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Columns : The New Bahamian - Joseph Gaskins Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

The War Continues: An Alternate Take on What the North Abaco By-election Means
By Joseph Gaskins
Oct 19, 2012 - 1:28:32 PM

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I know. It has been a while since I’ve written anything. I’ve fallen victim to what I often accuse others of doing: coming home and getting comfortable. I am, however, inspired to put fingers to keyboard following the excitement of the North Abaco by-election.

The seat once held by the former prime minister and leader of the Free National Movement (FNM) has now gone to the governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The PLP holds 30 seats in the House of Assembly, leaving only 8 for the opposition FNM.

Most of us saw this coming. The preparation of FNM candidate Greg Gomez for the political spotlight seemed lacking. This left many asking, why did the FNM choose him? The usually well oiled FNM campaign machinery seemed to stumble, and that stumbling seemed personified by the candidate himself, who was rumored to be handpicked by the former prime minister. What happened? Where did this all go wrong? Who is to blame?

These are perhaps good questions, but I don’t intend to answer them here. In my opinion this isn’t all bad news for the FNM. There is now an opening to revitalize the party, whose identity seemed to rely mostly on not being the PLP. I want to argue, however, that this is bad news for the Bahamian people.

Let’s look at the numbers. The PLP holds 30 seats but at last count received only 48.7% of the popular vote. This number has changed slightly since the by-election but I think whatever increase there was my point will not be negated. You may also remember that the FNM won 42.1% of the popular vote but holds only 8 seats in the House of Assembly. The Democratic National Alliance (DNA), while not capturing any seats, received 8.1% of the vote. This means, in the grand scheme of things, that while the PLP represents less than half of Bahamians they now hold 79% of representational power in the House of Assembly, while 42.1% of Bahamians are left with only 21% of the house to voice and vote their concerns. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sit right with me.

This is not the PLP’s fault...at least not this PLP government. Our system of first-past-the-post-voting is set up in such a way that even if you won the seat by a minimal margin, winner takes all. If democracy relies on representation then these numbers suggest that our democracy is faulty.

Beyond this, democracies rely on a strong opposition that can voice, both through the media and their votes in government institutions, the objections and agreements of the sector of the population that does not support the ruling party. This acts as a counterbalance, a check to the government’s unadulterated power in a political system that otherwise gives both the upper and lower houses of representation to the governing party.

We can have a conversation about the a lack of leadership in the opposition party or the need for better organization and a better relationship with people on the ground. These are all valid points. In the Bahamas, opposition parties, no matter who they might be, are systematically disadvantaged by the way we’ve organized political representation.

In thinking about what this means, I recalled a quote by one of my favorite social theorists, Michel Foucault. Foucault took Carl Von Clausewitz well-worn mantra, “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” and turned it around. Clausewitz was a brilliant military strategist whose writing is still studied even 150 years after his death. Yet, despite his influence and genius, I think Foucault bests Clausewitz. Foucault argues that -- in the end -- “Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”

What does Clausewitz, Foucault and war have to do with the North Abaco by-election? We have never had a war in the Bahamas, so the analogy doesn’t fit does it? Indeed, I think it does.

Foucault argues that the law, political arrangements and so called modern forms of government are saturated with the violence from which these systems of government were borne. In the case of the Bahamas, the violence which is already always present is of colonial ilk.

While we are no longer slaves or subjects, Foucault would argue that we are still treated to the violence that characterized our colonial past, though it is now obscured by our “democratic” institutions. These are of course institutions which we have adopted from those who once denied us access to them and which continue to silence large portions of the Bahamian population through their inability to fulfill the promise of advancement and greater equality via representation. This fact is characterized by the uneven representation that the House of Assembly now reflects. 

Not only is this silencing a form of violence but our Bahamian “politics of personalities,” which was preceded by pre-majority rule campaign strategies that involved not a competition of ideas but a paternalistic game of thrones, as Colin Hughes tells it in, “Race and Politics in the Bahamas,” continues to divide a country along meaningless partisan lines to the detriment of the country as a whole. This empty oppositional politics is idle -- stop, review and cancel has replaced cooperation, debate and productivity.  The war continues and we are all casualties.

In the end, we’ve imbued defective arrangements of government left behind by those rid ourselves of through a nationalist project with the very energy of that nationalist endeavor. The system has stayed the same, only those who are running it have changed. The “war” against us as citizens is now waged by those who look like us, whether they realize it or not.

We can look at the results from North Abaco and the general election just as they are but from a critical perspective the North Abaco by-election signals, at least for me, a need to reevaluate how we “do” governance in the Bahamas.

The numbers don’t add up to true democracy, the process does not fit the needs of Bahamians and the growing partisan nature of political discourse and action, defined by a paternalism that relies on a (small) carrot and a (big) stick, as Stephen Aranha phrases it, is but a continuation of the violence we would like to believe has long left our shores. 

Joey Gaskins is a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was born in Grand Bahama Island, studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and has begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology.  Joey  lives in Nassau and is a part-time lecturer at College of the Bahamas. He also writes for  the Nassau Liberal  www. nassauliberal. webs.com  and The Tribune.

You can reach him at  j.gaskins@lse.ac.uk


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