a brief explanation upfront.

On 7th May, 2012, the proportional distribution of voters was as follows: PLP – 48.7%, FNM – 42.1%, DNA – 8.4%. However, more FNM than PLP voters participated in this survey. For this reason, I have applied a curve to the results to correct this discrepancy, and gain a score more representative of the Bahamian electorate for a harmonised result that is statistically representative.

The distribution of voters across constituencies is also not perfect, with two FNM strongholds (Killarney and St. Anne’s), one PLP stronghold (Centreville) and one “swing” constituency (Elizabeth, carried by the PLP in 2012) being overrepresented, and six out of 38 constituencies without any respondents. However, the distribution is not as New Providence centred as I had feared, and the differences between New Providence, Grand Bahama and Family Island scores are negligible.

To convert the scores to letter grades, I have used the College of the Bahamas’ grading system, which is as follows:

  • A = 90% to 100%
  • A- = 85% to 89.9%
  • B+ = 80% to 84.9%
  • B = 75% to 79.9%
  • B- = 70% to 74.9%
  • C+ = 65% to 69.9%
  • C = 60% to 64.9%
  • C- = 55% to 59.9%
  • D = 50% to 54.9%
  • F = 0% to 49.9%

Results

  1. PLP Promise: “Launch key elements of Project Safe Bahamas and Operation Cease Fire, including the reintroduction of Urban Renewal, to immediately reinvigorate the fight against crime and violence.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 86.1% A-
FNM Voters 34.4% F
DNA Voters 40.0% F
Measured Average 54.1% D
Statistically Adjusted Result 62.1% C
  1. PLP Promise: “Prioritize a doubling of the nation’s investment in the education and training of Bahamians. From preschools all the way up to retraining for Bahamians already in the workforce, we need new investment and innovative reforms.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 61.2% C
FNM Voters 7.8% F
DNA Voters 11.7% F
Measured Average 26.6% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 34.3% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Create a Ministry for Grand Bahama, bringing focus to growing that island’s economy.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 88.9% A-
FNM Voters 26.0% F
DNA Voters 38.3% F
Measured Average 50.2% D
Statistically Adjusted Result 59.5% C-
  1. PLP Promise: “Institute a mortgage relief plan in conjunction with private sector lenders to help struggling homeowners.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 57.1% C-
FNM Voters 7.0% F
DNA Voters 6.0% F
Measured Average 26.3% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 30.9% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Set in motion the plan to secure the nation’s borders, with steps to hire new personnel, acquire new technology, and initiate new training programmes.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 64.1% C
FNM Voters 9.0% F
DNA Voters 20.0% F
Measured Average 29.9% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 37.5% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Reposition The Bahamas Development Bank, so it becomes again a key player in creating jobs and expanding small and medium-sized businesses.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 61.9% C
FNM Voters 6.3% F
DNA Voters 10.0% F
Measured Average 27.3% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 34.1% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Re-establish the Ministry of Financial Services and Investments.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 87.0% A-
FNM Voters 19.7% F
DNA Voters 35.0% F
Measured Average 45.2% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 53.3% D
  1. PLP Promise: “Introduce the Employees Pension Fund Protection Act to keep pension funds out of reach for business owners, and to make directors and officers personally liable for breaches.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 69.6% C+
FNM Voters 10.5% F
DNA Voters 20.0% F
Measured Average 32.9% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 40.7% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Renew the nation’s commitment to National Health Insurance, and support the Public Hospitals Authority in the acquisition of much-needed new cancer-screening technology, ensuring that Bahamian women have access to state-of-the-art mammogram machines at both Princess Margaret in New Providence and Rand Memorial Hospital in Grand Bahama.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 60.7% C
FNM Voters 4.4% F
DNA Voters 20.0% F
Measured Average 26.0% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 33.4% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Initiate a plan to lower the cost of electricity in The Bahamas.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 51.5% D
FNM Voters 2.5% F
DNA Voters 3.3% F
Measured Average 19.6% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 26.2% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Bring together representatives from all sectors to launch a 40th Anniversary of Independence National Congress to begin enactment of Vision 2030.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 72.7% B-
FNM Voters 7.6% F
DNA Voters 26.0% F
Measured Average 33.3% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 42.3% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Provide details for a referendum on a National Lottery and gambling in The Bahamas.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 72.6% B-
FNM Voters 17.0% F
DNA Voters 23.3% F
Measured Average 37.6% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 44.7% F
  1. PLP Promise: “Reduce the maximum level of stamp tax payable on real estate transactions from 12% to 10%.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 74.4% B-
FNM Voters 30.5% F
DNA Voters 40.0% F
Measured Average 45.9% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 54.2% D
  1. PLP Promise: “Re-introduce a ceiling on the maximum level of real property taxes payable on a residence.”
Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 77.1% B
FNM Voters 25.4% F
DNA Voters 24.0% F
Measured Average 35.5% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 53.7% D
  • Based on the above grades of the PLP’s promises for the first 100 days in office, the following is the overall evaluation of the Christie administration at this point in time:
OVERALL GRADE Score Letter Grade
PLP Voters 70.4% B-
FNM Voters 14.9% F
DNA Voters 22.7 F
Measured Average 35.5% F
Statistically Adjusted Result 43.4% F

