Writing about politics is usually such a bore, I don't generally engage in it. Politicians don't much care what Bahamians have to say anyway, so it's usually also a waste of time. And the media -- Bahamas Press and its so-called "wutless" competitors alike -- tend to sensationalize the trivial in this regard, rarely engaging in the kind of analysis or debate that changes things or leads to a broadening of democracy that it becomes difficult to carry on political conversations. But this headline grabbed my attention enough to get me to read the story, and the section regarding the comparison between the UK's voting policies and ours was so very misleading that it seemed important that there be some sort of response.It's not that I'm against the ideas of non-citizens voting in elections. In another country, under different circumstances, I would entertain the discussion, perhaps even raise it. But in this country, where non-citizens have more rights and privileges than Bahamians in almost every other way, I find the idea insulting.I happen to believe that the principles of democracy go far beyond voting. Voting is one way in which the citizenry participate in their government. The politician placed in power therefore has some kind of obligation to that citizenry, an obligation that has to do with meeting the needs first of all of all the people. Now this is something that Bahamian governments in general have done very poorly, in particular over the last fifteen years or so; ours has become a nation that puts Bahamians last in virtually every arena. For some reason unfathomable to me, we Bahamians elect and re-elect politicians who despise their country and their people and take every opportunity to find ways to disempower us all, politicians who lie down and become carpet when they meet people from abroad, but who stand up and become granite when faced with their fellow-countrymen, politicians who insist on behaving as though we are all as stupid as they imagine we are, as they have trained us to be.You will notice that I refer to them as "politicians". "Leaders" seems to give them too much credit. But I digress.Here's the bit of the BP article that struck me as disingenuous.
According to the FNM source, “In Great Britain right now, if you are a resident not born in the UK, but is working there, you can vote in National Elections. In fact, the privilege has been extended to member states of the EU. When it comes to UK Parliamentary elections, not only members of territories can vote, as like residents of The Turks and Caicos, but citizens from all Commonwealth Countries and British Territories can indeed vote in any Parliamentary General Election in the UK,”BP’s resident CEO, Alexander James, who resides in Cardiff, also participated in the recent UK elections, as he is a resident there. James is from the Bahamas and is a born Bahamian; so the idea is not far-fetched.According to the UK Electoral Services Department, Commonwealth Member States, including local citizens of the Bahamas, Jamaica, Rwanda, Zambia, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa and others all can register and participate in British Parliamentary elections.via Bahamas Press » Plans by FNM to allow foreigners the right to vote in Parliamentary Elections in The Bahamas?.
While there is some truth to the idea that "foreigners" can vote in UK elections, there is far more truth that democracy in the UK and Europe is so much more far-reaching than democracy in The Bahamas that the concept of considering allowing anyone but Bahamian citizens the right to vote at this time is ludicrous; the problem with referencing the UK in this matter is that we have not referenced the UK in the provision of services to our citizenry, and we have not put the matter into context.So here's some context.The UK is part of the European Union. There are several tiers of government in Britain: local councils, (i.e. true-true local government, not this travesty we "have" here), national government, and the European Parliament. The purpose of allowing non-nationals to vote has to do with the levels of service and privilege that devolve to the inhabitants of the UK as a result. Voting in Europe in general, unlike voting here, is not a matter of handing unbridled power to a small handful of people to do what they will with for five years, as it is here. The role of government in the UK is far more complex, with different tiers of responsibilities and different services provided.In our so-called nation, the idea of Bahamians receiving services from any tier of government is, to put it kindly, a bit of a laugh. We only have one tier, and it spends most of its time offering services to foreign investors. No wonder the idea of allowing those investors the right to vote has come up.Let's take it further. When I was in the UK during the 1990s, I was able to vote and be active, should I have wanted to, in local elections. I had a Canadian friend who campaigned for the Labour party, who worked in council elections, who voted, who did everything that the politically active do. Technically, as a member of the British Commonwealth, I was also able to vote in council elections; my aunt, who was living in Cambridge at the time, was also able to do so. But here's the thing. We were all paying taxes to the council, to the local government; living in the area obliged us to do so. Voting in council elections was part of our right to say how our taxes were to be put to use -- and they were. Resources were allocated to everyone, including the very least fortunate -- and this was in Maggie Thatcher's Britain, even though John Major was the titular head of it. It was possible to apply for government funding or services in every arena I can think of. As a student, I was obliged to register with the nearest surgery for medical purposes, and that surgery sent me notices on an annual basis to tell me to come in for my check-up. I cannot remember whether my German friends were permitted to vote in those elections, but I think they did -- these were the earlier years of Britain's engagement with the EU, pre-Chunnel, so what is permissible now may not have been then. But I can tell you who were not permitted to vote in any election: my American friends, even though they too paid taxes and received services. This so-called British magnanimity was not boundless.The thing I'm getting at is that the concept of allowing non-nationals to vote in British elections was one that had a philosophy behind it -- something that I do not expect our politicians to have. The philosophy was this: the job of the government is to provide services for its people (not *just* to seat its behinds in power). Local councils had the task of making their cities and regions liveable; they collected their own taxes and disposed of them accordingly. Those people who received those taxes were given a voice regarding the disposal of those monies.The idea of offering "foreigners" the vote here, though, has fundamentally different roots. In The Bahamas (and in the Caribbean in general) governments seem to forget their obligations to their citizenry. They don't refer to us as citizens, and they don't treat us as such; they provide very poor service, and they make very obvious distinctions between Bahamians and non-Bahamians in every arena. Non-Bahamians roads are paved; non-Bahamians' harbours are deepened; non-Bahamian businessmen get tax concessions; non-Bahamians get tax breaks, get the right to build in national parks, get appointments with Prime Ministers, get to call shots, get to influence government policy -- all without the vote. To give them a vote seems to be more a ploy on the part of the politicians who serve them to get themselves re-elected.And against this I take a stand.Here's my fifty cents. When the Bahamian governments we elect find some way to meet the needs of all its people, no matter how small or insignificant we are imagined to be (and our politicians, make no mistake, consider us, the Bahamian citizens, very small and insignificant indeed), then let's allow them to think about this. But until I see democracy enacted throughout this nation in ways beyond simply having a vote every five years, then let's put the kibosh on this so-called idea.