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- Nassau / Paradise Island, Bahamas
The following is my preliminary autopsy report on the May 07, 2012 general election, which resulted in the crushing defeat of the Free National Movement (FNM) party and its now deflated leader, Hubert Alexander Ingraham.
Firstly, it was a people's victory - more than one for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The last five years were financially exhaustive for many of us; and scores of Bahamians, including me, have expressed how it was the worst time economically that we have faced in our lifetime.
Home ownership was lost left, right and center; unemployment increased dramatically, and we the people became naturally apprehensive about our and our children's futures while we watched a very grand road improvement and infrastructure project gobble up hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowed funds.
Then, there were fellow FNM supporters who had abandoned ship in mass numbers during the last term of the Free National Movement government. It was indeed a creepy experience to be witness to card carrying FNMs from the inception of the party move on to other political organizations.
The FNM defeat was in the making the day after its 2007 general election victory. Most FNM MPs had abandoned their constituents from 2007 to 2012; and when they did confront the voters to vote for them this time, they discovered that they were out of favor with the people. Brensil Rolle, Tommy Turnquest, Carl Bethel, and a lot of others now understand that the Bahamian electorate would not tolerate rotten representation.
Through it all, how was it that the FNM incumbent candidate for Killarney was able to hold on to his seat in believable fashion, despite the massive PLP wave? The answer to this holds the key to the future successes of the FNM party - in my humble opinion.
- Dennis Dames
The Bahamas has a bicameral (two chamber) Parliament. The House of Assembly's members are elected and the members of the Senate are appointed. Maurice Tynes, the clerk of Parliament, recently appeared before the Constitutional Commission and recommended a new electoral system be...
The Bahamas has a bicameral (two chamber) Parliament. The House of Assembly's members are elected and the members of the Senate are appointed. Maurice Tynes, the clerk of Parliament, yesterday appeared before the Constitutional Commission and recommended a...
"We need real campaign finance reform to loosen the grip of special interests on politics." - Tom Daschle
Every five years around election time, incessant lip service is paid to campaign financing. It can only be lip service because after the ballots have been cast, counted and catalogued, the notion of campaign finance reform retires to hibernation - that is, until the next general election. Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider This...what practical approaches can we realistically take regarding how we finance political campaigns in The Bahamas?
Unquestionably, politics has become an extremely expensive exercise. When one considers the cost of political rallies, paraphernalia, including T-shirts and other garments now available, flags, posters, signage, printing of flyers, advertisements, including newspaper, radio and television broadcasts and commercials, the cost is staggering. Let's not forget the direct cost of personnel employed by political parties; the cost of constituency offices, sometimes four or five, particularly in the Family Islands; the cost of electricity, water, and telephones; the cost of food and beverages; of political consultants; and the printing of party platforms. When these and other costs are considered, the real cost of staging a general election could very easily cost $250,000 per constituency or nearly $10 million per party. So how are political parties expected to finance such a mammoth undertaking?
Using the public purse
It has become commonplace for the government of the day to use the power of the public purse to significantly finance its party's political campaign. We observed this practice when the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was in power; we witnessed it in the by-election in Elizabeth two years ago; and we are seeing it again in the current general election. While this has been a common practice, the Free National Movement (FNM) government seems to have taken this phenomenon to new heights.
Shortly after announcing the general election of 2012, the government launched a record contract signing marathon. The $12 million contract for the construction of a new clinic in North Abaco and a multimillion-dollar contract for a new hospital in Exuma are a few examples of this.
Last weekend, amidst great public fanfare at police headquarters, the prime minister awarded $1 million to charitable organizations. Ironically, this is the same government that - only one year earlier - reduced the government's subvention to such organizations during the annual budget debate in the House of Assembly. This is the same government that discontinued the extremely effective YEAST program that provided a positive prototype for young Bahamian men at risk and the same government that canceled the effective and internationally celebrated urban renewal program established by the PLP.
