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
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
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
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
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
and The Tribune.
You can reach him at