It is often said that politics is a dirty business.
Accepting this as a truism, some Bahamians acquiesce to character assassination, slander and malicious propaganda employed during general election campaigns, viewing it as an unconquerable facet of the political process.
To the contrary, the weight of society’s opposition to what is referred to as gutter politics, can greatly influence the way political parties and candidates handle their opponents and by extension the electorate, who is collectively injured when campaigns focus less on the issues, and more on engaging in subterfuge or in destroying one’s opponents.
Regardless of who one supports in an election campaign, The Bahamas’ electoral process is fundamental to our democracy, and how that process plays out is not limited in importance to how votes are cast and counted on Election Day.
An integral part of the electoral process is the tenor of election campaigns, and the tactics parties and candidates utilize to attract support and secure votes.
There are a number of ways gutter politics erodes democracy.
An electoral process characterized by defamation and malice that could also extend to targeting the families of candidates, is among reasons Bahamians whose talents and abilities could greatly benefit the country, choose not to throw their hat in the political ring.
Moreover, gutter politics demoralizes voters — particularly first-time voters — and can so imbrue the process that disenchanted voters opt out of participating in choosing a government.
Bahamians can no doubt point to accomplished Bahamians who were once politically active, but have since stepped away from frontline politics due to internal tribalism and vile strategies by opponents, both aimed not only at thwarting one’s chances for victory, but damaging a candidate’s life beyond the polls.
If voters pay attention, there is much to be learned about political leaders and candidates, by assessing the depths he or she is willing to descend to capture or hold onto political power, and the overarching access that power affords.
A party or political leader who is willing to do anything to win is likely to engage in similar abuses once elected, since at the core of good governance is an intrinsic respect for the personhood of all individuals — a respect not espoused by those more concerned with having power, than in using power responsibly and ethically in the public interest.
Decrying what he views as gutter political tactics employed by the governing Free National Movement (FNM) via its allegedly clandestine online surrogates, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis sought yesterday to draw attention to the use of social media to publish slander, and to promote what he described as falsehoods over facts.
Undoubtedly, FNM supporters would argue that when it comes to gutter politics in past election cycles, the Progressive Liberal Party has no room to talk.
Nevertheless, Davis’ invitation extended to the Bahamian people to talk about what is happening in the country, should be accepted by all when it comes to the issue of gutter politics, and attempts by all sides to distract voters from the critical issues facing the country.
If political parties see that the public in large measure is averse to nasty and deceptive campaigning, and is prepared to punish parties and candidates at the polls for engaging in the same, incumbents and new candidates might be less likely to cross the line.
If the Bahamian people fall asleep on their watch in this regard, it would be to their own detriment, since the public’s silence gives tacit consent to present and future political candidates willing to embark on a quest for governance marked by how many people one pulls down, rather than the Bahamians of all walks of life one works to build up.
Gutter politics can also be a precursor to election violence, which is why Bahamians must hold political parties and candidates accountable, and disabuse themselves and others of the notion that the end in seeking political power, always justifies the means.
Gutter politics is not acceptable, and the Bahamian people must send a clear message to political parties and candidates that it will not be tolerated or rewarded.