By KHALILA NICOLLS
I STARTED this campaign cycle annoyed by the fact that Perry Christie and Hubert Ingraham's faces were plastered all over my constituency, considering I live far from North Abaco and far from Centreville, where these men, both leaders of their respective political parties, are offering themselves as candidates in the May 7 general election.
I was fighting hard to hold on to the principled view that party credentials should not take precedence over candidate credentials, because in our democratic system of representational politics, my vote is supposed to represent the individual vying in my constituency whom I deem best to represent my voice. That principled view calls me to consider each representative without reference to political party propaganda.
I have resigned myself from that utopian view, once and for all, for the following reasons: members of parliament do not represent the voices of the people, they represent the voices of their party; and members of parliament have no power to affect change, unless they are in the inner circles of influence in their political parties.
Further, we exist in a democracy where choice is a contest between "worse and worser", where most candidates, across party lines, are ideologically identical.
And last, but not least, I have the unfortunate misfortune of finding among all of the candidates, few who identify with critical visions that I have of myself as a Bahamian. I plan to tackle my first two concerns in the first of this two-part series.
In our two-party political system (no offence to the DNA and the rest of them), constituency representatives no more represent my voice than they do the voice of their rivals. How could they, when they barely represent their own voices?
How many times have you seen a member of parliament stand up for a personal belief that conflicted with a party's position? Even where they do so in private circles, rarely do they step into the public spotlight, exposing their party to such scrutiny.
In our political system, power is confined to a small inner circle of people with influence. Anyone with status, outside the circle, is a mere puppet, and all others are mere pawns. It seems like a cynical view of our democracy, but experience proves it every time.
Is this healthy for our democracy? No. Is this our reality? Yes. Members of parliament pledge an unspoken allegiance to their political parties, and they take that vow more seriously than any responsibility to be a true representative of the people who put them in office.
Very few MPs, if any at all, organise meaningful community engagements on issues of national importance before they stand up in the House of Assembly to spout off impassioned party positions. How exactly do they represent the voices of the community, if they have no relationship with their communities?
Members of Parliament are infamously absent from constituency offices. In fact, outside of the election cycle, constituency offices are inactive black holes.
It is not that members of parliament serve no purpose; they simply serve a purpose other than that which we wish they would or should.
As private citizens, at some point we need start questioning this notion of representational politics, so we can collectively figure out a better way to extract value, not ham and turkey, from the political leaders who form our government and claim to represent our voices. Because, quite frankly, I am tired of smoking the dreams they are selling.
Members of Parliament, and not just those in opposition, constantly cry about their inability to access the resources of the government to affect change at the constituency level. It is not entirely their fault: our MPs have been trained to be professional beggars of government hand-outs in a system that was not designed to support that sort of representation.
On the other hand, our MPs make themselves impotent, because they have no other concept of their own capacity to represent.
Our political system only supports our development at the constituency level when our community interests are already aligned with the political plans of those with power and influence. If a constituency priority is on the government's agenda, all is well, and you can be sure that initiative is advancing the agenda of a political party, in some form or fashion. If not, then 'dog nyam ya supper'.
V Alfred Gray, MP for MICAL, is a case in point. He routinely comes to the House of Assembly with impassioned whining, and he calls that representation. Most times, his cries fall on deaf ears. And even when the government acts in the interest of Mr Gray's constituents, more than likely, it has nothing to do with Mr Gray, and everything to do with the government's own agenda. The recently passed the Mayaguana Development Bill is a prime example.
For our democracy to grow and to work for its people, we need to develop a new concept of representational politics: one that does not involve delusional ideas that our members of parliament actually represent our voices, or have any real power.
Members of Parliament are instruments of political parties, seeking to acquire and maintain power to satisfy their own interests. We get lucky when those interests align with our own, and when they serve the greater good.
For the sake of imagining, I propose a more practical and useful concept of representational politics that envisions members of parliament more as community organisers and accountable community leaders, which would require no hand-outs from the government, or huge capital investments. It would require vision, leadership, commitment, concern, community engagement and the capacity to mobilise resources in the interest of communities.
I envision a system where our idea of democracy is bigger than our concept of a vote every five years in a general election; where our political representatives are accountable to their communities and not their political parties.
In our current system, where party politics takes precedence over true representational politics, where there are few benchmarks to truly differentiate candidates or parties, we are confronted with several negative side effects: namely, the emergence of a politics of personality, instead of a politics of ideas and action, or personal accountability.
Candidates hide behind parties and parties hide behind their leaders, which leaves party leaders to engage in childhood play to prove who the best is. Our candidates and the parties have an important characteristic in common: they both have an impoverished vision of democracy and national development; and sadly, their equality shields them from scrutiny.
The country believes it is gearing up for a general election, but what is really taking shape is a personality contest, a battle of two politically savvy wits.
More next time, as I continue my examination of voting for the party or the person with the case of Nassau Village.
Talkin Sense explores issues of race, culture, politricks and identity. Pan-African writer and cultural scholar Noelle Khalila Nicolls is a practising journalist in the Bahamas.