By Candia Dames
Guardian News Editor
Free National Movement Chairman Carl Bethel has dismissed as idle talk former Prime Minister Perry Christie’s statement that the time has come for an independent Boundaries Commission.
Christie spoke of the need for an independent commission in an interview with The Nassau Guardian last week.
“I had the opportunity to put one in and didn’t, but there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that our democracy has matured to the point where it is a major contradiction to have someone sit down in a room by themselves and draw a plan that impacts the future of a country, and not have that done in a transparent way,” said Christie, leader of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
“...There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that we have passed the time when it ought to have happened.
“Because of gamesmanship, [political leaders are] able to take advantage of what is really a glaring failure on the part of our democracy where [they] in a very candid way take advantage of this opportunity and this discretion to draft a map that they could just cherry pick and change things around.”
But Bethel said he doubts Christie was very serious about that suggestion.
“Opposition parties, sometimes it seems, say things that they never had any intention when they had the power and authority of doing, and make all sorts of promises,” he said.
“I think, Mr. Christie, if he was serious about what he now says, when he had his Constitutional Commission, would have at least looked at that question which he now raises.
“I do not believe that it is a serious suggestion on his part. Obviously, it is not a matter that has been canvassed by him or his colleagues for very long. I think it’s relating really to the moment. It’s a comment made in the moment and not so much a considered, well thought out, much debated position.
“The Constitutional Commission under the former PLP government didn’t touch it, and it’s one thing to talk to hear yourself talk; it’s another thing to come with a well considered proposal.”
In 2002, Christie and the PLP encouraged voters to vote against a referendum called by the Ingraham administration.
One of the questions had to do with whether an independent Boundaries Commission ought to be established.
Fifty-seven thousand, two hundred and ninety-one people voted ‘no’ and 30,903 people voted ‘yes’.
“I’m not sure that we can accord too much credibility to what Mr. Christie may genuinely feel to be his position at this present time,” Bethel told The Nassau Guardian.
In the interview last week, Christie also accused the current administration of gerrymandering.
But Bethel also dismissed this charge.
“Oppositions always say that,” he said. “That’s a stock phrase used by oppositions.
“When the PLP created the St. Anne’s Constituency during the last boundary revisions under Mr. Christie’s superintendence, the then opposition (FNM) felt that this was a classic case of gerrymandering because what was apparent to us is virtually as many FNM polling divisions in as many different constituencies had been pushed into this new entity called St. Anne’s, and that the consequence of doing that was to strengthen the Progressive Liberal Party’s hold on at least three constituencies: Yamacraw, Elizabeth and Fox Hill.
“And so in a sense it was a classic case, in our view, of getting three for the price of one, which by any calculation would amount to an exercise in gerrymandering.”
Bethel said there are principles that guide the Boundaries Commission, which is also known as the Constituencies Commission.
“Those principles are usually discussed among the members and agreed in general long before they actually sit down to address the specific questions of the boundaries,” Bethel said.
“One of those principles would be, for example, that the commission would be seeking to attain as near as possible equality in the number of registered voters in every constituency (depending on the island).”
The FNM chairman added, “What is clear and there is nothing that the opposition has been able to say to date — and they had to a lot to say about these boundary cuts —but there is nothing that they have been able to say to date that is able to cast any doubt upon the integrity of the adherence of the Boundaries Commission to the principle that all members, including opposition members, would have agreed at the beginning of the whole process.”
In three of the last four general elections, the party in power that cut the boundaries lost (1992, 2002 and 2007).
Nov 14, 2011