If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.
-- Rudyard Kipling
The general election is over. The time for governance has begun. The Progressive Liberal Party has a certain mandate and the responsibility of government, despite a dramatically lower voter turnout.
In the 2021 general election, approximately 65 percent of registered voters cast their ballots. That was a record low turnout in the modern Bahamas. It is common in our elections for turnout to be in the low 90 percent range of registered voters.
Based on preliminary data, the PLP secured only 34 percent of registered voters. They are the Government with the support of only one third of registered Bahamians. That figure lowers when it is considered many people do not register.
Bahamians should wish the incoming administration and Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis well as they now bear the burden of leading the country through extremely rough and dangerous economic waters and the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those wishing ill for the country for political benefit or out of pique so that the new administration quickly falters should remember that we are Bahamians first. We are all in the same national boat.
If the Prime Minister needs advice and assistance both should be accorded our head of government, no matter which party an individual supported.
Government work is hard, complex, often frustrating and tedious, with long days and endless weeks, with little gratitude, appreciation or understanding by most of the public and much of the media.
So much commentary after the election is based on emotionalism, so-called hunches and biases absent facts. Disappointingly, this includes professional and educated Bahamians with often a scant understanding of politics and our system of government. Many opine breezily but not substantively.
Many of those who easily mock or deride public officers and others who offer their services and talents in government would not be able to sustain the pressures and vortex of government for long, easily buckling under the constant demands of office.
Whichever party won, would now confront a complex of unprecedented economic challenges, including mass unemployment, much of the economy still shuttered, decisions about public finances and funding promises made during the election campaign.
The FNM promised a number of high-priced social programmes such as a Universal School Meals Programme and other initiatives. The PLP promised to reduce VAT for a year to 10 percent and to increase the minimum wage.
Public finances are in a very difficult state in much of the world and most of the Caribbean. The Bahamas is no different. The Davis administration has to make a number of fairly quick decisions, which will likely be highly unpopular.
The poetry and general promises of a campaign must be translated into the prose of specific policies amid limited revenues and resources. In The Bahamas, our policy planning process in government is often dysfunctional and in need of major overhaul.
Prime Minister Davis should shore up his policy advisors in critical areas, as he will at times be failed on this front by public officers and a cabinet made up mostly of unseasoned ministers with little experience in government or understanding of the complexities of policymaking and implementation.
A story in Jamaica’s The Gleaner yesterday is a warning to the new Bahamian Prime Minister. The subheading of the story: “The Government has seen a 19-percentage point plunge in its performance rating in just over a year.”
The story continued:
“The rating of Jamaica Labour Party Leader, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has also dipped. In the latest RJRGLEANER-commissioned Don Anderson Poll conducted from August 19 to September 3 this year, the government's performance rating dropped to 38 percent from 57 percent in July 2020.
“The most recent poll was conducted among 1,003 respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent. The government's negative (poor and very poor) performance rating worsened from 12 percent in 2020 to 28 percent this year.
“At the same time, there has been a further negative performance rating of the Jamaica Labour Party Leader. The negative rating has worsened from 10 percent in 2020 to 27 percent this year.
“Holness’ positive (good and very good) performance rating of 65 percent in 2020 is now 42 percent.
“On September 3, 2020, Jamaica held its 18th general elections since Universal Adult Suffrage with the JLP sweeping 49 seats to the People’s National Party’s 14. The election happened in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The pandemic will be with us for the foreseeable future. The new administration must immediately get a handle on the crises as even a few days, and certainly a week, can make a tremendous difference in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Some of what Mr Davis and the PLP said in opposition about addressing the pandemic was irresponsible and pandering. COVID-19 does not care who is in office nor which political colours one wears.
Ongoing decisive and strict measures will be required to increase the number of people vaccinated. We will see in a few weeks how the Government’s recent relaxation of various emergency orders will play out.
