Or, why I really spoiled my ballot
Time and rope
There is a great Bahamian saying: time longer dan rope.
A year has passed, a year and a month or so, since #OutDaBox242 began its much-excoriated campaign to raise the profile of voter registration and float the option of not having to choose the best of a bad lot at election time. Well, enough time has passed for the three of us, us three “educated fools”, to get to a point where we are trying really hard not to say those four fatal words.
It’s not been a full year since the incredible landslide, but we are already realizing that the euphoria of getting rid of the last government does not compensate for what the new government lacks. And we are also well aware of the danger of the kind of majority that we put in the house of assembly. By changing the faces in that institution, we have made no real change at all. The prime minister still possesses far too much power that is good for any man. The government is far too strong and far too able to make bad decisions with virtually no check on its power in the house of assembly. The speaker has already abused his authority and abased his position in doing so. The minister of finance is still talking about the excesses of the previous government and why we can’t get out from under. The minister of immigration and the attorney-general are now antagonists to freedom fighters that they were once allied with. Go find a newspaper from 2013, substitute names and faces, and see what, if anything, has changed.
I am hoping that enough time has passed for the emotionalism that blazed around the last election to have worn off to allow me to explain why I really spoiled my ballot––and why I shall continue to do so until we change the way we approach democracy in this nation we are trying to shape.
Where’s the vision?
I cannot speak for my partners in crime, those comrades who with me refused to take part in the abortive exercise in non-democracy that occurred in the last general election, but I can speak for myself. My refusal to cast a vote in support of any candidate in my constituency, and hence my refusal to give my support to any political party, was partly motivated by a desire to protest the lack of real choice given to “voters”. (It’s not a new protest, by the way. Forty years ago, while most Bahamians were rejoicing in the glories of majority rule, Patrick Rahming was expressing the selfsame sentiments in his poem “Power”: “vot’n ain’ much power / if somebody else guh choose / the choice”.)
But other, just as real, reasons I withheld my vote in 2017, and why I will do in 2022 (should we have to wait that long)––and beyond, unless we see fundamental changes in our society between now and then), centre around the following facts.
- We are a new nation. This is not being said by way of excuse, but by way of fact. Our constitution is 45 years old, and our nationhood is seriously underdeveloped. And nations do not just happen; they must be dreamed up, imagined, crafted.
- There is no nation-dreaming or crafting going on.
- The vast majority of people being ratified as political candidates fit into three main categories:
- Hoary politicians who have held on grimly and are now awaiting their turns in the limelight and shouldering everyone else out of the way
- Party loyalists or, worse, friends, families and lovers of the hoary and desperate members of category 1;
- People who have some deep-seated insecurity of their own, some illusion of grandeur, some outsize concept of themselves that find themselves drawn to the perks, prestige, and trappings that parliament can offer them, who like the idea of the blue plate that allows them to do what they want when they want, who wish to get the even bluer plate that comes with a car and a driver and the ability to sweep past the paeons to the top of the drive and have other paeons kiss their feet when they step out;
- (While there are some individuals who offer themselves for public service out of a sense of duty or obligation, who are called to serve, and who are the kinds of people I could support, their value is usually swallowed up by the corruption, the limitations, and the rapaciousness of the former three groups.)
- There is absolutely no deep thought about who we are, where we are, what The Bahamas is or could be, our strengths, our weaknesses, our advantages, our opportunities, and ways to build a future.
- There is no policy that is crafted to meet the needs of the late twentieth century, much less the twenty-first.
- Governments ever since 1992 have given up the idea that Bahamians can or should be architects of their own fate. Instead, they place their faith pathetically in foreign investment, doling out unimaginable concessions to undeserving non-Bahamian prospectors without even understanding what the political and economic philosophy of foreign investment is supposed to achieve.
- Our leaders stumble from crisis to crisis and grasp the ludicrous, the ridiculous and the illegal as a means to solve our problems––or, perhaps more accurately, to begin to seem to fulfil their vapid election promises.
For the rest of my life, then, I have resolved not to vote for any individual, party, or group that has not done the following things, and demonstrated that they have done them:
- Articulated what they know about The Bahamas as a whole, as an archipelago, and indicated that they are aware of the critical issues facing us over the next 50 years;
- Analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of our state and shown that they are able to understand our opportunities and threats;
- Outlined solutions that are home-grown and rooted in local research, even if they draw on best practices from around the world. After all, we know ourselves best. And if these solutions are all Nassau-centric, they are not solutions;
- Considered ways in which to stop the leakage of our best minds while we still import cheaper labour from elsewhere. We are a middle-income developing nation, and so we will lose our best while attracting expatriate second-best. Foreign direct investors are not solvers of local problems. They do not invest in other people’s countries to build them. They are capitalists who are seeking strong profits. They cannot ever be substitutes for investment in ourselves;
- Considered how to end the leakage of Bahamian-generated profits to jurisdictions beyond our own;
- Recognized that New Providence is a toxic environment socially, physically and environmentally and begun crafting solutions to change that fact;
- Recognized that the other 98% of the Bahamian archipelago is underdeveloped and the source of much of our potential;
- Come up with educational strategies to prepare Bahamians for their futures that are NOT mirrors or confusions of the late colonial period;
- Recognized that in a nation of under half a million people, solutions are possible.
End of Part I – Stay tuned for Part II, coming Monday