No matter which party is in power, an intelligent and discerning public should look askance at the government of the day exploiting and abusing the public purse in order to win votes after elections have been called.
In The Bahamas, political campaigns are predominantly financed by contributions from persons, companies, and organizations that believe in the democratic process and want to ensure that the message of the political party that they support is widely and successfully disseminated.
In the absence of campaign finance laws, there are no restrictions on who can contribute to a political party and how much they can donate. Accordingly, anyone -- Bahamians and foreigners - can contribute any amount to anyone at any time without any accountability whatsoever. The real question that we must address for the future health of our democracy is whether this is a desirable practice?
It has become customary for political contributions to be made in private, sometimes on the condition of confidentiality and often in secrecy with only a select few members of the party knowledgeable regarding the source of the funds.
Campaign 2012 has seen a new development in political funding. During the last few mass rallies, the prime minister has publicly appealed from the podium for campaign contributions, describing it as a further deepening of our democracy by allowing the public to become investors in his party. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it is unprecedented and uncharacteristic. We have never before seen this prime minister - or any other for that matter - beg for money from a public podium.
It therefore begs the question: why has he done so now, during what he says is his last campaign? He alluded to the answer to this question on Thursday past at a mass rally on R. M. Bailey Park when he said that he will not tolerate anyone in his Cabinet who has financially benefited from conflicts of interest.
We believe that he made this appeal for financial contributions because, while the FNM is still well-funded by those wealthy interest groups who support him in order to continue reaping his government's largess, some of his traditional sources of funding are less generous than they have been in the past. This is possibly because he has cut some of his more financially well-connected candidates for reasons already stated and reiterated again from that podium last Thursday in a purposefully vague but very revealing way.
Campaign finance reform
Clearly, as the prime minister is opening party funding up to the masses in ways never seen before, the time has come to enact campaign financing legislation. There are several things that can be done in order to impose strict controls for campaign fund-raising, primarily to level the playing field and to minimize disparate levels of funding campaigns by the various political parties. Campaign financing legislation should also establish disclosure requirements with respect to funding and spending in elections.
Such a law could introduce statutory limits on contributions by individuals, organizations and companies, which would remove the influence of big money from politics and should also prohibit foreign influences from invading the local political process.
There should also be limits on large potential donors to prevent them from gaining extraordinary political access or favorable legislation or other concessions in return for their contributions. Campaign finance laws should also provide for the capping of such funding and for the disclosure of sources of campaign contributions and expenditures. It should also limit or prohibit government contractors from making contributions with respect to such elections.
Campaign financing legislation could even provide for matching funds by the government for all the candidates in order to ensure that the playing field truly is level and to enhance clean elections.
Finally, in order to more vigilantly protect the public purse, the law should strictly prohibit a government from signing any new contracts after general or by-elections are called.
Campaigns will become more expensive as time progresses. As we mature politically, we should seek to ensure that political parties operate on a level playing field and remove the barriers to participation in the democratic process because of a lack of funding. If we want to encourage the best and the brightest citizens to enter into the elective political arena, we should seek to eliminate the observation of U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton that: "Elections are more often bought than won".
Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.
Having external observer missions at election time is important, but no longer enough.
The Commonwealth and the Organization of American States (OAS) are now both observing general elections in two Caribbean countries - Guyana and St. Lucia - and may be observing a third - Jamaica - before year end.
But, how effective are these election observation missions, and should they continue in their present form in which they arrive in countries only eight days or so before Election Day?
The presence of external agencies, such as the Commonwealth and the OAS, are undoubtedly beneficial to the elections process. If they were not present, it is likely that, in some countries, there would be many election irregularities that could materially affect the result. External observers do exercise a restraining influence.
However, much of the mischief that surrounds elections can occur before external observer missions land in a country. And, the eight or so days that the missions are in place do not allow them enough time to unearth and expose political chicanery. The most effective thing they can do is to monitor the actual polling day for misconduct. Consequently, there is a genuine risk that observer missions could declare an election to be free and fair when, in fact, the process of manipulating it was in place long before the election campaign period.
