The tragedy of the commoners
By Arinthia S. Komolafe
Nassau, The Bahamas
The terminology “commoners” is often construed to refer to a wide ranging social division of regular people who are members of neither the perceived noble or religious classes. It is no news, therefore, that in any society the so-called commoners comprise the majority of the electorate and countries’ populations. Logic leads us to a conclusion therefore that the power rests with the commoners in any society and The Bahamas is not an exception.
On May 7, 2012, the Bahamian people for the eleventh time since 1967 went to the polls and voted into power the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and ousted the governing Free National Movement (FNM). This victory represents the eighth of its kind for the PLP since 1967 which governed for 25 consecutive years under the late Sir Lynden O. Pindling until its first defeat by the FNM in the 1992 general election. This is compared to the FNM’s three terms of governance and 15 non-consecutive years under the leadership of Hubert A. Ingraham.
The commoners of The Bahamas from year to year have made these decisions presumably based on their convictions and political persuasions to determine the party they wish to govern the country. Further, it is interesting to note that recent elections evidence a divided electorate who has failed to give administrations a clear majority as it relates to the popular vote.
The class divide
The fact that incumbent governments have been voted out of office in the last three general elections appears to be a testament that within a democracy, true power rests with the people – the commoners. It is noteworthy to state that the term democracy comes from the Greek word “demokratia” which means rule of the people. In spite of this well-documented and proven power of the people, a school of thought suggests that democracy is just an illusion which sells an idea to the masses that they have the power to elect individuals of their choice to high office. The proponents of this school argue that the undeniable truth is that power ultimately rests in the hands of a small elite group.
The reality within the context of The Bahamas is that local aristocracies, oligarchies and political dynasties abound regardless of which political party is in power. As can be expected, the interests and sometimes greed of a small and select few outweigh the interests of the common man. This is indeed the tragedy of the Bahamian commoners who supposedly have the power and should control their destinies. Official oppositions from one political cycle to another, it seems, only fight against the government of the day and most of such government’s policies not necessarily because they have the interest of the people at heart, but primarily because power has slipped away from them even if only for a fleeting moment. Their motivation seems to be driven by a reduced status in society either socially, professionally or politically and a deflated ego.
The dilemma of the common man within the Bahamian democratic framework is that the major political parties have been successful in creating an effective divide in Bahamian politics either through oppression or manipulation. A certain class of Bahamians are oppressed either because of political persuasion or social and economic background. Meanwhile, there are those who are manipulated to suit the needs of the elite ruling class. The end result is that the masses remain divided and fight at the lower end to support their respective parties at any cost while the select few wine, dine and enrich themselves. In the midst of the division, the commoners’ lives are not necessarily improved by the governments and politicians they have hired. The elite who “call the shots” always maintain their drive, focus and unity to maintain power both politically and economically while the victims left holding the bag almost always are the masses.
It is rather unfortunate that a select few have convinced themselves that the governing class of The Bahamas is a “members only” club with entry requirements not based solely on merit, qualification and patriotism. The small elite have resorted to treating The Bahamas like a private company – they sit as the directors and preference shareholders while the masses who are the common shareholders sit back and accept their dictates. As a result, governance is reserved for the chosen few who are considered worthy, thereby perpetuating the prosperity and expansion of established political dynasties and special interest groups. In order to achieve this objective, they seek to manipulate the electorate by keeping voters uninformed about many political and economic issues to ensure that emotionalism and sensationalism determine the outcome of elections.
The commoners must demand what is theirs
Last week the Bahamian people mourned the death of the late William Cartwright. Cartwright was one of the three founding members of the PLP along with the late Cyril Stevenson and the late Sir Henry Taylor. The party, which is the oldest party on Bahamian record, was formed in 1953 by the gentlemen during a time when it was unpopular to stand up against the ruling oligarchy. The overall platform of the PLP was to erase social, economic and racial inequality for all Bahamians regardless of their class or status. Today, both the PLP and the FNM have members who are either founding members of those respective parties or who are second or third generation descendants of founding members and those who fought in favor of the PLP’s founding philosophy. Unfortunately, it is sad to note that both these parties have become guilty of the same evil that they fought against decades ago to bring so-called liberation to the masses.
The power that the masses possess in choosing the people that govern them ultimately vests power in the government. The power vested in the government and leaders it seems fair should then be exercised for the benefit and betterment of the commoners. However, it is sad that questions remain as to the identity and location of the champions of the commoners today. The average Bahamian who is classed among commoners has been taught by the actions of successive governments not to aspire for higher office or leadership within his/her own country. Appointments are made for the most part along party lines and from the elite as opposed to choosing from the pool of talented, intelligent and skilful Bahamians across the archipelago.
The time has come for the commoners to fully appreciate the extent of the power they possess. After all the common shareholders can vote in, vote out or re-elect individuals to the board to govern the affairs of what is deemed “Bahamas Ltd”. The commoners need not accept this tragedy that has been assigned to them and must flip the script demanding what is rightfully theirs as owners of our Bahamaland.
• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jun 14, 2012