Thursday, January 12, 2012

Voting... based on what?

Every evening I drive past a golden Jaguar convertible, parked at Montagu Beach, and I cannot decide whether this modest vehicle is supposed to mobilise the proverbial Bahamian grassroots voter, or whether the choice of vehicle is an attempt to speak the language of the well-to-do Out East Folk on their way home to Winton and Port New Providence. Whatever the case, elections are obviously just around the corner.

I wanted to write something about the upcoming elections, but I find it rather difficult. One reason is that there are our three parties, which so clearly lack programmatic or ideological differences, and a golden Jaguar convertible turned into a political ad for a so-called progressive and liberal party pretending to fight for the interests of the lower strata of Bahamian society is the perfect illustration of this sad state of affairs.

Tap is on to something, you know. There is a core of voters loyally dedicated to one party or another for no apparent reason. At least for no apparent political reason. There is also a good chunk of voters who will sell their vote for either a turkey and Xmas ham (cheap) or fridge/washer/flat-screen TV (not so cheap), depending on how well-funded and/or desperate a candidate's campaign, and how good a negotiator the voter in question.

That leaves a small percentage of voters who actually make up their mind, every five years, and who swing the vote. But based on what? Technically speaking, we vote for individual candidates, not for parties, who run in our respective constituencies. But do we actually give a damn about these individuals? Do we expect these MPs to represent their constituencies in the House of Assembly? If necessary against their party's line? We might wish they would, but we are disillusioned enough to know that that ain't gonna happen.

As a result, we vote for candidates because they represent a particular party, and we want this particular party's leader to be the next Prime Minister. Either because we think Hubert/Perry/Bran is just plain fabulous, or because we hope to gain some advantage because it's the country of Who You Know, or - and this is usually the case - because the past five years went reasonably well (in which case governments get reelected), or because the past five years were a disaster (in which case the incumbent loses).

What this really means though, is that we do not even vote for parties, rather, we simply evaluate our own experiences over the past five years. Or less, as our memories tend to emphasise the recent past over the distant past. And we evaluate the experiences that were influenced by government actions, as well as those that were out of the government's control.

It's not looking good for the FNM:
  • In 2011, the murder rate increased by 35%. (Short term memory item #1.)
  • The roads are, still, a nightmare, and while nobody denies that the roadworks were/are needed, digging up the whole island at once is really shitty planning.
  • No visible progress has been made in the field of education. (I actually have my doubts if Joe the Voter cares about this one.)
  • Since the 2008 international economic meltdown, we have seen painful inflation in the Bahamas, but stagnating salaries.
  • That is, if you still have a job and a salary.

To counter this, what is the FNM selling as success stories of their administration?

  • A new airport terminal, which nobody really remembers (long term memory loss, see above), and which, in all reality, is actually woefully inadequate.
  • A new Straw Market, which I personally consider an eye-sore, and the opposition is busy convincing us was a waste of taxpayer money.
  • Unfinished roads.
  • Gun courts? [Imagine an app in this space that automatically updates the country's murder count.]

Their hope is the DNA. If it fragments the opposition vote more than it hurts the government vote, it may just be enough for Papa to hang in there another five years. Maybe.

Regardless of the outcome, though, it is unlikely that there will be a change. Certainly not for the better. There are just too many flaws, some rooted in our system, some in our society. Changing the latter is a generational task, tuning the former, however, might yield some surprising results within one election cycle. Proportional representation would enable smaller parties to enter the political arena, some of them may in fact offer genuinely different politics. It would certainly make our democracy more inclusive. More attractive.

And even small inroads such third, fourth or fifth parties may make, would certainly result in the established parties being forced to make more of an effort. Or is that why the Progressive Free Democratic Liberal National Parmoveliance will never consider the move towards proportional representation?

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