Last Wednesday, amid a dramatic rise in cases, Belizean Prime Minister John Briceño gave a national address to describe the current state of the pandemic and the projections of what might come in the Central American nation.
“At this rate, hospitalizations could rise by an additional 150 persons daily over the next two weeks. Of those hospitalized cases, approximately 15 people will require ICU admission and a minimum of 10 daily deaths are projected.”
As the country moves forward, it is important to try to dissect and understand the election results.
Thus far, much of the analysis, especially from certain media commentators, has been unconvincing, some of it hackneyed and some of it trite. Some seem to have stock and readymade answers. Some have based their analysis on personal hatred and deep-seated anger.
“Psephology is a division of political science that deals with the examination as well as the statistical analysis of elections and polls.” It would be of considerable benefit to have a trained psephologist do a deep dive and more thorough analysis of Bahamian elections so that we can gain a better understand of our electoral patterns.
There is a cultural and social psychology to societies and electorates. It would also be beneficial to have a number of sociologists and political scientists study our democracy and elections as we approach 50 years of independence, and a longer period of self-rule.
We require a deeper analysis of Bahamian democracy and practices beyond each election cycle. A better understand of this election and the several past elections may be best done first by proposing a series of questions rather than a number of quick and pat answers that are currently circulating.
While some of the already proposed reasons for the outcome of the vote make sense and seem reasonable, a number seem specious. The reasons for the outcome might be viewed through a pie chart, with the various parts afforded percentages and ranking.
There is likely a confluence of reasons for the current outcome. What role did the pandemic play in a dramatic decrease in turnout? What was the role of having an election during a surge in cases and quite a number of deaths?
How much did the displeasure toward and the dislike of former Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, including his style of governance, and his government and the Free National Movement play in their defeat?
Dr Minnis, his cabinet and the FNM must accept responsibility for their errors in government and in the election. There must be an honest and thorough analysis and stocktaking by the FNM and the former Prime Minister.
Will we see a decline in the percentage of voters, especially younger voters, as we move past those who have a personal memory of majority rule and independence? How disengaged or uninformed are citizens from the workings of government?
Our elections include an ongoing and often open solicitation by voters for money, sometimes with the retort: “I haven’t voted yet. What you ga do for me?” Outside of elections, scores want government contracts and funds. What role does such “throw me out” play in our election cycles?
What role will social media and the press play in democratic politics, including the abuse on social media of those in political life and the sometimes skewed journalism?
Social media has calmed down for now post-election. But in a few weeks, the vomiting of rage and the acid-like reflux of anger will quickly gather force and engulf the new government, which will now become for many the target of outrage and venom. This will include toxicity from certain talk show hosts and social media personalities.
The outrage cycle is on a temporary vacation. When it ramps back up it will deny the new government a honeymoon or an appreciation of the challenges the country faces. With only a third of registered Bahamians voting for the party, the PLP is going to feel the brunt of outrage with every decision it makes.
There may currently be no other democracy in the world that has changed its government consecutively as we have from 1997 to 2021. If we change again at the next election this will be a period of 30 years.
This is not a picture of democratic health, especially in comparison with other Caribbean democracies, with similar democratic, socio-economic and psephological features.
Our changing of administrations every five years now may say as much or more about the electorate than it does about former Prime Ministers Hubert Ingraham, Perry Christie or Hubert Minnis.
We need more self-reflection about the state of our democracy beyond the former Prime Ministers. Our democratic instability may be rooted in a number of sociological and political reasons.
Along with this near 25 years of changing governments, during this period we have also twice voted against giving women full equal rights in citizenship referenda.
We are a young electorate. In a number of ways we have not fully matured to assess broadly and reasonably the variables needed to properly understand and manage our democracy. Both politician and voter must accept responsibility for the current state of our democracy.
It would be all too easy for politicians and voters to blame each other for the dysfunction in the body politic. Political maturity demands a fuller understanding of the role we all play in augmenting the strength of our democracy and in addressing and ameliorating the deficiencies.