Counting Down to the Ballot

Under one week and counting. Advance polls opened (late and chaotic) yesterday. And the question is, who’s going to win the election?

Now I’ve gone on record saying that I don’t believe that it really matters; that none of the parties and few of the candidates who are contesting seats in this election have demonstrated to my satisfaction that they are prepared to deal with the challenges that face the nation in the twenty-first century.

But that doesn’t stop me from wondering what the practical outcome of the election will be. Unlike several posters on Facebook and other social media, I have no idea whatsoever. This election is impossible to call. I know it’s become popular to imagine that because the government has messed up so often and so publicly, and also because of the 21st century trend of changing governments every five years, the PLP cannot possibly be returned for another term; but the people who seem convinced of this may have forgotten, or may be too young to remember, another election run on the theme of corruption: the election of June 19, 1987.

There’s something else that may also be missing from the dialogue. It’s what I learned a long time ago and a long way away from here to call the zeitgeist of our era. That is, it’s the spirit of the historical moment. One thing about the twenty-first century that we should not overlook is that that spirit is as global as it is local; to ignore the influence of the wider world upon this moment we find ourselves facing would be folly.

It’s because of that zeitgeist—the fact that we live in a revolutionary time, in a time of extreme scepticism regarding the status quo, in a time of rejecting political mores, in a time when voters again and again vote in ways that confound the pundits (think Brexit, think Trump; even think Trudeau & the Liberals if you want to)—that I find this election impossible to call. Nothing will surprise me. (Well, OK, some outcomes would surprise me more than others, but I’m ready for anything). FNM landslide? Absolutely. PLP victory? You bet.  Hung parliament, with independents and/or DNA holding the balance of power? Yep, excitingly possible. DNA forming the opposition or even the government? Even this is conceivable, though it’s admittedly a long shot.

I’m going to walk through the options, trying to explain why I think that they are on the cards.

  1. FNM victory.
    I’m starting with this one first, because it’s the most likely outcome. It’s the one that the media, social and otherwise, is inclined towards. It fits the 21st century trend. You don’t like a government? Vote ’em out. Replace ’em with the Other Guys.It also has a sort of satisfaction guaranteed likelihood. The common wisdom is that the FNM is the upright party, the party of principle, the anti-corruption party. (Never mind that recorded history doesn’t exactly bear that out—witness the skulduggery of the leadership race, the receiving of the BEC bribe, the confusion/shady transparency around the road improvement project.) It sounds good. The FNM are the GOOD animals in the Animal Farm scenario. They deserve to win this one.

    And, then too, the rallies, the t-shirts, the posters, the flags, the memes. Two failed referenda. Baha Mar scandals. Rubis, Chow Tai Fook. All these seem to suggest that the country’s going red.

    OK. But—Stick a pin.

  2. PLP victory.
    We cannot overlook the eerie parallels that this election has with the 1987 election. 30 years ago, corruption was the watchword. The PLP government had been battling serious allegations of deeply entrenched corruption relating to the transshipment of drugs for nearly five years by the time the 1987 election came along, and the FNM were galvanized around that issue.

    The FNM leader, Kendal G. L. Isaacs, was a nice man and a decent representative, but he had nowhere near the charisma or people-power of his predecessor, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield. (He also happened to represent Delaporte, the seat which was the forerunner of Dr. Minnis’ constituency of Killarney.)

    There was confusion regarding the voting register(s). Voters’ names might be found on the register made for a recent by-election (register #1); or on the register made for the general election before the boundaries commission reported (register #2); then again on the register made for the general election after the boundaries commission increased the number of seats in the house of assembly from 43 to 49 (register #3).

    The country was so polarized that certain hymns could not be sung in certain churches. The FNM had boycotted and picketed the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in 1985, thus leading them to be branded by PLPs as traitors. On the other hand, the FNM was not allowed any time on local radio or TV stations for political advertising, with the result that their campaign was marketed from Florida by satellite. Despite all this, FNM rallies were drawing record crowds—so much so that the night before the general election the FNM mass rally was held in the QE Sports Centre, the largest gathering of political supporters the Bahamas had ever seen in one place.

    Everyone, FNM and PLP alike, was prepared for the FNM to do the unthinkable and win the election.

