Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is a general election nearer than expected in The Bahamas? ...it is not clear whether Eight Mile Rock MP Verna Grant or Clifton MP Kendal Wright had only resigned from the governing Free National Movement (FNM) party or whether they had also resigned from the Bahamian parliament

Is an election nearer than expected?

tribune242 editorial

Nassau, The Bahamas

THIS MORNING dawns with an interesting political scene developing and depending on which way the wheel turns, we might be facing an election just after Christmas.

Miffed because their electoral seats were vaporised by the Boundaries Commission, two of the FNM's MPs have resigned from the party.

Although their resignations have been confirmed to The Tribune by reliable sources, the FNM have heard the rumours, but have no facts. FNM chairman Carl Bethel was still manning the post in the FNM's headquarters up to 5:30pm yesterday, but no letter of resignation had arrived from either Eight Mile Rock MP Verna Grant or Clifton MP Kendal Wright.

Neither was it clear whether they had only resigned from the party or whether they had also resigned from parliament. If the latter, as one person put it, we shall be faced with a "constitutional conundrum". However, up until late yesterday, Speaker Alvin Smith had seen no resignation letters.

We understand that, whatever the decision, they will keep it close to their chests until Wednesday when parliament again meets. It is not until then that the bugles will sound and candidates will know how soon they will have to move into their constituencies.

If the two cross the floor on Wednesday, do they go as Independents, or do they join the PLP -- or maybe even the DNA?

The FNM, which entered the House after the 2007 general election with 23 members to the PLP's 18, were left with 22 members on the floor when North Eleuthera MP Alvin Smith was elected from their number to become Speaker of the House.

During the course of the next four years, the PLP lost one member in Kenyatta Gibson, who crossed the floor to the FNM to bring their number back to the original 23. Recently, Branville McCartney left the FNM to form the DNA and become that party's only MP. If the reports about Ms Grant and Mr Wright are true, it means that the FNM will lose another two members, reducing their number on the floor to 20. It is not known whether the last two possible defections will cross the floor as Independents or whether they will join a party. Should they join the PLP, that party's numbers will be boosted to 19. Whether they join a party or remain Independent, the governing 20-member FNM will face a 20-member Opposition -- PLP (17), Independents (2) and DNA (1).

This means that should there be full attendance on both sides of the House at every meeting, all eyes will turn to their bewigged Speaker on his dais above them to break a tie or to get a measure through parliament.

However, should one or both defecting members resign from parliament a bye-election will have to be called within 60 days. This is most unlikely to happen. It is more likely that parliament will be dissolved. And so Bahamians will be facing either dissolution or a long recess of the House.

Of course bye-elections cannot be held in non-existent constituencies, which Clifton and Eight Mile Rock will soon be, if they are not already. It is probable that, if a bye-election were held, it would be held in the newly-named constituencies that would have absorbed the voters of Clifton and Eight Mile Rock. And should any FNM member attempt to run against any candidate already nominated by the party for these two new constituencies they are automatically expelled under the FNM party's rules.

This turn of events takes us back to January 10, 1967 when the PLP won its first election.

In that election, the United Bahamian Party, headed by Sir Roland Symonette -- the Bahamas' first premier -- won 18 seats. The PLP also won 18 seats. A tie -- no winner. Either the UBP or the PLP had to sacrifice one of their number from the floor to be House Speaker. Whichever side did it would be left with 17 members to the other's 18.

However, there were two floating members -- Alvin Braynen, representative of the Current, and labour leader Randol Fawkes. For several days, they were the most courted men in the Bahamas as each UBP and PLP sought them out to join their party to break the tie. Sir Alvin was a UBP, but before the election there had been a quarrel and he walked out. The UBP were most anxious to mend fences with Sir Alvin. But both Braynen and Fawkes wanted something. Randol Fawkes wanted to be the Labour czar and Alvin Braynen told us that his life-long dream was to become Speaker of the House. Here it was being handed to him on a silver platter, and no other consideration was going to stop him snatching the prize. The PLP got both Alvin Braynen as Speaker, and Randol Fawkes broke the tie by one on the floor of the House, which enabled Sir Lynden to form a government. The following year, the PLP held an election and won by a landslide.

The only difference between then and now is that although there might be a tie on the House floor, there is already a Speaker in the chair to break the tie. This was not so in 1967.

The next few months promise to be interesting.

December 06, 2011

tribune242 editorial