By Alicia Wallace
It’s the people’s time. Believe in Bahamians. Forward, upward, onward, together.
According to the Parliamentary Registration Department, 87 per cent of registered voters - not all Bahamians eligible to vote - exercised their right to vote.
Following the general election, the Bahamian people are represented by 35 Free National Movement (FNM) and four Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) MPs. Few could have predicted the composition of our new government. Many celebrate it, seeing it as a victory not only for the FNM, but for the people who wanted, more than anything else, to vote the PLP out and unseat former Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Some of us are concerned, recognising that the opposition is small and its strength unknown. Yes, our voices were heard and the FNM was rewarded with a landslide victory, whether earned or not. We now have a different party in control of Parliament, but that was the case in 2012 too. Our attention should be on the role we, as citizens, play in our own governance, and how we can - and must - hold our representatives accountable. It would be remiss of us to ignore the obvious flaws in the government we now have.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the FNM’s composition and campaign was the dearth of women candidates and this is now glaringly obvious given its overwhelming win. Is it possible to laugh at the absurdity of four seats going to the PLP while ignoring the fact that women hold the same number of seats on the FNM’s side? Glenys Hanna Martin brings the final count of women in the lower chamber to five. This is a slight decrease in representation from the 2012-2017 term.
It’s rather troubling that the FNM claims to champion women’s rights but did not give attention to women’s representation on its slate. In appointing Cabinet Ministers, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis gave no attention to this issue, appointing only one woman - Lanisha Rolle - and assigning her to the soft portfolio of Social Services and Urban Development. As a result, we are saddled with a government that does not come close to representing our population in terms of gender.
Additionally, the FNM manifesto - like the PLP Charter and Democratic National Alliance’s Vision - does not speak specifically to issues of gender, nor does it intentionally include gender in other sections like education, healthcare, or crime. This is a clear indication that the road ahead will be no easier for women and girls, or for the people who advocate for them. Issues like this are not yet being discussed, but we have no time to wait.
Most will agree that this election and the aftermath feels markedly different from those before it. The nation is enjoying a deep sense of satisfaction. We disagreed on ways to move forward, but largely agreed that the PLP was not to be victorious. For many Bahamians, it felt necessary to bite the bullet and vote for the non-PLP party most likely to win, even if they would have liked to support a different candidate and/or party.
This is the sacrifice of voting within the confines of our electoral system and its rules. While some wistfulness may remain, there is a general sense of ease and content across the country. We may not love our new leader, or think the manifesto is good enough, or be happy with the gender split, or have any idea who half the MPs are, or feel inspired by the flip-flopping between two major parties, but we voted the PLP out. It feels good. It feels like a win. It feels like we can breathe again.
What will happen when the dump starts burning again? How will we respond if the murder rate continues to rise? What will we do if all the talk about anti-corruption doesn’t move beyond conversation? What is the acceptable grace period for new governments?
I’ve been less than ecstatic about the results of the election. I’ve been indifferent about the outcome in terms of the party in leadership, convinced that no one party is better than the others, hence my role in Out Da Box. I remain concerned about our electoral system and dedicated to working toward the reform we desperately need.
When I saw the results, my first thought was, “We have no opposition.” I recalled the last five years and the lackluster performance of the FNM opposition twice the size of the PLP opposition we now have. Other people noted and raised this issue, much to the chagrin of indignant voters who thought it much too soon for anyone to dare offer any critique.
I’ve seen scores of Facebook posts by dedicated FNMs and swing voters who voted FNM, all sending a disturbing message. They say we should give it a rest. We should give Minnis and the FNM some time. We should wait and see what they do. They say if the FNM doesn’t perform, we’ll vote them out in 2022 - quite a long wait. They want us to be quiet, and let them enjoy their win. They also say we, the people, are the opposition now. It reminded me of a statement made my Out Da Box co-organiser Dr Nicolette Bethel.
“I do not need to be a candidate to be a part of the government. I already am the government. Democracy is government of the people by the people, and in our system it is effected by representation.”
We are the government, and we have elected people to represent us. The government includes the opposition. For this reason, I wonder if the Bahamian people are now realising that we have a role to play in our governance, and that we have not elected leaders, but representatives. Whatever the ratio of FNM to PLP Members of Parliament, it is their job to represent us, and to do that, they need to hear our voices.
Less than 160,000 votes were cast last week. Approximately 24,000 registered voters were disenfranchised or chose not to vote, and thousands of people didn’t even register to vote. Our system is flawed, and this has been proven over the past six months. Fortunately, exercising the right to vote in free and fair elections is only one part of democracy and citizenship. Whether we vote or not, we all have a voice - and many ways to use it.
If we believe we are the government, or that we are (or can be) the opposition, we have work to do. If we are to move forward, upward, onward, together, we must be able to find our shared vision, disagree respectfully and find ways to action the goals we agree on. We are at a time in our democracy where it is imperative that we not only believe in ourselves, but in each other. I challenge you to do what it seems the PLP could not, or did not. Believe in fellow Bahamians.
Let us focus more on the things we have in common and commit to active participation in governance. We have, in one day, withdrawn consent from a party and its candidates because we did not deem them worthy. Know that we do not have to wait five years to do the same if the representatives we have today refuse to hear our collective voice. It is, indeed, the people’s time. They said it and, now, we must own it.
• Alicia Wallace is a women’s rights activist and public educator. She produces The Culture RUSH - a monthly newsletter fusing pop culture, social justice and personal reflection - and tweets as @_AliciaAudrey. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.