Unsatisfactory Scores

Several observers of Bahamian politics have pointed out that the aims the PLP set itself for its first 100 days in office were sufficiently vague to escape a measured evaluation. To a certain extent. For example, one promise was designed to signal to voters that the PLP would bring down the cost of electricity, when all they said was that they would initiate a plan to do so; of course this plan could come to fruition at an undetermined point in the future – or never. Or: the promised creation of two ministries; that was easily achieved, but nowhere does it demand that these ministries produce (short-term) results. However, Bahamian voters obviously understood the PLP’s message in the very way that the PLP hoped they would understand them during the campaign, and now expect results from all these plans and measures, not just bureaucratic beginnings.

Regarding some of its other promises, the PLP is trying to play semantics. An example for this is the campaign promise to double “the nation’s investment in the education and training of Bahamians.” This has been interpreted and reinterpreted, watered down and danced around so often that I no longer know what the current stance is, and I am not sure the PLP knows either. However, I do remember that one way of wriggling their way out of committing serious additional funds to education in the Bahamas was an attempt at playing on the word “investment,” and claiming that that does not necessarily have to entail money. Merriam-Webster, however, disagrees: “investment (noun) – the outlay of money usually for income or profit; capital outlay.”

While it should not come as a surprise to anyone that PLP voters rate their party’s performance higher than Bahamians who voted FNM or DNA, the gap between the camps is indeed cause for concern. Immediately after the election, I warned the PLP that “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.” Democracy is not synonymous with majority rule. Democracy does not mean that decisions should satisfy a parliamentary majority but disregard the interests of other citizens. It would appear though that Bahamians are currently viewing the Christie administration as serving the PLP’s clientele only.

Scores of FNM and DNA voters rated the government in the range from bad to worse; they are, without exception, in the F range. Yet the PLP voters’ evaluation of the Christie administration, too, should have the current administration concerned. Their overall grade for them is only a B-, not a single question scored an A among PLP voters, yet in two categories they gave their own party failing grades of C- and D respectively.

The few A- grades that the Christie government earned from its supporters, were in three categories: Urban Renewal, Ministry for Grand Bahama, and Ministry of Financial Services and Investments. The voters of the other parties also scored the government higher in these points. They happen to be some of the most obvious points. Nobody can deny that cabinet ministers have been appointed to these portfolios, and Urban Renewal has been making a lot of headlines. Yet while Bahamians remain divided over the effectiveness, or the positive impact, that these measures have. It is nonetheless interesting that this is the point where the current government earned its only overall passing grade.

