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New rule on campaigning will change the way we do politics

With new restrictions in place, which require that anyone campaigning is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, of 32 candidates from the two major political parties vying for seats in the next election who spoke with The Nassau Guardian yesterday, 27 said they are fully vaccinated.

Two candidates said they aren’t vaccinated, one candidate said he was partially vaccinated and two declined to comment.

Among a number of measures announced on Friday to help slow the spread of COVID-19 amid a new surge, the government, for the first time, implemented restrictions for political campaign workers, who are required to be fully vaccinated and may only campaign in groups of five.

Some Free National Movement (FNM) and Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) candidates said yesterday that while they are vaccinated, some of their team members are not. 

Some admitted the new restrictions create a challenge for campaigning efforts, but said adjustments will be made. 

Dr. Duane Sands, former minister of health, and the FNM’s candidate for Elizabeth, who is fully vaccinated, said his team is a “mixed bag”.

“Some are vaccinated, some are not,” Sands said.

“Some don’t believe in vaccines, and so, we did not campaign this weekend specifically because I didn’t want to have any pile of people behind me and run the risk of saying that we were hypocrites.

“…And so, I have instructed them to determine who is vaccinated and who is not, and those who are vaccinated can come with me, and those who aren’t, they can do something else.” 

Former Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis, the PLP’s candidate for St. Barnabas, said he and two of his team members are fully vaccinated.

But Halkitis said he is still considering suspending his door-to-door campaign given the current surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations. 

“Given the surge, personally, we have to really consider whether we want to really suspend the door-to-door campaign because if we have the Delta variant…we are actually considering on my side, actually, suspending the door-to-door,” he said.

Halkitis, however, said it would be helpful if Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis would be more transparent about the election timeline, so that others could feel more comfortable stepping back their campaign efforts.

“I think it might behoove him to say to the nation, ‘Let’s dial it back in the interest of public health,’” he said. 

“And then that would give an indication to everybody to sort of stand down a bit.

“But no party is going to stop their activity totally when he is out there campaigning and doing everything that suggests that the election is [near].” 

Leslia Brice, the PLP’s candidate for Seabreeze, said she is also fully vaccinated, but her team is not.

“I have been vaccinated after careful consideration and discussion with my physician,” she said.

“…At that time, I was really in the middle of my campaigning and going door-to-door. So, I really wanted to ensure that I did everything that I possibly can to remain in good health while still going door-to-door.”

Brice said while the new restrictions may slightly hinder the campaign, she views this as an opportunity to be innovative in her campaigning.  

“Where some may see it as an obstacle, my team and I see it as an opportunity to do all that we can to be innovative and adapt to the circumstances to ensure Seabreeze residents see me, they know me and they’re ready to support me,” she said.

“So, we are about to announce our virtual campaign efforts. And hopefully, lead the way in innovative campaigning. We have to think of another way, and so I am on the ball.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield, the FNM’s candidate for North Abaco, said he is fully vaccinated, but added he was not sure how many of his team members are.

“Campaigning will be different for all in this COVID-19 environment,” he said.

Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd, the FNM’s candidate for South Beach, said he has been vaccinated “long time”.

As for his team members, he said all of them have received “at least one shot” and he assured that they will comply with the restrictions. Lloyd said he will verify the vaccination status of his campaign team members by requiring them to present their vaccination cards to him. 

PLP candidate for South Eleuthera Clay Sweeting said his team members have reservations about the vaccine.

Sweeting, who is fully vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, said maybe two people on his campaign team are fully vaccinated.

Asked if he is concerned about the impact it may have on his campaign, Sweeting said, “Of course, I’m concerned…People do want to see you one-on-one.” 

Opposition

John Pinder, the PLP candidate for Central and South Abaco, said he views the restrictions on campaigning as a threat to civil liberties.

Pinder said he plans to get vaccinated but has not yet, and noted that he gets tested for COVID-19 weekly “to ensure the safety of all”.

“I am not fully vaccinated because, from what I understood, there weren’t enough vaccines for all Bahamians, and the elderly and those with underlying health conditions were to go first,” he said.

“Living on a Family Island, I knew that it would be a while for everybody to get vaccinated…I do plan to get vaccinated.

“And these current restrictions that were put in place, I believe are against our civil liberties.”

PLP candidate for Freetown, Wayne Munroe, QC, said he is not taking an “experimental vaccine”.

He said he believes the wording of the emergency order is unclear, but noted that if campaign workers are required to be vaccinated, it could be “unconstitutional”.

“If it purports to say that…in my view, it wouldn’t be constitutional, and, of course, it would be challenged,” he said.

Munroe said emergency orders should be “rational” and “directed towards stopping the spread”, as he noted that the order allows for more than five unvaccinated people to go to the gym, attend church, go to the theater and go out to dinner at hotel properties. 

“So, what is the qualitative difference?” Munroe asked. 

