Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Advent of Majority Rule in The Bahamas

What does Majority Rule in The National Affairs of The Bahamas mean?

Majority Rule Day marks the day when, for the first time in history, The Bahamas had achieved full democratic status

Majority Rule: a different eyewitness report

By Patrick Rahming
Patrick Rahming - The Bahamas
Someone once said that anyone who wants to test the veracity of history should listen to two eyewitness reports of the same car accident. In that spirit, this is another eyewitness report of the advent of Majority Rule and the events following. This report may appear to contradict one that appeared in The Nassau Guardian on the eve of Majority Rule Day, January 9, 2023, but it does not. It simply adds another shade of color to the picture. To be even clearer, then, I would refer to another quote about history: “History is created by those who write it.” I share my opinion for the benefit or otherwise of Bahamian history.
What does Majority Rule mean?
The popular belief is that Majority Rule has something to do with the majority party in Parliament finally looking like the majority of the people – that is, black. That, of course, would suggest that a community of majority black citizens could not choose to be represented by white politicians, and that The Bahamas determines its national affairs on the basis of race. I cannot believe that is the meaning of Majority Rule Day.
More likely, Majority Rule Day marks the day when, for the first time in history, the country had achieved full democratic status. I have spoken to many younger Bahamians who were unaware that, prior to 1962, there were four categories of Bahamian citizens. First, there were those who qualified to vote ordinarily, which applied to men with property only. Then there were those who owned properties in multiple constituencies, who could vote wherever they owned property, giving a single individual the opportunity to vote multiple times in the same election. Thirdly, there were those who owned or represented companies, who could vote “for the company”. Finally, women and men without property could not vote at all, basically a voiceless category of citizens. In other words, prior to 1962, national elections were anything but fair. The Bahamas was legally and constitutionally not a democratic country.
However, following changes to those laws, women voted for the first time in 1962 and by 1964 both the land vote and the company vote had been rescinded. By 1964, then, The Bahamas had finally become legally and constitutionally a democratic country. So, it is quite true that the 1967 election was the first election held as a true democracy (the results determined by one man, one vote). Regardless of who won that election, the day would have been the first Majority Rule Day. The meaning of the day was determined by its history, not its participants.
*It is therefore wrong to continue to vilify those who actually passed the laws we now celebrate. The PLP was not the government when the laws providing the franchise for women and those eliminating the preferential positions for land and company ownership were passed, and therefore could not have been responsible for them. Regardless of their role as promoters or agitators, they cannot accept responsibility for the legislation passed by a previous government. In the courts, for example, the judge holds the perpetrator of the crime responsible, not the person who convinced him to commit it. This is a matter of historical record, not opinion or preference. Our children deserve the truth, not our prejudice. If we are to celebrate, let us celebrate history, not partisan rhetoric and half-truths.*
Majority Rule and the economy
Those of us over 65 (that is, old enough to remember pre-Majority Rule conditions) have a view of the 1960s that is very different from the world we hear about when current politicians speak. We recall a world in which there was considerable participation in the economy by ordinary black and white Bahamians. In tourism, the anchor of the economy, almost all of the entertainment business, the primary wealth creator in the tourism business, was owned locally, over 90 percent by black Bahamians. All of the transportation business was owned by Bahamians, also mostly black Bahamians. Except for the heritage sites, almost every tourist attraction was owned and operated by Bahamians, again mostly black. Throughout the real City of Nassau (over the hill) just about every consumer business was owned and operated by black Bahamians: grocers, meat markets, dry cleaners, dry goods stores, shoe sales and repair stores, barbers and beauticians. Everyone seemed to be an entrepreneur, from bicycle repair to raising rabbits to operating joinery shops to teaching music. Even on Bay Street, almost every business was owned and operated by Bahamians. While the majority of them may have been white, they were Bahamians (unlike today) and their participation in the tourism economy was significant. We recall a productive, confident, self-sufficient, self-assured, future-oriented communities. This is the starting point for measuring our economic progress.
The fact that, after 52 years we find ourselves standing outside foreign-owned resorts begging for participation in a business we had shaped for decades before, speaks volumes about our lack of attention to our own business. Rather than patting ourselves on our backs because we now drive expensive cars and live in gated communities, we should be asking why we have become a nation of dependent, frightened observers begging for a job. If the political establishments would claim credit for our new middle-class, they must also accept credit for the high reliance on a pay check and fear of risk.
Majority Rule and human development
That said, I agree whole-heartedly with concerns expressed about the growth of the gap between the government and its people, and the urgent need to complete the Westminster system by establishing a true system of local government. Parliamentarians are today too busy to know what their constituents need. That must be a sign that something is wrong. There appears to be little or no concern for involving citizens in their own affairs, which has led to a strong sense of “us and them” throughout the country.
I am proud of many of the advances made over these 52 years, but cannot avoid the apparent complete lack of a concern for human development by successive governments. The simple fact that the people of the de facto City of Nassau have not yet been recognized as such in law, after 50 years of independence is shocking. The fact that successive governments still find excuses not to spend on the infrastructure for the reinforcement of our identity through cultural activity is shocking. The fact that when a draft of the National Development Plan, published three years ago, stated that at graduation, 50 percent of students in public schools did not qualify to graduate, it was not considered a national emergency, is shocking. Self-Image and identity are the bedrock of social behavior. Meanwhile the same governments seem mystified by our children’s antisocial behavior. Majority Rule officially made us all equally responsible for the future of The Bahamas. I am not sure we have lived up to that responsibility.
What is the significance of Majority Rule Day? It marks the day The Bahamas became a democracy. That, I believe, is by far more important than seeking partisan credit for a public holiday.

Pat Rahming is an architect, writer and songwriter who is passionate about the importance of the built environment and its importance to the social development of The Bahamas. He can be reached at or via his blog “From the Black Book” at He welcomes other points of view.