Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Election Fever

[Updated as of May 3rd; see item #6 below.]

Ever since I first began living abroad, I have always made it a habit to remain neutral on questions of local politics and elections. Today's election here in the Bahamas is no exception. With that in mind, the photos below have been included for illustrative purposes only and appear in alphabetical order. The photo of the FNM or opposition party is placed first and the photo of the PLP or ruling party is underneath. Readers who are interested in news, updates, and political commentary on this year's elections are encouraged to check here, here, here, and here.

As an outsider looking in at the world of Bahamian politics, I would like to share some of my non-partisan observations on what I believe to be the POSITIVE aspects of the elections.

1. Short Campaign Cycle -- On April 4th--exactly four weeks ago today--parliament was dissolved and the election was called for May 2nd. Obviously, everyone knew before that there was going to be an election this year and even as early as last summer campaign literature was left on our door and we were receiving door-to-door visits from prospective candidates. But overall, this feels short and much less intense compared to the permanent, year-round U.S. campaign cycle where candidacies for upcoming elections are sometimes declared as early as the day after the previous election. My guess is that, on a per capita basis, Bahamian elections are a whole lot cheaper too. Another plus is that most of the campaigning has taken place during the past four weeks and NOT while parliament was in session, so the incumbents are not forced to neglect their official duties while they're out on the campaign trail.

2. High voter turnout -- I have been told that elections in the Bahamas typically have 95% or better turnout of all eligible voters. Regardless of whatever other criticisms might be made of the elections, this is commendable. In the U.S., we barely manage to get a 50% voter turnout for presidential elections and, much less, for mid-term and local elections.

3. Quick Results -- Unlike many of the Bahamas' neighboring countries (including, on occasion, the United States), we don't have to wait for months following election day to find out who the winners are.

4. Short Lame Duck Period -- During the week of the 2002 elections, my wife and I were in the States for a wedding. When we came back, much to our surprise, the new government had already been installed! Given the sheer size of the United States, I doubt we'll ever see a new president taking office during the same week as the election. The lame duck period--at least in the States--is necessary in order for the president-elect to assemble a new cabinet (which is made up of presidential appointees and not elected members of parliament) and make the transition from one administration to another. So the short lame duck period is something that we can clearly chalk up as one of the perks of living in a small country and, to a certain extent, the nature of parliamentary government.

5. Potential for Inclusiveness -- In theory, the parliamentary system is more flexible when it comes to accommodating multiple parties. Though some tiny third-party and independent candidates are represented in this year's election, Bahamian politics is basically dominated by two major parties as is the case in the U.S. Nevertheless, in at least one instance in Bahamian political history, a third-party has been known to make a difference in the outcome of the election. In 1967, Randol Fawkes--the lone Labour Party candidate to get elected--chose to join the PLP in forming a coalition government which led to the ouster of the UBP and the white ruling class that it represented, thus ushering in a new era of Black Majority Rule. Conceivably, if a third-party were to ever gain traction in the future, it could alter the outcome of an election and challenge the "business as usual" monopoly of the two major parties. In the United States, our political system is less inclusive of third-parties and so it is much more difficult for them to ever have a real impact on American politics.

6. The Results are Not Predicted by Pre-Election Polls -- In the U.S., pre-election polling eliminates the element of surprise in all but the closest races. Not so here in the Bahamas where one can never really be sure who the next ruling party will be until all of the votes have been counted.



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