He said if it is found to be unconstitutional, and one could argue that the order impacted campaigning efforts and the results of the upcoming general election, those results could be challenged.

“If, in fact, it is unconstitutional, it won’t matter when the court determines that it’s unconstitutional; the effect of the declaration will be given forth,” Munroe said.

“…If it is unconstitutional and it takes a year to declare it so, and you’ve had a general election in the interim, and some opposition person complains that they were hampered, then presumably the results of the election could be set aside; a very irresponsible thing to do if you are the government.

“I don’t think these fellows think things through. I know they have a problem with getting back into powder on the ground, but, you know, there’s a way that you address that.”

Others

Mario Bowleg, the PLP’s candidate for Garden Hills, said he is partially vaccinated, and agrees with putting the health of the country first.

“I’m not fully vaccinated,” he said.

“I’ve taken the first shot and waiting for the second dose, which I should be getting in a few weeks.

“The measures set in place will impact my campaign and that of others. However, we must be safe and the overall health of the country must be placed at the forefront.”

FNM candidate for MICAL Miriam Emmanuel said she and her team are all fully vaccinated. FNM candidate for St. Anne’s Adrian White said so, too.

“I am fully vaccinated, [in the] two-shot club,” White said.

“My road canvassing team is as well.”

Deputy Prime Minister Desmond Bannister, the FNM’s candidate for Carmichael, said he and the majority of his team are fully vaccinated.

“I am fully vaccinated, as are approximately 20 members of my campaign team,” he said.

“We fully support the order and have always complied with the law. We will only meet in small groups. 

“My biggest challenge is creating a protocol for meeting constituents, as these interactions are typically face-to-face.”

Nicole Martin, the FNM’s Nassau Village candidate, said she is fully vaccinated, as well as “a number” of her team members.

The PLP’s Nassau Village candidate, Jamahl Strachan, said he and enough of his supporters are fully vaccinated. 

“I’m fully vaccinated, and I have the allowed amount of supporters needed to campaign and be compliant with the orders,” he said.

FNM Centreville candidate Courtney Coulibaly, who is fully vaccinated, also said the new restrictions don’t impact his efforts significantly.

“The new restrictions don’t really affect my campaign because, for one, I would say 80 to 85 percent of the persons that are loyal, dedicated persons, who come out consistently, are fully vaccinated,” he said.

“…When we go out, we don’t go out in big crowds anymore. So, five persons is an OK crowd.”

A number of other candidates indicated that they were fully vaccinated, but it is unclear if their teams are. 

PLP Deputy Leader Chester Cooper, the MP for the Exumas and Ragged Island, was among them.

“My wife and I were vaccinated, amongst the first to do so, when the process opened at Loyola Hall,” he said.

“Whilst I encourage others to do so if it is right for them, I point out that the decision to vaccinate is a personal one based on individual preferences and medical advice. There should be no attempts at coercion.”

Also reporting that they are fully vaccinated were FNM candidate for Golden Isles Brian Brown; FNM candidate for North Andros and the Berry Islands Carlton Bowleg; FNM candidate for North Eleuthera Rickey Mackey; FNM candidate for the Exumas and Ragged Island Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson; FNM candidate for Pinewood Reuben Rahming; FNM candidate for Golden Gates Michael Foulkes; FNM candidate for Garden Hills Stephen Greenslade;  FNM candidate for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador Felicia Knowles; FNM candidate for Mangrove Cay and South Andros Ken Smith, and FNM candidate for Central Grand Bahama Iram Lewis. 

West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe, who is the FNM’s candidate again for the consistency in the upcoming election, said she received her second dose of the vaccine yesterday, but she won’t be considered fully vaccinated until two weeks have passed. 

Maxine Seymour, the FNMs candidate for Seabreeze, also said she has received both doses and is awaiting the lapse of the two-week period.

Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin, who is the PLP’s candidate for the constituency, declined to comment when contacted.

PLP candidate for Elizabeth, JoBeth Coleby-Davis, said she did not wish to disclose her vaccination status because she believes it is a personal choice and said “the vaccination status of an individual, based on their personal circumstances, only serves to detract from issues at hand”.

“People should not be coerced, but rather persuaded to be vaccinated through a national focus on vaccine education and training to enhance public trust in the vaccination,” she said.

Minnis, the FNM candidate for Killarney; Minister of Health Renward Wells, the FNM candidate for Bamboo Town and PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis, who is the PLP’s candidate for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador, are fully vaccinated, but it is still unclear if their teams are.

In a statement issued yesterday, Davis said he encouraged PLP candidates to abide by the order and not “campaign” if they are unvaccinated. However, he said there is nothing stopping unvaccinated candidates and teams from exercising their “right to free speech”.

“You are free to converse with Bahamians about any topics you wish, including the economic and health crisis,” Davis said.

He also said the PLP was examining “avenues for legal recourse”. 

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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