On Victory

Let me start by congratulating the Bahamian electorate on its victory at the polls.Before the election took place, I had written a very different article. The bones of it are posted elsewhere; I was thoroughly disappointed in the campaign, and I thought this was going to be an awful election. An interesting election, but an awful one as well.Interesting, because (as an old friend of mine very wisely observed, a couple of weeks before the election) it is the last one to be fought in the shadow of Sir Lynden Pindling, with his two bright-eyed boys nearing the ends of their careers. (I'm talking about the Rt. Hons. Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie, for those of you who don't know, each of whom received their seventh consecutive election to the House of Assembly, each of whom was a favoured Cabinet Minister in the Pindling PLP administration, each of whom was expelled from the PLP in 1984; and, moreover, and each of whom contested the 1987 general elections as Independent candidates and defeated their PLP opponents - quite a feat in those days.)And awful, because this was the first election campaign in my memory that was fought almost exclusively on insult. Both sides focused on the respective weaknesses of the other leader, on the various scandals afflicting prominent members of each party, and on the general baseness of their opponents and their supporters.And still the Bahamian people showed their representatives how to behave, and elected the most balanced parliament in forty years.This, I believe, even more than the changes of government over the past fifteen years, is a measure of the electorate's maturity - if maturity is the right way to put it. I suspect that it's even more a measure of the distance between the average Bahamian voter and the average politician. Politicians, ironically, especially seasoned ones, tend to live in a circumscribed and narrow world, one defined for them by their hangers-on, most of whom are either blindly loyal party members or else favour-currying sycophants, while the Bahamian voters live in a world that is largely defined by global (read American) politics, complete with sophisticated and critical political discussions.For a long time, Bahamian politicians have underestimated the Bahamian people. Many of them -- especially those schooled in the shadow of the early FNM and PLP -- continue to regard us as being semi-educated, superficial individuals who respond best to emotional appeals and simplistic discussions of complex issues. And so what has invariably brought governments down is often their very success. In 1992, the PLP was defeated by the growth of the same well-educated and prosperous middle class that government created. In 2002, the freedom of the airwaves ushered in by the FNM ultimately provided the avenue for that government's downfall. This time? I'm going to argue that this not-our-father's PLP was brought down by the very values they claimed when they aligned themselves with Bahamians of all races and creeds to tackle vexing issues such as land and constitutional reform, environmental awareness, national sovereignty, and the economic challenges posed by globalization - and by their addiction to consultation. The higher a bar is set, the further one has to fall.That's why I want to congratulate my countrymen for this new government we have elected. It's not just the change that impresses me; it's what I suspect lies behind the change, the message it sends, and the implications for the way ahead.You see, this time the government we elected is not one that can govern by a wide margin. It wasn't won by a landslide. The popular vote was one of the closest ever. As I write, estimates are floating that that vote was 50%-50%, or 49%-51% in favour of the FNM; by the time this goes to press the figures may be established. What is even more remarkable is that the margin in the House of Assembly is so close - and that the opposition consists, as one talk show host observed, of seasoned politicians. A majority of five seats means that issues must be discussed with care, legislation must be carefully drafted, and committees must complete their work. It also means that the government is vulnerable not only to the opposition, but to its own members; the balance of power is a mere three seats.In other words, our representatives are going to have to govern rather than campaign. They are going to have to negotiate instead of impose, to persuade rather than bully, to fashion arguments in the place of polemics if anything is to be done. The margin is small enough for anything to happen over the course of five years - and yet it's large enough to ensure that business will take place.So perhaps now, at last, we have elected a government that will get on with the business of governing us, not one that is half focussed on appeasing or rewarding its supporters and half focussed on getting things done for the rest of us.And so now, perhaps, we can deal with issues that affect the future of the nation -- like our identity as a people, our sovereignty, our economic survival in the global economy. Like race, and how we deal with it, whether we are white, black, Haitian, Greek, Chinese, or all (or none) of the above. Like immigration. Like the environment, and how we can make our development sustainable. Like reform of the public service, reform of our constitution, and the fundamental education of our people.It is a great new day indeed. The Bahamian people have won a great victory. Congratulations and condolences to all who deserve them. This was a wonderful outcome of the 2007 general election, and one I've been waiting for all my life.