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Politicole: Why We Voted 'No' Again

By NICOLE BURROWS

“My name was not on the ballot in this vote, right, it was voting for four questions.”

  • Prime Minister Perry Christie

“I think there is just a cynicism that’s existing in our country now about politicians period.”

“I think it’s a message to both parties, not just to the current administration.”

  • Deputy Prime Minister Philip ‘Brave’ Davis

“Clearly the Bahamian people were sending some messages which went a little bit beyond the referendum questions.”

  • Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney

Mr Christie, the fact that you said these words tells me you’re really out of touch, completely disconnected, even, with/from your people. Either that or, no matter what goes down, you will continue to spin it like it’s all good and all up from here. Good on you, if you enjoy La La Land.

Your actual written name and your face were not situated on the referendum ballot for your beloved Centreville constituency, but neither your name nor your face needed to be on the ballot for the Bahamian people to see it there anyway.

Nowhere in my mind do I believe the results of the referendum vote was an outright rejection of gender equality. The results were not indicative of an outright rejection of the bills either. The results of the referendum – assuming they finally got the numbers right in the count – was equivalent to a rejection of overall and repeated bad leadership and failed governance.

Whether or not the referendum bills themselves were – and this can still be debated – the actual referendum vote was not about women, marriage, citizenship, gays, transgenders, misogyny, foreigners, etc. The June 7 referendum was about a nation of people angry with a government for a multiplicity of reasons.

The vote wasn’t merely a testament of dislike towards the Christie-led administration or his brand of government in particular. The referendum vote was ultimately used as a way for the Bahamian people to show their dissatisfaction with all recent government, the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) variety and the Free National Movement’s (FNM).

The bottom line is that Bahamians have no other recourse to express their disapproval, or to get the attention of their leaders. Leaders don’t, won’t, or refuse to listen, so what can the people do? They can’t recall politicians, Members of Parliament, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister … not under the current system of government and the way it is stacked. The majority of the House of Assembly and the Senate and the whole of the Cabinet are members of the governing party, and unless details of the most corrupt shenanigans were revealed and evidenced plainly on paper for the whole world to see, those MPs, senators and ministers would never denounce their colleagues – and certainly they would never go against the party leader whom they all follow, even if blindly.

We know in The Bahamas that corruption in government is unchangeable if supported by a majority. And corruption everywhere in the Bahamas is supported by a majority of those benefitting from it, so it will never change without extreme measures. So where does that leave a very large part of the population, a voting majority, who do not want to be overrun by corruption or bad leadership?

The only mechanism left to those people that will help to dismiss an unsatisfactory government or administration from power is a general election every five years. Or, in this case, a referendum.

The referendum is therefore, ultimately, not used for its intended purpose. Not overall.

You have a group of people who believe their vote will mean something or make a difference and they assume everyone else voting is also voting on principle or on issue. Not so. Leaders need to know their people … to accurately assess the very narrow circumstances in which they are forced to make choices. If they make their choices out of pure ignorance, then shame on them, but ask yourself who caused them to be that way, and then focus on fixing that. The source or root cause of the problem is the same, deficient government and leadership the Bahamian people now protest, yet again, in a referendum vote.

In my estimation, the so-called gender equality referendum was the only tool Bahamians had/have (including the first one in 2002) to make a statement about the government and to voice their displeasure with that government, and so they used and continue to use it for that purpose.

It is not my belief, knowing people who did actually vote their convictions, that the majority of Bahamians do not support fair and equal treatment under law between men and women. Yes, there are some stuck in the Biblical text and others stuck in their personal feelings and experiences, and even some others stuck in their belief of the dominance of women by men. But knowing the majority of voters were women often subject to unequal treatment at some point or another in their lives, I don’t honestly believe those women voted against that principle of equality.

I’m not saying no women voted against equality; I’m saying there was much more afoot here than Mr Christie or Mr Davis or any others in their group could ever account for or care to accept.

Were it an FNM administration bringing this referendum, under the same failings as the current PLP administration, the outcome, I feel strongly, would have been the same. In that way, Davis may have had one point to argue: it’s the disgust (my word) for political representatives that Bahamian people were voting on, though I’m not certain Davis could appreciate the magnitude of that sentiment.

Understand, everything is political for Bahamians. Politics trumps discussions about gender equality, so in the end a vote on the latter will always be a vote on the former, especially amongst a population of disenfranchised, destitute people who have no other way to give their leadership - all of their leadership - the middle finger ... like the man at the polling station who asked if he could vote with his middle finger.

That resounding rejection of government is what happened the first time the FNM brought a similar referendum to the people and that’s what has happened again now. Nothing much has changed from then to now, except that the Bahamian people may be even more impatient with their leaders at this interval than they were at that other interval 14 years ago.

Does it make sense? Maybe not, if you actually want to get legitimate answers to the questions you ask in a referendum, but think about the fact that for most Bahamians there is no alternative to expressing their discontentment, which is more important to them than the issues brought in a referendum. And, seriously, think about who brought the people to this point.

So, yes, Mr Christie, your name was indeed on the ballot, though it didn’t physically appear there. The sooner you come to terms with that the better.

As for McWeeney’s comment about the message being sent by Bahamians, he’s right about that with the only difference I would note being that the Bahamian people sent messages that went far beyond the referendum questions, not just “a little bit beyond” as McWeeney said. And the Deputy Prime Minister, though right about the Bahamian “cynicism” being directed at more than just one party, is not so right about it just being cynicism … it goes much, much deeper than that.

If you want to get the attention and support of the Bahamian people, bringing a referendum is not the way to do it – the people will always vote their feelings about government whenever you ask them to vote.

As long as the Bahamian people feel their hands are tied, this will always be the outcome.

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