Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lizzie's Lesson

As Hubert had already pointed out, the by-election in Elizabeth would not change the government of the Bahamas. It had been an opposition seat, so it would only be a question of whether the FNM could increase their majority, or whether the PLP could retain its size in the House of Assembly. And forgive me for not going into any detail about Messrs. Moncur, Rollins and Stuart, even though the votes they managed to get may have very well determined the outcome of this by-election, given how close the counting is at the moment (Sands/FNM 1,501 vs. Pinder/PLP 1,500).

In fact, in discussions I have often made the argument that a viable third party in the Bahamas must be formed, not with any hopes of actually winning an election, but with a thoroughly thought through agenda that will threaten both the FNM and the PLP enough by creating a scenario where this third party could take a sufficiently large number of votes away from either party to turn formerly "safe" seats into contested seats, thus forcing both established parties to focus more on their primary duty: to serve the Bahamas and its people.

However, yesterday's by-election illustrates how far we are from being a mature democracy. First and foremost, I was irritated by the ignorant babble on ZNS, where veteran politicians demonstrated how little integrity and understanding of how democracy ought to work they possess. The number of voters who didn't bother was higher than the number of votes cast for either candidate, and one commentator had the audacity to tell the audience that in most Western democracies a turnout of around 60% would be considered huge. No, it wouldn't. Only in one Western democracy, the U.S. of A. Everywhere else this would - rightly - be reason for concern. (And don't even get me started about all that garbage about the "Westminister" [sic!] system of government...)

So, what happened in Lizzie last night?
  1. We saw a by-election at a time when the Bahamas is suffering through a severe economic crisis, at a time when crime spirals more out of control than it was at any previous out-of-control stage.
  2. Outside of the by-election hype, even most staunch FNM supporters I know would concede that they are less than impressed with the government's do-nothing attitude.
  3. We are talking about a seat held by the PLP as recently as 2007.
  4. The FNM candidate showed his disdain for the voters, not by pointing out their alleged greediness, but by refusing to participate in the pre-election debate.
These are four reasons that in any mature democracy would have worked against the FNM, and would have been enough to secure a comfortable PLP win. Not so in the Bahamas, and even if the recount puts Ryan Pinder before Duane Sands, this is too close to make sense.

Pinder's problem may have been the issue of his dual citizenship. It is rather ridiculous that we suffer from such a major inferiority complex that we hold it against a man that he has a foreign mother. More mature democracies have many a politician with a migratory background and more than one passport. Yet, Pinder even renounced his U.S. citizenship before the election, which should have satisfied the skeptics right there.

The reason why the FNM polled so strongly in Elizabeth is because we are not a democracy. When Bahamian voters know that their vote won't change the government, they tend to vote for the governing party, because they fear that otherwise their constituency will be victimised.

Fear of victimisation, however, has no place in a democracy. Bahamians too often make the mistake to equate democracy with majority rule (and I am *not* talking about 1967), because our politicians operate along the lines that when their party has the majority, it is their country. They then make decisions and implement policies that benefit their clientele at the expense of the minority.

However, democracy by definition means that compromises are forged that ultimately benefit as many people as possible and jeopardise as few as possible, preferably none. Government by the people, for the people. All the people. That is precisely what we do not get from our politicians. We live, sadly, not in a democracy, but in an ochlocracy instead.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Day the Earth did not Stand Still

My last post is dated January 12th, 2010. It was posted that afternoon. The date will forever be remembered in the region's history as the Day the Earth did not Stand Still.

Since that earthquake in Haiti, the Bahamas, as well as the rest of the world, has focussed much of their attention on our neighbour, and the Bahamian blog scene has written much about the country. How can we help? As individuals? As a country? What are Haiti's options for the future? What can we learn from Haiti's past about preventing disasters from reaching quite such a scope?

Many had some smart remarks. Many wrote and spoke utter stupidity.

The most obvious stupidity is coming from what I shall call "Corner A." Corner A is home to racist haters such as Pat Robertson and Paul Shirley. My advice is to ignore Corner A, because it is questionable why a TV evangelist would be an expert on geological phenomena such as earthquakes (though I will concede one point, at least he argues along religious lines). As for Paul Shirley, well, what can I say? He's an NBA has-been. I mean, WTF?

However, there's also a Corner B. Corner B is full of presumably intelligent people, who seem to have an allergic reaction to anybody criticising the fact that Haiti since independence had one unstable and corrupt government after another. If the criticism - not blame, mind you - should come from somebody pale-skinned, the people in Corner B try to force the critic into Corner A. Thus Corner B becomes the apologist reverse racist corner.

Corner B now also seems to attack anyone who speaks about about post-disaster problems in Haiti such as looting or human trafficking involving Haitian nationals as perpetrators. According to Corner B, Haitians can only be victims. However, I have seen a Haitian mob attack a relief mission bringing in medical supplies with my own two eyes, and while I am willing to consider extenuating circumstances, and I myself don't know how I would react if I were in their shoes, it cannot be condoned if an airplane is being met by flying rocks.

I will not attempt to write "the" history of Haiti now, but I would like to remind my readers that there are historical roots for Haiti's pre-earthquake problems, which in turn magnify the impact of this recent catastrophe. Some of these problems are part of the colonial legacy. Others are caused by a hemispheric refusal to lend a helping hand, in the more recent and more distant pasts. And some are homemade.

Maybe you should go and look at sources yourself, rather than regurgitate the prepackaged opinions of Corners A and B. I recommend this document, Haiti's Constitution of 1801, as a random starting point.