By MALCOLM STRACHAN
IDENTITY politics has been around long before my time and will be around for much longer. However, it may be high time for us to question how it has helped us as Bahamians. If you ask a Bahamian which political party they support, in most instances, they will not hesitate to tell you, “I is a PLP” or “I is a FNM”. For a country of people facing major problems, it is disconcerting we don’t examine our thought processes in this regard. Despite forces beyond our control such as natural disasters or a global health crisis, I fear the way we elect our leaders will largely remain the same.
What have we gained by being so predictable when election time rolls around? A vote – something so personal and powerful – is relegated to a form of black-market currency for one person to make a marginal gain compared with what the nation requires. For some, a vote is given to either of the two major political parties for even less. Whether it is nostalgia or disdain about the Pindling and Papa-eras, Bahamians have become far less concerned about what’s best for the country and more interested in being part of a group.
Somehow, our identities as Bahamians got lost or were never understood to begin with. The average Bahamian can tell you little about the history of our country, much less give a cogent reason as to why they support their political party. This notion of “I is a PLP” or “I is an FNM” – a complete dismissal of who we are as Bahamian people - is at the very core of our stunted development. The standard for which politicians would see as a benchmark is lowered and Bahamians who truly love their country and want to throw their hat in the ring are disenchanted with the idea of towing a party line and feel as though there are no seats for them at the table.
It’s why independent candidates have slim to no chance of being elected to Parliament. It’s why third parties swing elections rather than win them.
Even after a resounding rejection of the Progressive Liberal Party in 2017, the Minnis administration faces an uphill battle to be the first two-term government since Ingraham led the Free National Movement to back-to-back election victories in 1992 and 1997. Certainly, people make their jibes about the PLP led by Philip “Brave” Davis and Chester Cooper, but I can assure you, the prospect of them forming the next government is no laughing matter.
Just looking at the political climate, it’s not hard to tell.
With devastating hurricanes in 2017 and 2019, coupled with the enormous challenges as a result of the coronavirus, the FNM government has had no shortage of adversity. Add to that, the VAT increase and a number of undelivered campaign promises such as the full roll-out of the Freedom of Information Act, and evidence of the hurdles of the FNM being re-elected is clear.
Something we’ve long failed to appreciate is the opportunity to govern a country isn’t an act of charity. It must be earned – or at least it should be. What we’ve typically seen is an electorate so resentful of its government that they vote in their next suitor without any qualification. Rather, it is just an act of retribution for any number of difficulties and frustration under their predecessor’s leadership.
What’s unfortunate for Dr Minnis and company is that there has been much difficulty and frustration to go around. No doubt, as many people discount their national identity for their political identity, there will still be those that support the government despite how hard life has been – just because they cannot stomach the idea of voting for any other political party, namely, the PLP.
Thankfully, though, hope lies in the evolving dynamics as voters are educating themselves more. While this may be a small segment of Bahamians realising the power in their vote and the strength in uniting as Bahamians, one day, we can be assured that things will change.
We should also be grateful that while we have impeded our growth tremendously in this manner, the divisive nature of identity politics has never devolved to the point of violence or hatred against our brothers and sisters. From Nazi Germany to Trump’s America, we have examples, past and present, of how ugly things can get when citizens identify with a subgrouping rather than being open-minded to a multitude of perspectives and diverse thinking. We are not where we want to be yet, but we are thankfully not where we could be given the level of intense stress Bahamians experience daily.
The issues our country is facing are vast and the traditional approaches to solving our societal, economic and health challenges will not sustain us in a current or post-pandemic world. We are going to be forced to change one way or another. Such a change will need to occur from the bottom up as Bahamian citizens around the length and breadth of the country will need to understand the state of play and mature politically.
We are full of bright minds here at home and in the diaspora – not solely in the PLP and FNM. We need to remember that.