DNA varies the political gene pool

Noelle Nicolls

Some commentators expect the rise of a new political force – the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) – to challenge the ‘duopoly’ of the two main parties that have alternately held power since the 1960s but, despite the allure of a new political landscape, there are no guarantees of real change

First the rise of President Barack Obama and then the Arab Spring raised expectations of political reform among citizens across the globe. The experience in the Bahamas is no different and the mood is one of hopeful anticipation that the political landscape will change.

A looming general election, due in 2012, and the changing fortunes of the economy have clearly created some new dynamics across the islands. This year, the country has experienced a mainstreaming of the fringe like never before. And if political propaganda is to be believed, this time around, Bahamians will have a viable alternative to the governing Free National Movement (FNM) and its main opposition, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). But there are no guarantees.

Little has changed since the arrival of majority rule in 1967 and independence in 1973. The two major parties have controlled the seats of government for almost five decades, in what some call ‘the Pindling-Ingraham-Christie regime’ because during this time the premiership has changed hands between these three individuals alone. Sir Lynden Pindling was the first prime minister of the independent Bahamas and his successors, current FNM Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and former PLP Prime Minister Perry Christie, have both served under Pindling’s PLP administration. The latter two are once again the leading contenders for the upcoming election.

Their main challenger will be sitting member of parliament Bran McCartney, leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA). A former high-profile cabinet minister, McCartney resigned from the FNM last year and channelled his dissatisfaction into forming a new party, launching the DNA with as much fanfare as either of the long-standing parties could ever muster. Even so, most political commentators say the prospects of a DNA upset in the next election are slim. No candidate on a third-party ticket has ever won a seat in the House of Assembly, and only a handful of individuals have done so as independents.

This has not stopped many from believing in change. The Workers’ Party, a notable 35-year-old political organisation known for its work at the grassroots level, dissolved itself in June and its entire membership joined the DNA. Former Workers’ Party leader, Rodney Moncur, said: “When we weigh each one [the FNM and the PLP] against the other, we come up with nothing; they are equally balanced because they are actually the two sides of the Pindling coin.” Moncur describes Christie as “indecisive”, and Ingraham as “impetuous” and “abrasive”.

With the Bahamas’ entrenched two-party political mentality, the odds will not be in favour of a third. The core support of the two parties is unmatched, despite the promise and hype around third parties

All party operatives have been trying hard to push their views and thereby secure some kind of profile before the election. The FNM in particular is defining the election around leadership, while the PLP is likely to campaign around crime and unemployment. Both parties say they are unconcerned about the rise of the DNA but, in uncharacteristic fashion, they both released statements discrediting the party after its launch.

With the Bahamas’ entrenched two-party political mentality, the odds will not be in the favour of a third. The core support of the FNM and PLP is unmatched, despite the promise and the hype around third parties. “It is impossible to be successful unless you can attract large portions of the core from the dominant political parties. The swing vote at best may be as much as 25 to 30 percent,” said a former member of the Coalition for Democratic Reform (CDR), a now defunct party from the late 1990s.

Last year, there were five main contenders in a by-election for the marginal constituency of Elizabeth, in the eastern district of New Providence island. The smaller candidates scored almost no votes, and the polling was so close between the two main parties that the result was contested in court, where it was decided by a one-vote margin.

Cassius Stewart, former leader of the Bahamas Democratic Movement (BDM), declared that the by-election was a “wakeup call” that seriously challenged his views on the viability of a third party. In April, the BDM ended its 13 years of independence and joined the FNM. “We never wanted to be an activist group,” claimed Stewart. “The constitution of the BDM clearly said we wanted to form the government of the Bahamas. Sometimes people thought we just liked being out there making noise; they thought we just wanted to be a third voice.”

“Some people are disappointed, but many of them are people who said they supported us but never voted for us. We don’t want to be tantalised,” Stewart added. “We don’t want people telling us,

‘Keep it up, keep it up, you are doing a good job’. We are looking for votes, because in politics the only thing that matters is the votes.”

The Bahamian public is waiting with bated breath to see what will become of the new political landscape. There is great anticipation in the air as the country readies itself for decision day 2012.

About the author:

Noelle Nicolls is a journalist and pan-African writer in the Bahamas.


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