At the end of many missions, both Commonwealth and OAS teams have submitted reports to governments recommending reforms and improvements. In the majority of cases, these recommendations have been ignored. Neither the Commonwealth nor the OAS has the authority or the resources to monitor whether or not its recommendations have been implemented and to insist that they should be.
Presently in the island of St. Lucia, the Commonwealth has a small three-person mission. The OAS is doing somewhat better with eight persons. In the massive mainland territory of Guyana, the OAS has 25 observers on the ground, and the Commonwealth will field 15 persons.
While the presence of these external observer missions is extremely important, the question has to be asked whether they would not have been more effective had the Commonwealth and the OAS combined their efforts, and, also, gone into the countries earlier than the last eight days before the elections? Further, would not their findings carry far more weight if they made a joint report, and would not their recommendations be more likely to be implemented if they jointly monitored their application?
Observing elections is a costly business even though, for the most part, observers are not paid. Nonetheless, transporting them to countries and paying for their accommodation and other costs mount up. This is a good reason for organizations such as the Commonwealth and the OAS, when they are observing elections in the same place, to do so jointly in order to be more effective.
Further, it would be beneficial if both the Commonwealth and the OAS in collaboration with the UN organization and relevant international organizations, such as the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, trained local organizations to mount their own electoral observation missions. It was heartening to learn that, for the current general elections in Guyana, the Electoral Commission accredited local groups as observers. It is time that civic groups begin to share the responsibility for ensuring that the will of the electorate is reflected in elections in their countries.
In its report to Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting last month in Australia, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), of which I was a member, said: "We believe the present system of strengthening democratic institutions, processes and culture should be improved by broadening the Secretariat's mandate on election observation to include assessment of political transition arrangements and the promotion of civic education. We are mindful that some governments, including members of the Commonwealth, have defied the will of the electorate by disregarding the results of elections and either seeking to maintain, or maintaining, themselves in power. Although the cases are few, flawed political transitions are destabilizing. They trigger political violence, undermine peace, intensify individual and group insecurity and can cause humanitarian crisis. Apart from the adverse effects on the countries concerned, flawed political transitions also have a tendency to affect neighboring and other states through, for example, the flight of refugees."
The group called for civil society to play a greater role in monitoring elections in their own countries, and stressed that to do so effectively and with maximum utility, their representatives need to be trained.
In considering how such training could be achieved, the EPG recommended that "an Academy for Democracy should be established within a Commonwealth country to reach beyond the physical processes of democratic government to instill the ideals and culture of democracy, and the foundations of democratic leadership. No such academy exists, and it would be a path-breaking service for the global community if a Commonwealth country were to establish such an institution to which governments, elections commissions, civil society and other relevant organizations could send people to be trained in best practices on a fee-for-service basis".
The EPG had Barbados in mind for such an academy given its tradition of relatively good governance, its long parliamentary history, and the commitment of its people to democracy.
Importantly, the group recommended that the Commonwealth should broaden its election observation mandate by providing observer teams that arrive optimally two months in advance of a planned election day, or, where the election is called suddenly, as close as possible to the date on which the election is called to ensure an open and democratic electoral process leading up to, including, and following, election day.
Recognizing that the period after a general election is as crucial as the period leading-up to it, particularly to achieve an orderly and peaceful transition of government, the EPG also recommended that the remit of the observer missions should be expanded to include an assessment of the adequacy of institutional and operational arrangements for post-election political transition and to advise the secretary-general of the Commonwealth on actions that may be required to improve such arrangements and to ensure that political transitions respect the results of elections.
This recommendation is also valid for the secretary-general of the OAS. But, the two secretaries general could be much more effective if they formed a strategic partnership for elections in the 12 countries that are members of both their organizations.
Meantime, we must hope that the elections in St. Lucia and Guyana - and their aftermath - will be orderly and peaceful, and so too for Jamaica whose elections beckon.