Monday, April 23, 2012

Many younger voters are hungry for change and may take a chance on Branville McCartney and his Democratic National Alliance (DNA).... ...Many older voters don’t have the confidence in the party

A vision for The Bahamas

By Erica Wells
Guardian Managing Editor

In the opening pages of the Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) document outlining its plans for The Bahamas, the party’s leader, Branville McCartney, promises that his DNA will recast the “national vision” for the country.

This vision, he said, is the vision that was first cast in 1967 and 1973.  It was a vision that “included all Bahamians”.

According to McCartney, “44 years after majority rule and 38 years after independence, our nation has lost sight of this vision to create a Bahamian society based on equality of opportunity and a collective effort to ensure that our people get the best that the country and the world has to offer.  The vision has been derailed and we have been led off course.”

The DNA, said McCartney, is able to recast that vision because it is steeped in an understanding of the past and is focused on the opportunities of the future.  The document meant to convince voters of this – Vision 2012 and Beyond – was the result of collaboration between the DNA and the Bahamian public “at large”, said McCartney.

“It reflects what you care about deeply: the economy and diversification of the economy, crime, education, youth development and other issues which are plaguing the country,” he said.  “It also reflects the notion that these issues, when addressed with thoughtful ingenuity and skill, have the potential to revolutionize the country.”

Like all written plans, the proof is in the execution of what is outlined.  And whether the DNA will get the chance to execute those plans after the May 7 general election remains to be seen.

While the DNA was the first to release its plan for the country and promise to voters, (the Free National Movement released its plan shortly after and the Progressive Liberal Party is expected to release its document this week) voters have little time to digest the DNA’s or the other parties’ agendas before the election.

The vision

The DNA’s vision touches on key areas of national importance: crime, healthcare, jobs and the economy, education, immigration, youth, sports and culture, Grand Bahama, Family Island development, good governance, tourism, labor and industrial relations, and energy and the environment.

The promises are not expanded upon and there is no detail provided on how the plan will meet its objectives, which has been typical of these types of political publications.

Some political observers give McCartney’s DNA credit for having some of the best ideas for national development of the three major parties.  Others dismiss some of the ideas as unrealistic and in some cases unmanageable.

For example, under the heading of crime, the DNA’s idea to develop a comprehensive and research proven system to rehabilitate offenders, inclusive of academic programs and work readiness and skills building programs, is a commendable one.

But the DNA also promises to enforce capital punishment and ensure that bail is not granted for accused murderers.  Given the Privy Council’s rulings that directly impact the capacity for any government to carry out capital punishment, and the right to a fair and speedy trial afforded to all Bahamians under the constitution, it will be extremely difficult for a DNA or any other government to enforce and ensure such actions.

Other promises hinge greatly on available finances, at a time when it’s difficult for many to see where the money will come from.  The deficit is at $4.2 billion and the economy is still struggling to regain ground from a worldwide recession.

Take for example, the promise to reduce class sizes by “building modern school facilities and enhancing existing school facilities”; and to increase infrastructure funding for the redevelopment and expansion of road networks, healthcare facilities and airports in the Family Islands.

The party also promises to balance the budget within five years.

While the DNA is ambitious in its plans for the country and it should be commended for its aspirations, it must be careful not to play to the gallery and risk losing the trust of more sober minds and eventually the public at large.

Perhaps the most progressive portion of the DNA’s Vision is under the heading of Good Governance, where the party promises to:

• Amend the constitution to limit the powers of the prime minister.

• Enact legislation to limit the length of service of the prime minister to two terms.

• Enact legislation to cause the recall of members of Parliament if a majority of their constituents are dissatisfied with their performance.

• Establish fixed constituencies, which can only be changed according to international criteria.

• Establish the Office of the Ombudsman to serve as the watchdog of the government for the people.

The DNA has also promised to create a much needed code of conduct for public officials.

Among its other major promises are a focus on economic diversification, to establish a basic healthcare plan, to hold a referendum on whether children born in The Bahamas to illegal immigrants should have the right to apply for citizenship, and to regularize generation property.

A young party

The DNA is a young party.  On Election Day, it will be five days short of its one-year anniversary.  It has attempted to brand itself as a party that is making a bold statement.  A party made up of a new breed of young Bahamian politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals and blue-collar workers.

Its leader has relatively little experience in frontline politics.  Most Bahamians first heard of him in 2007 when he ran under the Free National Movement’s banner for Bamboo Town.  Less than three years later he would resign from Hubert Ingraham’s Cabinet, where he sat as a junior minister.

His decision to leave the party left many baffled; however, others gave him credit for “standing up” to Ingraham.

McCartney has been heavily criticized on some of his positions taken on immigration, and more recently the marital rape law.  His statement that a Marital Rape Bill would not be passed under his administration was seen as a major misstep in his campaign, and it could have put off potential female voters.  The party was forced into damage control mode at a time when its efforts should have been focused on the election campaign.

The party will field a candidate in every one of the 38 constituencies, and while many political observers seriously doubt the party leader’s prediction that the DNA will win the May 7 general election, the party does have some support.

A Public Domain/Nassau Guardian poll conducted in March indicated that the DNA had a total support base of 21.7 percent.  According to the poll, the FNM and PLP were in a virtual dead heat.  The FNM with 34.2 percent and the PLP with 30.3 percent.

The 2007 general election results show just how close the race this time around could be.  Although the FNM captured 23 of the 41 seats, with 49.86 percent it did not capture the popular vote.  The PLP captured 18 seats and 47.02 percent of the vote.  The number of votes between the PLP and FNM was just 3,905.

This sets up a potentially interesting scenario if the DNA manages to win a few seats in the general election, and manages to upset the balance of power on Election Day.

What is attractive about the DNA is the simple fact that it is an alternative to what have been mainstays in Bahamian politics for so long — Hubert Ingraham and PLP Leader Perry Christie.  Its weakness mainly centers on the lack of experience of its leader and the party’s candidates.

Many younger voters are hungry for change and may take a chance on McCartney and his DNA.  Many older voters don’t have the confidence in the party.

But whatever the result on May 7, McCartney and his DNA have shown that a third party can get support.  The question is, can it get enough support?

Apr 23, 2012