The lowest grades that the Christie government earned from its own voters, were in two categories that the electorate probably measures very differently to the politician with an average declared net worth of $2.5 million. They are mortgage relief, where PLP voters rated the government C-, and the cost of electricity, where they rated the government D. While especially the mortgage relief plan has been talked about a lot – it even has attracted international attention – the fact remains that Bahamians have yet to feel any relief to the ever increasing cost of living in this country, while the vast majority of Bahamians experience stagnant incomes.

This reinforces some common notions about the PLP base’s demographics, just like the relatively – relatively! – high scores for the government’s real estate taxation plans among FNM voters confirm common notions about the FNM base’s demographics. Apart from Urban Renewal, only the last two questions score above 25% among FNM voters. Both, but especially the latter, are bound to be more beneficial to the richest of Bahamians, whereas the vast majority of Bahamians will never notice the ceiling on property taxes, neither directly nor as a trickle down effect.

Overall, the results of the survey are not surprising. For the most part, they highlight the expected: that PLP voters would not be very enthusiastic when they realise that there would be no gold rush after the Gold Rush; that FNM voters, many of whom essentially define themselves through their opposition to the PLP, would not allow the Christie government the benefit of the doubt; and that one hundred days in a democracy, but particularly in a place where things often move as slowly as they do in the Bahamas, are a very short time.

A closer look at the DNA voters’ responses allows for some interesting speculation though. Common wisdom prior to the 2012 general elections was that the DNA would hurt the FNM more than the PLP. After all, its leader was a disgruntled FNM, and many suspected that Branville McCartney’s personal ambition rather than real policy differences with his former party led him to start the DNA. However, it has also become apparent, especially after the election when former candidates are no longer in campaign mode and tend to speak more freely, that the DNA was never a coherent party whose members agreed on a wide range of key issues. In fact, McCartney’s campaign strategy already hinted at that. Wherever he suspected to know Bahamian popular opinion, he took the popular stance; wherever he was unsure about Bahamian popular opinion, he took the referendum way out.

So while the DNA’s leadership genesis may have drawn some FNM voters, its populist stance possibly attracted some PLP voters, too. At least the results indicate a slightly higher level of satisfaction (actually, a slightly lower level of dissatisfaction) with the PLP’s performance among DNA voters than among FNM voters. The results also indicate that DNA voters tend to rate those items disproportionately lower compared to FNM voters where the PLP voters also rated their party’s government below average.

By-Election and 2017

While the DNA keeps pledging to stick around for 2017, they have already announced that they would not contest the imminent by-election in North Abaco. On 7th May, FNM leader Hubert Ingraham beat the PLP’s Renardo Curry by “less than 400 votes” (as the PLP likes to point out) – or by a comfortable 9.2% lead (as the FNM could point out). The DNA’s candidate received 39 votes, less than 1%. Bahamians expect the by-election to be a close call, though a majority of 54% still expect the FNM to defend that seat.

In the survey, participants were also asked whom they would vote for now. The results do not show a dramatic shift, which is to be expected in a country that has been characterised by a two party system for so long that most eligible voters cannot remember another viable party. However, the subtle changes that emerge from the survey are interesting:

  1. The PLP loses votes. The average PLP voter rates the PLP’s performance as only a B-; this indicates a level of dissatisfaction and causes the party’s support to shrink.
  2. The DNA not only defends its position but gains votes. These gains are small, but measurable. They are, at this time, too small to win the party a seat in the House of Assembly, but seeing that the DNA did not win a single seat and many expected it to wither away in light of this shortcoming, this is encouraging for the DNA.
  3. However, the DNA’s gains are not the PLP’s losses. In fact, the DNA’s gains come from FNM voters – maybe FNM voters who were disappointed in their party losing the general elections, or maybe FNM voters disappointed with their party’s performance in the opposition.
  4. The FNM’s losses to the DNA are smaller than the FNM’s gains from the PLP, and significantly so. The FNM also gains votes from people who “abstained” – either by not going to the polls or by spoiling ballots – on 7th May. If elections were held again today, it would be much closer than it was a hundred days ago, and it looks like the FNM would just have the edge.

