By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
FREE National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday criticised critics of his “vote your conscience” stance on the constitutional referendum, insisting that he took this position out of respect for the intelligence and ability of the Bahamian electorate to make the proper choice.
Dr Minnis further slammed the government over its failure to fund the Save Our Bahamas campaign when it fully financed the YES Bahamas campaign.
“Mr Speaker the PLP government did not run a fair, free and transparent referendum campaign,” he said. “Free and fair elections are the foundation of any democracy and ours should be no exception.
“It was wrong for this government to use taxpayer money to fund the ‘yes’ campaign while denying funds to the ‘no’ campaign.
“To ensure that no future government of The Bahamas does this, the FNM government will enact legislation to remove this discriminatory practice for all future referendums.”
He also explained that he would not question the decision of voters to overwhelmingly reject each of the four questions presented during the June 7 equality vote.
“It was right, Mr Speaker,” the Killarney MP said during the 2016/2017 budget debate, “for me to advise voters to become educated on the four bills and to vote their conscience. That was very important to me. My advice to vote their conscience demonstrated my utmost respect for the intelligence and ability for our people to best decide for themselves on what they wanted to do.
“We don’t question the people’s decision in an election when they vote PLP or FNM. (Then) why should we question people’s decision now?”
He added: “Mr Speaker we note with amazement that government members and others are trying to shift the blame for the failure of the ‘yes’ vote away from themselves. In fact, Mr Speaker, some have even said that had I been more vocal and come out and expressed favour for the ‘yes’ vote the results would have been different. But Mr Speaker I did not know that I had such great influence.”
At the height of the national debate on the constitutional changes, Dr Minnis faced fierce criticism because he did not take a particular position on the four proposed bills. Among the critics was former FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner. Earlier this month the Long Island MP said Dr Minnis should accept responsibility for the part he played in the failed gender equality referendum.
She said she felt the FNM leader should have “stood by his original convictions” and not “shift mid-stream depending on which way the wind blows.”
Former FNM Senator Heather Hunt, who was one of the co-executive directors of the YES Bahamas campaign, also suggested that Dr Minnis did not show effective leadership because he failed to communicate his position on the four constitutional equality bills.
Yesterday, Dr Minnis further demanded an explanation from the Christie administration over the Parliamentary Registration Department’s handling of the June 7 referendum, saying he suspected “sinister” motives by the government regarding the equality vote.
Dr Minnis pointed to the fact that PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts conceded the overwhelming rejection of the constitutional changes before Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall had released the official and complete results.
He said this and other issues gave the appearance that there were “glaring irregularities” during the referendum, which raised great concerns especially because a general election is less than one year away.
Dr Minnis again called on the government to ensure that there were international observers in place to monitor the 2017 election.
Among the issues raised by the FNM leader were claims that observers wearing FNM party colours were not allowed to enter polling stations and reports that voters were instructed to write “yes” or “no” to answer the referendum questions rather than marking an “x” next to their choices.
In addition he said there were claims that at some polling stations voters were casting ballots in the absence of hard copies of the voter’s register.
“In some cases voters were instructed to write ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and answer the question rather than mark an ‘x’ next to their choice.
“Mr Speaker in a . . . country such as ours with all the modern technology available, including the internet, telephone, fax (and) what’s app, we find it unacceptable that this Progressive Liberal Party government can be so incompetent that it would take almost 48 hours to count the votes and make the final results public.
“We suspect a sinister motive and we demand an explanation from this government.
“The government also owes the Bahamian people an explanation as to how the chairman of the PLP could issue a statement of the defeat of the ‘yes’ vote before the parliamentary commissioner had received all the results from the various stations. Even before the completion of the vote count.
“These glaring irregularities, Mr Speaker are of great concern to us especially in light of the upcoming general elections and we put the government on notice that these irregularities must be fixed.
“We will demand that international organisations be invited to observe the Bahamas general election in 2017 or before to ensure the integrity of the voting process.”