The curtains came down last night on a grueling and bitter election campaign season with the leaders of the three main political parties addressing the nation on television, making a final case for why they should lead the country over the next five years. While Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham declared that the Free National Movement (FNM) has succeeded in rebuilding trust in government, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Perry Christie outlined what he said are enormous barriers to progress under an Ingraham-led government. Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader Branville McCartney in his address urged voters to join the DNA in a quest to build a better country.
Christie also urged disgruntled FNMs not to vote for McCartney and the DNA as they could end up re-electing Ingraham and the FNM. "A green vote is just too risky," the PLP leader said. "That vote you're thinking about using as a protest could just turn into a permission slip for Ingraham to continue on his path." But McCartney pledged last night to restore hope for the country, and bring the change he said so many Bahamians long to see. The MP and his party intend to make history tonight, forever changing the way many Bahamians view third parties. And so today, tens of thousands of Bahamian voters will decide which party will govern the country after today.
The campaigns ended with all parties courting voters over the weekend by focusing on their core campaign messages. Ingraham and Christie both crisscrossed the country in a last ditch effort to convince Family Island voters to throw their support behind them. The campaign ended in New Providence, which has 23 seats and the largest number of registered voters. More than 172,000 Bahamians are registered to vote, although several thousands voted in the advanced poll last week. Last night, Christie focused on familiar themes as he did at his many stops over the weekend: A high crime rate, an over-budget road works project, high unemployment and foreclosures.
Ingraham, meanwhile, reminded voters that a global economic crisis profoundly impacted The Bahamas during most of this term, but he insisted that his administration did the best it could under the circumstances. "It is true that the last five years have not been easy," the prime minister said. "It is true that our country has had to weather some stiff winds; through it all we have persevered and progressed. "We have done this because despite our challenges, The Bahamas is a land of opportunity. It is a country we love; a country in which we will secure a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren." But Christie hammered away at his Bahamians-first message.
"We have a Bahamian government that does not believe in Bahamians. That's the most fundamental problem we have in our country today," he said. "Nearly 40 years after Independence, to be told Bahamians need not apply -- it's really unimaginable, isn't it?" The Opposition leader claimed that the Ingraham-led government awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to foreign companies "for work Bahamians can absolutely do". "Tonight, too many Bahamians are staring at a pile of bills they can't pay, wondering if their home will be next on the long list of foreclosures, a list that is now miles long," he said.
TRUST While Ingraham underscored his 'trust' theme, Christie suggested that the current government was unable to find any evidence to support its repeated claim that the last PLP government was corrupt. "They yell and scream about the cookie jar and all the rest -- and then when the election is over, not a single charge is brought because it is all sound and fury -- for them, it is political theater," the PLP leader said. Ingraham said during its term in office, the FNM sought to create a greater 'opportunity and shareholding society' for all Bahamians, regardless of one's station in life or the circumstances of one's birth.
"And we steered The Bahamas in a new direction," he said. "We ushered in an era of clean, accountable and transparent government; a government in the sunshine, productive, forward-looking and progressive. And, we revived the promise of The Bahamas and gave the nation renewed hope." He added, "We have worked nonstop to restore your trust. We are fighting on two fronts. We confronted the Great Recession, the worst global economic crisis in 80 years. "And we are relentlessly and aggressively tackling the long simmering problems of crime and violence.
We are doing so by fighting the immediate effects of crime while addressing the conditions which have given rise to crime and a culture of criminality by some." Ingraham said The Bahamas is making progress in economic recovery and national security. "Yet, there is much work to be done," he said. "Just as we delivered the greatest overhaul of our criminal justice system and our national infrastructure and social security systems in decades, we will deliver more during our next term." Christie said the top priority of the next government must be to acknowledge that the present levels of crime and violence represent a national security emergency.
"To address this problem, we need to bring the nation together," the PLP leader said. Both Christie and Ingraham addressed similar themes throughout their final addresses of the campaigns, including the issue of oil drilling. While Christie again pledged to hold a referendum on oil drilling, Ingraham repeated that his government would not allow such drilling without the necessary environmental safeguards in place. Today, both leaders will be seeking an eighth consecutive win in their respective constituencies. If the FNM emerges victorious at the end of the day, it would be Ingraham's fourth non-consecutive term as prime minister. He has said it would be his last.
A win for the PLP would make it Christie's second non-consecutive term as prime minister. He has also indicated it would be his last as he is preparing a new generation of leaders to step forward. The final showdown between Ingraham and Christie will come as McCartney seeks to cement his position as the young agent of change. The DNA leader has continued to appeal to voters seeking a different approach to governance, claiming repeatedly that a vote for Ingraham or Christie is a vote for the status quo. McCartney predicted last night that the DNA will "forever change the face of politics in our country".
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