Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some PLPs have short memories

tribune242 Editorial:

CALLING FOR electoral reform, Opposition Leader Perry Christie described the weeks leading up to the Elizabeth by-election as "the worst" he'd seen in terms of allegations that FNM members were using their government clout to sway voters. "Up to Monday (the day before the election)," he said, "government was giving people jobs with a clear intention of influencing the vote. That's not proper, ethical or fair."

And this is what Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham had to say about the May 2, 2007 election in which Mr Christie, then the prime minister, lost the government to Mr Ingraham, who was Opposition leader.

On becoming prime minister, Mr Ingraham told his supporters that the 2007 election was the most interfered with election in Bahamian history.

"I am ashamed that on Perry Christie's watch there was more political interference in the electoral process than at any time, even under Pindling," said Mr Ingraham.

It was claimed that $80 million was awarded to contractors "a few months ago and days leading up to the 2007 election."

However, in our opinion the June 19, 1987 general election in the Crooked Island constituency, followed by the November 24, 1989 by-election -- called after the MP elected in the 1987 election was sent to prison for offering a drug court magistrate $10,000 to drop a case before her -- were two of the worst elections that we recall. The late Basil Kelly, who had been MP for the Crooked Island constituency for about 20 years, offered as the FNM candidate in both elections. He lost both.

In last week's Elizabeth by-election the PLP protested the presence of National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest -- who is the minister responsible for Parliamentary Elections -- in the recount room at Thelma Gibson Primary School. However, they forget that in the Crooked Island by-election in 1989, Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling at the end of a Cabinet meeting flew to Crooked Island, ordering all of his Cabinet ministers to get themselves to the island to fight the by-election and watch over the stations. Sir Lynden himself gave all of the Long Cay school children a gift of a hand held video camera with a $400,000 contract going to a PLP council member in the constituency to construct an administrative building. During that by-election Yamacraw MP Janet Bostwick said that the by-election reminded her of 1982 when the PLP took tankers of asphalt to the district and told voters that if they wanted the roads repaired they had to vote for Wilbert Moss. The people voted for Mr Moss and a week after the elections, the equipment was taken away. In the 1989 by-election the people were again told that if they wanted the roads repaired, electricity installed and running water into their homes they had to "walk with Walkine." This, said Mrs Bostwick, was just another PLP ploy to fool voters of that impoverished district. She rightly predicted that after the election the flurry of jobs handed out during the campaign would come to an end.

As Mr Kelly pointed out in his report on the 1987 election one must understand that at the time there were no job opportunities in the entire Crooked Island district except for government employment and one small tourist facility that employed no more than 10 people at any one time. During the 1987 election, he said, these people were given jobs off and on from nomination day until election day weeding the road, as assistant janitresses, assisting in the polls on election day, nurses assistants and "whatever could be dreamt up and paid for out of the Treasury."

Campaigning were two civil servants, school teachers, and the returning officer, who did not openly campaign, but who was "directed by PLP generals throughout the campaign."

The helicopter, ostensibly at the island for the PLP candidates, was "also used to ferry government presiding officers, the returning officer, the mailboat captain, and in fact, picked up the ballot boxes after polling on election day. It was openly admitted by the pilot of the helicopter that this was government's helicopter," wrote Mr Kelly. What everyone wanted to know was whether the Treasury paid for the helicopter.

"There was a new trick that I had never seen before in the form of intimidation," Mr Kelly wrote of the 1987 election. "Voters were told during the campaign by leading PLP generals and civil servants that when a particular voter voted, the presiding officer was instructed to write his signature on the back of his ballot differently to others so that his ballot would be easily identifiable. This way he could tell how that particular voter voted when the ballots were counted, and if the voter did not vote right (in other words, for the PLP) his daughter or whoever was working for government would lose their job."

Throughout that campaign civil servants acted as PLP generals, and the few civil servants who were known FNM supporters were ordered not to vote. Whatever the FNM might have done during the Elizabeth by-election, which Mr Christie claims was "not proper, ethical or fair" cannot be condoned.

But when the PLP held the helm of state, they were absolutely ruthless, particularly in some of these impoverished Family Islands. Now maybe some of them will know what it is like to be on the receiving end. Retribution has come full circle.

February 23, 2010