No room for third parties

Dear Editor,

Now that the 2021 general election is over, many people have expressed the view that third parties generally, and the Coalition of Independents in particular, have demonstrated that there is a need for a third political force in the country.

The view is that the continual election of the PLP and the FNM merely further entrenches the political elite and the privileged.

These third forces are demanding a change of the political system, particularly the vestiges of the Westminster system that locks out political access and stymies individualism and free speech.

These sentiments are gaining traction among the electorate. However, my view is that there is not sufficient space in the body politic for a viable third party.

For a third party to rise, one of the two major parties will have to disappear.

After all, most of the mature democracies of the world, including those which operate the Westminster model, have only two major parties.

It took the PLP 14 years after it was organized into an official political party to form a government.

It took the FNM over 20 years in all its other iterations to become the government of The Bahamas. But before it became a viable political entity, its forerunner, the UBP, had to disband.

The ability to build resources both human and capital to compete with the PLP and FNM is daunting. Many of the smaller parties also do themselves no favor by organizing into political organizations a few months before the election and expect Bahamians to take them seriously.

My belief is that the need to deepen and broaden the democracy is real.

The two legacy parties ignore and dismiss this at their own peril. However, I do not believe that the clamour for reform of the political system has to necessarily translate into the creation of new political parties.

I believe that there are ample opportunities for change within the two political parties.

Egos and personal ambitions should be secondary to team building. The cream usually rises to the top.

If you have vision, talent and competence, it will be recognized. A political party that does not permit sunshine within its internal structures cannot and will not allow the light of day to shine in governance.

The energy and dynamism demonstrated in some of the smaller parties can best find forms of expression and acceptance in the two major parties.

They ought to bring their crusade and fight for change within existing organizations where their purpose can be more readily achieved.

While they are free to march and protest on the outside, they must ensure that they remain fully engaged on the inside.

Moreover, the growing call for system change, I believe, is really a cry for greater opportunities to participate in the political system.

Voting every five years should not be the extent of participation in the political process. When the voting is over voters feel disengaged from the system; there is a feeling of being powerless in the democracy. The 65 percent voter turnout in the recent 2021 election ought to be a wakeup call for all Bahamians.

This state of affairs can be at least partially rectified by instituting a legitimate system of local or community government.

The system now in place in the Family Islands is a relic from our colonial past and is unacceptable in a 21st century Bahamas.

A deepened democracy requires two levels of governance, one at the community level and the other at the national level.

This is why so many parliamentarians who try to contribute at the national level seem lost and out of place. Some of these politicians could be excellent community leaders. There are too many cheerleaders attempting to play in the game.

The local government system I envisage would include dividing New Providence into four to six districts; the creation of community assemblies to be elected by the local residents of the districts; the empowerment of the districts to collect certain fees such as fees associated with the licensing of vehicles of residents who reside in the various districts; the $100,000 allocated to members of Parliament as constituency allowance should be assigned to the local government authorities.

In a time of dangerous fiscal and financial woes, this re-allocation of funds from parliamentarians to local government would ensure a fairer distribution of public funds and remove the suggestion of political favoritism.

Smaller political parties do bring some value to the political process.

They usually introduce issues to the national discourse that the larger parties may be reluctant to address.

An example of this is the focus on the value of the natural resources of the country that some of the smaller parties brought to the forefront during the recent political campaign.

Smaller parties may also introduce personalities to frontline politics who may not have been given opportunities by the larger parties.

However, my central arguments are firstly, that history has demonstrated that there is no space, patience or trust for third parties in local politics; secondly, the energy and enthusiasm of third parties could be more efficiently expended in the makeover within existing political parties; and thirdly, that a concerted effort be made to introduce a legitimate community or local government system which would offer additional opportunities for citizens to participate in the democratic process.

System change is more of a longer term goal which would require extensive constitutional overhaul.

— Maurice Tynes

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