    The PLP won by a landslide—33 seats to the FNM’s 16. So: a PLP victory next week is not only possible. It’s happened before in circumstances very like these.

  3. Hung parliament with DNA/independents holding the balance of power.
    This isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound, and it’s really the most exciting of all these options, IMO. People might do well to remember the interesting outcome of the 2002 elections, when no fewer than 4 independents were returned to the house of assembly (Tennyson Wells, Pierre Dupuch, Larry Cartwright, and Whitney Bastian). The PLP majority was large enough for those four independent voices to have little to no voting power (there were 7 FNMs and 29 PLPs), but to imagine that independents have little chance of winning this year would be a mistake.

    People would also do well to remember the equally interesting outcome of the 2007 elections, when the balance of power was effectively held in the house by the three former members of the CDR. To be precise: in 2007, the FNM beat the PLP by a mere 5 seats, holding 23 of the 41 constituencies to the PLP’s 18. Three of those seats were held by former senior members of the Coalition for Democratic Reform: Bernard Nottage on the PLP side of the house, and Charles Maynard and Phenton Neymour on the FNM side. Although the CDR had officially dissolved by this time, it could theoretically have worked as a bloc to force through policies and legislation that came from its platform (alas for it and for us, it did not).

    So, it’s just possible that in this election, with the DNA now an established political force and independents of some stature contesting seats, that the 40 39 places in parliament could be evenly or almost evenly divided, with one or two DNA/independent seats holding the balance of power. Shades of 1967, 2002 and 2012 all coming together in one exciting option.

  4. DNA opposition/DNA victory.
    I’m not dreaming here. I believe that these comprise a real, if far-fetched, possibility. My principal argument to support it is zeitgeist.People are tired. Bahamians are tired of swinging back and forth between one inadequate and corrupt regime and another. Just as there are many people (mostly die-hard FNMs) who believe that the PLP is the root of all evil in this country, there are also many people who believe that the FNM is no better. The DNA presents itself as a viable alternative. And it’s had its plan and policies out there long before the major parties got their acts together.

    But wait, you’re thinking. All the DNA can do is act as a spoiler in this election. It can only take votes away from one of the parties (most assume that the DNA draws votes from the FNM, but this is without actual research and analysis). Let me stop you there. Let’s turn this idea around.

    What we do know about the DNA is that it’s a new party. Its candidates are youthful, by and large, and they come from across the traditional political spectrum. It’s got twice as many women as the PLP and three times as many as the FNM. It’s got some credible candidates (it’s also got some duds). And it’s got a reputation for attracting the support of first-time, younger voters.

    Now, thanks to the parliamentary registry and its inability to finalize the register, we cannot say with any certainty how the registered voters are spread across the generations. What we do know, however, is that first-time voters registered early in this cycle. They seem determined to make their mark somehow.

    So here’s the thing. What if the PLP and the FNM in this election are spoilers? What if they split the established vote, and open the way for the DNA to get elected? Not a chance, you say. No change can be that radical that fast, you say.

    And I say: look at Brexit. Look at Justin Trudeau. Look at Trump. And look at the chaos of today’s advance polls. The tell me it’s really that far-fetched to imagine that Bahamians may say to hell with both former administrations, let’s go for the ones with the newer ideas.

    Never say never. Don’t count the DNA out just yet.

So there they are. My “predictions”. I’m not doing the gerrymandered boundaries/2012 margins thing, because I don’t see the point of it here. For one thing, others have done it far better than I possibly could. But for another, I know this.

There’s no such thing as margins, really. All any citizen has is one single vote. To assume that everyone’s vote is fixed, like a compass, on a particular outcome, is to make the same mistake that the pundits made when calling the US election for Hillary. I don’t know what makes people vote the way they do, so I’m not placing my faith in any numbers/boundaries mojo. I think this election’s up for grabs. Only May 10 will tell.

2 thoughts on “Counting Down to the Ballot

  1. Really enjoyed reading your article. On a constituency level, I an intrigued by the following: Elizabeth (three independents; poor incumbent legacy); Bain and Grants Town (really young vs. really old); Long Island (incumbent former leader of Opposition vs. newcomer son of the soil); Freetown (impact of boundary change.

    Liked by 1 person

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