Elections are over. The Bahamian people have voted, and the vote was historic.
It’s not just that it was the cleanest sweep ever in the history of party politics in our nation. It’s not just that for the first time since 2002 that any governing party has been elected by a simple majority of the electorate (i.e. over 50% of the votes cast). And it’s not even that this was the first election in our history in which the sitting Prime Minister was not only voted out of office, but also lost his own seat. These are all remarkable things in themselves, but they’re not the most remarkable one.
What strikes me most in this election was the independence and the power of the voters.
Several people have commented on the new government, observing, with a measure of truth, that the Pindling era is now over, but I would put it differently. I’d say that the era of the One Leader is over. Because the true victors in this election were not the Free National Movement MPs who will be sworn in and take their positions in our legislature and executive over coming weeks. The true victors on May 10, 2017 were the Bahamian people.
Now, stick a pin. I’ve made it pretty clear over the past few months that I don’t regard changing of one political party for another as any guarantee that life in The Bahamas will get better (sorry, Red Tsunami). It may feel better for a few weeks or months, but simply changing our leadership will not, and cannot, heal our nation. Electing a new party to government doesn’t automatically fix the economy, find young people jobs, make Baha Mar work to our advantage, eradicate crime and violence. It doesn’t even guarantee that corruption will no longer be part of our political landscape. It gives us time to breathe and take stock, but the causes of our troubles don’t recognize parties in power. They come out of us, and they have to be solved by us.
I’ve said it before: our systems are deeply flawed, and we have to strip them down and rebuild them—not once, but again and again, so that they remain relevant and robust and continue to meet our needs.
What makes me hopeful about the future is not that we changed the government. It’s the way in which we changed it. We didn’t follow the politicians’ lead; they followed the people’s. We called for debates, and candidates debated. We held town halls and they came. We, the people, demanded that our politicians respected us; and those who didn’t were voted away.
What’s historic in this election is that we, the Bahamian people, have collectively lost our taste for being dictated to by the political elite.
The leaders of the political parties were less important than the issues we wanted addressed by our representatives: issues of accountability, of transparency, of governance, of respect for the citizens in whose place they stand. While there was plenty of leader-bashing going on, it didn’t really seem to be the core of the matter. No. What seemed to be even more important was that we were looking for representatives—people who would take our needs, concerns, and worries with them when they entered the House of Assembly to form the new government.
Watch this, though.
Our governing structures are not set up to deliver what we have so clearly shown that we want.
It’s not realistic for us to expect that if we live in a constituency whose representative is called to serve in the cabinet, that person should be meeting the needs of the constituency as well as working to solve the very real problems of the nation. It’s even unrealistic for us to expect that back-benchers can meet the needs of their constituents while at the same time they are dealing with critical legislation in the House of Assembly. So even as we’re celebrating, we need to be planning how we use this euphoria to fuel the way we move forward.
Because it can’t all be about marching and protests, though there’s power in collective voices and feet. It can’t always be adversarial, us vs. them, you-for-me-or-against-me politics, whether that happens inside or outside the House of Assembly. We need to find ways to build up structures that allow for constructive dissent. You and I don’t have to share the same opinion in order for us to build our society collectively and inclusively—in fact, it’s better for the collective when we disagree and we have to fight our corners using reason and passion. Dissent sharpens ideals, and makes people think harder about what they really believe, and the result is better for all.
I for one have no more tolerance for the politics of exclusion, whether the people being excluded are of another race or ethnicity or creed or gender or sexual preference or political affiliation or ability.
We are all Bahamians, and we all have a place in this land together. We need to start building that new country.
OK, my fellow Bahamians. It’s not enough simply to change prime ministers and parties and faces in the house of assembly. We have to change the structures too. We can’t stop rolling now. Let’s begin building the country we want to live in tomorrow, and leave this nation better than we met it.