Perry Christie’s 2012 BGCSE Exam

Dear Readers,

15th August, 2012, marks the 100th day of Perry Christie’s second term as prime minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Before the elections, his PLP published a Charter outlining a number of goals they promised to accomplish by Day 100:

  1. Launch key elements of Project Safe Bahamas and Operation Cease Fire, including the reintroduction of Urban Renewal, to immediately reinvigorate the fight against crime and violence.
  2. Prioritize a doubling of the nation’s investment in the education and training of Bahamians. From preschools all the way up to retraining for Bahamians already in the workforce, we need new investment and innovative reforms.
  3. Create a Ministry for Grand Bahama, bringing focus to growing that island’s economy.
  4. Institute a mortgage relief plan in conjunction with private sector lenders to help struggling homeowners.
  5. Set in motion the plan to secure the nation’s borders, with steps to hire new personnel, acquire new technology, and initiate new training programmes.
  6. Reposition The Bahamas Development Bank, so it becomes again a key player in creating jobs and expanding small and medium-sized businesses.
  7. Re-establish the Ministry of Financial Services and Investments.
  8. Introduce the Employees Pension Fund Protection Act to keep pension funds out of reach for business owners, and to make directors and officers personally liable for breaches.
  9. Renew the nation’s commitment to National Health Insurance, and support the Public Hospitals Authority in the acquisition of much-needed new cancer-screening technology, ensuring that Bahamian women have access to state-of-the-art mammogram machines at both Princess Margaret in New Providence and Rand Memorial Hospital in Grand Bahama.
  10. Initiate a plan to lower the cost of electricity in The Bahamas.
  11. Bring together representatives from all sectors to launch a 40th Anniversary of Independence National Congress to begin enactment of Vision 2030.
  12. Provide details for a referendum on a National Lottery and gambling in The Bahamas.
  13. Reduce the maximum level of stamp tax payable on real estate transactions from 12% to 10%.
  14. Re-introduce a ceiling on the maximum level of real property taxes payable on a residence.

In an effort to hold our elected officials accountable, I ask you to join me in writing the #Bahamas2012 report card. I would like to see how the Bahamian electorate views the current administration’s performance. Please take a few minutes to answer the survey linked below, the results of which I will publish right here on Under the Almond Tree – converted to letter grades and all. It’s Perry Christie’s time to face “his 2012 BGCSE exam.”

Please participate in this survey: Perry Christie’s First 100 Days.
[EDIT: As of 2nd September, 2012, the survey has been closed and is no longer accepting responses. -sba.]

For more information on the PLP’s “A Charter for Governance,” you can read the original document in its entirety on Bahamas Weekly.

The PLP, Women’s Rights and Referenda

Last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell announced in the House of Assembly that the PLP government would put a referendum before the Bahamian electorate to amend the Constitution to remove from it the inbuilt gender discrimination regarding citizenship. That is a good thing.

Many observers of Bahamian politics were surprised, however, for this question was already put before the Bahamian electorate in a referendum ten years ago, and ten years ago it was the same PLP that campaigned against the referendum, that told Bahamian voters, and thereby Bahamian women, to vote against equal rights. How come the PLP supports constitutional change in 2012 that they opposed in 2002?

Thankfully, Prime Minister Perry Christie was not far behind and explained his party’s position to the Nassau Guardian:

“We opposed last time on a specific ground. … I went to the Seventh Day Adventist annual gathering. I remember the then leader of the Seventh Day Adventist [Church] saying they weren’t consulted and that because they weren’t consulted they couldn’t participate. I then checked and found out that all of the churches were saying they weren’t consulted, and I went to my colleagues and said, for the purposes of the lack of consultation, we must oppose this unless Ingraham decides to stop it and consult, and he didn’t and that is how we got to do it. … the PLP’s opposition to the referendum was that you should never do something against the will of the people, and the FNM was actually acting against the will of the people. It was not a question of a judgment as to the substance of it; it was a judgment of the process. We attacked the process and we were successful in attacking the process. Now the by-product of it was that you say it wasn’t passed. Yes, it wasn’t passed, but we were never motivated against any issue on the referendum. We were motivated against the fact that it was being imposed on the Bahamian people against their will.”

