THE PLP was never opposed to a referendum to grant Bahamian women the same rights as Bahamian men to pass citizenship on to their children, Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin said yesterday.
Rather, she explained, they were opposed to the “process” of the 2002 referendum.
Stuff and nonsense! It had nothing to do with process, but everything to do with politics.
When the referendum was defeated, the organisers triumphantly called it a “spiritual victory” — not a spiritual victory for women – a spiritual victory for the politicians who wanted to defeat the Ingraham government at any cost as an election neared.
“The prime minister (Ingraham) said himself that whoever won this vote would win the general election. The decent thing for him to do now is resign immediately and go to the people,” scoffed one of the PLP organisers as he sought police permission for a victory march from Freedom Park, Fox Hill, to Arawak Cay.
In order to win an election, they decided that they had to defeat the referendum. And so, in their greed for power, PLP politicians once again trampled on the rights of women. There were five questions on the referendum and all five were defeated. The question to remove discrimination against women, their children and spouses was defeated by a 64 per cent “no” vote, which meant that many dumb women allowed themselves to be duped by the politicians.
In the House the PLP voted to a man for the referendum, but once they took to the streets, they started to talk “process.”
Obviously they didn’t want history to catch them in another embarrassment. They are on record as having walked out of the House when it came time to give women the right to vote. Forty-two years later they could not again be seen as voting against the rights of women. Obviously, they thought they would play politically cute by recording a “yes” vote in the House, and moving to the streets to talk nonsense about some “process” of which they disapproved. This quickly turned their “yes” vote in the House to a “no” vote on the streets.
From the time in 1967 when they made history by defeating the UBP and returning a majority government, they have been busy rewriting history. To listen to some of them one would think that the history of this country started with the PLP — January 10, 1967.
In setting out his case for women’s rights in 2001, Mr Ingraham—then prime minister— said that regrettably, the discrimination in the Constitution and in the nationality law became a weapon of “spite”, a means of political control and the cause of much distress and anguish in the lives of far too many Bahamian women and their families. On this paragraph alone we could write a book about their cruelty.
About 18 months before the referendum, Mr Ingraham wrote to PLP leader Perry Christie and CDR leader Bernard Nottage, outlining FNM proposals for changes to the Constitution. He made it clear that his government would move only on matters on which they could all agree. He didn’t want to politicise the referendum.
Neither party leader answered for some time. Then around June, 2001, Dr Nottage replied, followed by Mr Christie. Each set out the issues they could support. The FNM then dropped all of the proposals that would be in contention. Based on the feed-back from the two opposition leaders, government formulated Bills that resulted in six questions to go to referendum.
On announcing in the House in January that a referendum would be held in February, Prime Minister Ingraham said there would be town meetings, radio talk shows, television shows, and written material to educate the public.
He said he did not want the matter politicised and wanted the opposition to participate in “some of the sessions for the purpose of informing the public and answering questions so we are not divided on partisan lines on the issues. We are not seeking to say that ‘you know this is an FNM thing’ as opposed to this is a thing that we, the parliamentarians of the Bahamas have now agreed to…”
In the House the opposition raised several points, which were settled.
When it came time to vote on the constitutional reforms the record shows that all MPs voted unanimously in favour of all, but one of the questions to be put to the people. To accommodate Mr Christie that one question was eliminated.
However, when he attended the town meetings, Mr Christie had changed his mind. “If I knew then what I know now, I almost certainly would have taken a different position on the bills,” Mr Christie told his audience.
And so Mr Christie pulled out his little word “process,” and as he flip-flopped, confusion followed. The referendum was lost.
Shortly after Mr Christie had won the government, we had a casual conversation with him on the referendum. With his usual soothing smile, he confided that this was something that Hubert Ingraham could not do, only he, Perry Gladstone Christie, could win a smooth passage for such a referendum. He promised to do it soon. He had five years to do it. He did nothing —didn’t even refer to it.
He lost the government for the next five years. Earlier this year he was returned to office. He is now resurrecting the anti-discrimination referendum, not through conviction, but because, as FNM deputy leader Loretta Butler-Turner said, his government had to “defend the Bahamas’ position on the lack of equality for women to the United Nations.”
This time “process” should not cloud the issue. Nor should it have clouded it in 2002. It was all politics— PLP politics.
Turn to page 3 of today’s Tribune and see the jubilation of Prime Minister Christie as he celebrated — with a lipstick victory kiss planted on his right cheek — the defeat of the Ingraham government’s efforts to give women their full rights of citizenship.