A Case for the Spoiled Ballot, Part II
There is a false assumption that voters must choose from the options on the ballot, whether they like them or not.
Most Bahamian voters are not able to participate in the nomination process for candidates or party leaders. A small group of people get together and carry out a closed process, then offer their selections to us. At this point, we are expected to choose between all of the candidates in our constituencies, having no comparative data, little opportunity to engage them in dialogue on pressing national issues, no indication of their capabilities in comparison with those of their opponents, and no means of recall. Votes for candidates ratified by political parties are then proxies for the election of the nation’s Prime Minister. My vote for the Member of Parliament of my choice is taken as endorsement of that candidate’s party leader. I am forced, along with all Bahamian voters, to vote for two people with one X (unless I vote for an independent candidate which strips me of my right to vote for the PM of my choice).
None of the major political parties in The Bahamas have my interest, much less my trust.
The PLP won us over in 2012 with a catchy slogan that made us feel good about ourselves, and kept us from thinking about them. They told us they believed in us, but they were never specific. They didn’t tell us they believed in our silence. Our shortsightedness. Our reluctance to rise against them. We didn’t ask them to go deeper, because we liked what we heard. We were excited about a political party that believed in us. The party gave us that Obama change-you-can-believe-in feel-good affect. The novelty wore off, and we found ourselves discounted, disrespected, and disaffected. It didn’t believe in us. It tried to scapegoat us to stay in the church’s good graces. It asked us a million-dollar question, ignored our answer, and made us foot the bill. That’s not what believing in us looks like. It flushed thousands of jobs down the toilet, left civil society to bring relief to the islands and families most affected by two devastating hurricanes, imposed a tax that severely impacts small businesses and the 12.8% of the population that lives below the poverty line. The party contributed to the failure of the gender equality bills, and refused to answer question after question. VAT money, carnival, tainted water supply, and Baha Mar are still on our minds, but deflection and distraction are always on the PLP menu. I cannot vote for the PLP.
The FNM was given ideal conditions to position itself to win the next general election. It’s unfortunate that they did not care. The performance of the Public Accounts Committee was abysmal. Their record of compliance with the Public Disclosure Act continues to be at ankle-height. The Bahamas spent the past few months watching the FNM completely fall apart, waiting for the announcement of its final bonfire. The party continues to try to convince us that its members are together, strong, and prepared for the job, but without providing any evidence. They haven’t even been able to keep their website up. The FNM fully expects to sit back, relax, and win by default, riding on the premise that we have no other choice. How could I give them my one X?
The DNA has always been a non-option for me. I simply cannot take the party seriously. It started as an inflated temper tantrum by someone who appointed himself leader. He then went on to select a group of the most random, unprepared candidates possible for the 2012 general election. Many hoped the DNA would improve and gain more support by the 2017 election, but the party has given me nothing to go on. McCartney has made a number of statements, but none of them included plans or solutions. I know people who complain, blame, and rebuke far better than McCartney, so even that does not win him any facetious titles like “expert detractor”. Worse, he believes a woman owes her husband sex, in perpetuity, from the time they take marriage vows. The DNA has been in the best possible position for the past five years — able to watch, make substantial public contributions, and build community while expanding its own base. The party has not done this, and even if it had and was comprised of the most stellar candidates, I would never vote for the DNA. I am a woman, and I intend to retain full control of my body, whether or not I take marriage vows. Anyone who can stand behind McCartney stands against me. With that line in the sand, I cannot give the DNA my X.
The number of independent candidates in the next election is encouraging. It is great to see people thinking beyond party. It is unfortunate that so many believe the only way to create change is to become a part of the system, but that is a discussion for another time and space. That aside, I believe we will see more of this in elections to come, and it could lead us to a coalition government. I have not yet met or received any word from an independent candidate in my constituency and, honestly, at this stage, I have no interest in hearing from one. It is a bit too late to look for my support in three short months. That is not a long enough time to demonstrate commitment to the community, beyond political aspirations.
Given our current electoral system, a vote for an independent would deprive me of the opportunity to weigh in on the leadership of the country. In the current political climate, it also has a high chance of splitting the opposition vote, and creating another wide margin between the winning party and the official opposition. That is a sacrifice I would consider in more depth if I had a candidate I could fully support, but having none, this is my position. While I support those who will, I will not be voting for an independent candidate in 2017.
None of the political parties in The Bahamas have made a connection with me. I do not read the statements, view the actions, or hear the rhetoric and feel any sense of conviction or shared vision with any of them. More than that, I struggle to see the difference between them. We have consistently seen one party break off from another, not on the basis of beliefs or guiding principles, but differences in personality and power struggles. This has led us to this place — a number of political parties, one not different from any other.
One would be hard-pressed to order political parties in The Bahamas from least to most conservative. It would be an exercise in futility to make any qualitative distinctions between political parties. In this moment, we have the same party, a few times over, with different names, faces, and colors. They largely operate in the same ways, (fail to) stand for the same things, refuse to change the systems they criticized when those systems begin to serve them, and treat the Bahamian people as afterthoughts. They are committed to serving themselves, keeping each other’s secrets (even across party lines), and retaining power. If there is no difference between parties, what is there to convince me to vote for one over the other(s)?
The politicians are lackluster, yes, but they are not the only problem. We have a failing system. It is this system that allows parties to receive campaign funding from anyone they choose, and without disclosing. It is this system that allows the closed process for party candidates and leaders to continue. This system allows for the drawing of new boundaries, in favor of the current administration.
Are we ready to be introduced to potential candidates and their platforms in town hall meetings? Are we ready for mandatory public debates? Are we ready for an independent electoral commission? Are we ready to cast separate votes for MP and PM?
Are we ready to reject the system that has led us to where we now find ourselves, uninspired by the options put before us? Are we ready to reject the idea that we must support one of the existing options? Are we ready to refuse to vote for anyone, by default, who has done nothing to earn it? Are we ready to kickstart a national conversation about building a system that will serve us? Are we ready to be counted as concerned citizens who will not settle (rather than discounted as apathetic if we do not participate)? Are we ready to march, together, to the polls to reject the status quo and make our demands?
We can do all of the above in two steps.
- Register to vote.
2. Spoil the ballot.