To say that Ingraham and the FNM imposed women’s rights on the Bahamian people against their will is disingenuous, to say the least. The Bahamian people were consulted on the issue. Twice. By definition, a referendum is a consultation of the people. Furthermore, a quick look at the FNM’s 1997 election platform shows that the FNM was reelected to office that year with this issue being a part of their agenda. Surely, the leader of the opposition can be expected to read the competition’s manifesto.

The Free National Movement’s “Manifesto II: Agenda to and for the 21st Century” includes a chapter on women’s affairs. On page 35 it states that the FNM would “continue to recognise women’s rights as fundamental human rights, and to address all areas of gender discrimination that exist under the law at present,” and that the FNM would “move for the Constitution to be amended so as to grant Bahamian women all privileges and entitlements afforded to Bahamian men.”

This means that the FNM went into the 1997 general election with this issue before the Bahamian electorate. Surely, Christie understands that a general election is indeed a form of consultation of the voting public, for otherwise all measures the current government is implementing have to be considered to be against the people’s will?

As for the Seventh Day Adventist Church and whatever other Churches Christie may or may not have spoken to… The Bahamian people elect politicians to make political decisions. No decision-making power is vested in the Churches by our Constitution. If Ingraham did not consult these institutions, he in no way violated our Constitution, but rather strengthened the sovereign in a democracy, the people. Besides, it is not like the Churches in the Bahamas did not make their opinions heard on whatever issue, whether asked for or not.

The PLP cannot have opposed women’s rights in 2002 on procedural grounds. It did so simply to show its opposition against Ingraham and the FNM and to damage the political opponent in anticipation of the general election. It was a cheap manoeuvre in which women’s rights were instrumentalised, indeed sacrificed, for political gain, and it shows a number of disappointing parallels to the behaviour of our political actors in the marital rape issue that the FNM attempted to address half-heartedly during its last term in office.

Using the Churches as an excuse to oppose women’s rights in a referendum carries another important significance in the current political situation of our country. Leading up to the 2012 general elections, the PLP promised the Bahamian electorate that their voice would be heard, via a referendum, on two issues: oil and gambling.

Since 7th May, the PLP has already begun to backtrack on the oil referendum, claiming that the costs of an oil referendum might be prohibitive. One could suspect that the promise of a referendum was intended as a campaign ploy to create the illusion of transparency on an issue muddled with suspicions of conflicts of interest, in which case the backtracking is the logical conclusion to the outcome of the general elections.

The other referendum item, gambling, has been discussed at length over the past couple of years. It is no news to anyone following – or involved in – Bahamian politics that many, if not most, clergy in the country officially oppose gambling. If Christie now cites the lack of consultation of the Churches as a reason to oppose a 2002 referendum, he may in fact be preparing the ground for cancelling a possible 2012 referendum on gambling.

Reviving the idea of a referendum that would grant women equal constitutional rights regarding citizenship – an issue I could not find mentioned in the PLP’s 2012 Charter, and I am therefore (pleasantly) surprised to see on the government’s agenda – could then serve as a smokescreen behind which campaign promises disappear, and it might appease a lot of people who were downright disgusted with the campaign against gender equality ten years ago. Like 2002, there is reason to suspect that the PLP’s stance on women’s rights is dictated primarily by political strategy as opposed to convictions, beliefs or ideology.

Let us hope that the opposition this time around will agree to do the right thing, and support a good cause, even if it may have come about for the wrong reasons.