Diplomatic Notes

The great Bahamian election spectacle

All democratic countries around the world hold an event every four to five years called an election. The “flavor” of an election differs from country to country. Elections are often contentious and divisive events that lead to much public drama and theater. Heroes and villains emerge, scandals appear and disappear until the election day passes and one side is victorious. While there are many iterations of this process around the globe, the Bahamian version has emerged as a unique experience that has evolved over time.

The dynamics of Bahamian politics has changed over the years and the spectacle has grown to epic proportions that envelope the country for the year or two-year pre-election cycle. I remember growing up and seeing The Bahamas emerge through independence. In the early days, elections revolved around race and liberation from colonial oppression. It was the people versus the white oligarchs. Once majority rule was attained, it was a mix of reminders of liberation versus accountability for majority rulers. Corruption and political dirty dealing were an underlying theme that permeated every election.

I remember working in the civil service and having politicians send people to my office with the promise of a job when the politician knew there were no jobs available, but it was better for me to have to say no than them. They could blame civil servants and thereby deflect responsibility for telling the constituent the honest truth. I remember traveling to the Family Islands and speaking to residents who would show me the roads and indicate that where the paving stopped, and the potholes began, was an indicator of how settlements voted. Then there was the annual alleged voting bribery scheme where people got either money or goods for votes.

Eventually, the Bahamian electorate evolved and a few dollars, a TV or an appliance was no longer enough. Voters would now take these items from political candidates and still not vote for them. Who could forget the “Roots” series every election cycle and reminders of colonial oppression to deflect from current accountability? All of these things formed what has become the great Bahamian political spectacle.

Who could forget the most important aspect of the spectacle – the political rallies! I am not sure if any other country had more entertaining elections. Rallies in The Bahamas seemed to be unparalleled for drama and theatrics. Get your popcorn, Mama, the show is about to begin! The music, the speeches, the acting, the revelations and in later years the audio-visual effects that meant you had to be there in person. I was never one to attend political rallies, so much of what I know is from recordings or first-hand accounts of others.

The drama has continued over the years and increased but many Bahamians are left wondering if the joke is on the people. It seems that every new administration promises to fix what was wrong with the last administration only to repeat the process to the point where Bahamians are said to no longer vote for political parties but simply show up at election time to vote out whoever is in power every five years.

We have arrived at another season that some refer to as the “silly” season. This is the season where the suspicion level grows exponentially. If you wear a red or yellow tie or dress, you can be accused of alignment with one party or the other. Neighbors and friends observe the activities of each other and try to determine who is voting for whom. At times, it feels like please let the drama end so life can return to normal. Even in church, the ushers may be arguing about which colors they will not wear. Eventually, the spectacle ends for a few years and as the season comes closer, the drama begins anew.

The drama and entertainment aside, what should believers do about elections? Is there one party that is for God and another against his will? The answer is very complicated but I believe the key is to examine and research. There are always good people on both sides and there are always bad people on both sides. The best thing I believe we can do is carefully examine the philosophy and track record of both the candidates and the parties and individually pray about our decision. When you vote, you should vote your first allegiance which is to God and then to your preferred candidate and party.

It can be very confusing and muddy because the dynamics are so complex. I can recall some of the dilemmas I faced as a voter. At times, the candidate was a good and trusted friend but the party seemed to be going in the wrong direction. At other times, the party seemed to have a great vision and plan but the candidate was pathetic. We all have a civic duty and I believe, according to what Jesus said, we should, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. We have a civic duty to vote and this is something we should all take seriously. If you do not participate in the process, then you can not complain when policies and laws are enacted that are objectionable. I do not believe God expects us to be on the sidelines and left out of national decision making. Remember the scripture in Proverbs that states, “When the righteous are in power the nation rejoices”. We have to be in the mix or be the willing victims of tyranny.

The sideshow has begun – hurry, hurry, step right on in. As is my custom, I will very carefully and prayerfully watch the spectacle unfold and will make my decision according to my personal priorities as a believer and kingdom citizen. I will observe, get my popcorn and watch the show, but I will not be consumed or swayed by it. I will make my decision based upon the time-tested principles that have governed my life since I made the changed that vaulted me to personal peace and success.

• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to pastordaveburrows@hotmail.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange. 

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