The Referendum Hypocrisy

Just when we thought the current political landscape in The Bahamas could not immediately become more rife with notable (and infamous) precedents, the PLP government has announced it is now a born-again believer in equal rights for Bahamian women. And to put works to this new faith, it says it plans to bring a referendum to remove gender discrimination from the Constitution as it pertains to a Bahamian woman passing her citizenship onto her child.

Now lest we forget, this is the same Constitutional amendment Prime Minister Perry Christie and the PLP while in Opposition told the Bahamian people to vote “no” to in 2002 (even though he and his colleagues had already voted “yes” to the same in Parliament.)

When questioned by the media at last week’s parliamentary conclave on this glaring disparity of philosophy, Mr. Christie explained his then public opposition to equal constitutional rights for Bahamian women this way:

“I went to the Seventh Day Adventist annual gathering…and I remember the then leader of the Seventh Day Adventists saying they were not consulted, and that because they were not consulted they could not participate. I then checked and found out that all of the churches were saying they weren’t consulted, and I then went to my colleagues and said for the purposes of lack of consultation, we must oppose this unless Ingraham decides to stop it and consult, and he didn’t and that is how we got to do it, we didn’t make any decisions about the merit of the case.”

And with those words, Prime Minister Christie upgraded the referendum debate from a developing storm to a perfect storm – of hypocrisy.

The man who now says he told his country to vote “no” to equal rights for Bahamian women because the voice of the church was essential to him, promises to put a new referendum to his country (gambling) even though the voice of that very same church is now screaming “no” to legalizing the numbers business. And this time, the referendum will essentially and ironically be a ‘yes’ to discrimination against Bahamians; because it will not include a measure on casino gambling. So insofar as Mr. Christie’s apparent view of the Constitution is concerned, the Bahamian people over the last 10 years have evolved to becoming equally unequal.

If the voice of the church was so paramount that a prime ministerial hopeful would urge an entire nation of eligible voters to vote against their own equal rights, why is the voice of the church not now paramount enough to prompt Mr. Christie to retract his promise of a gambling referendum and simply ensure that the current law of the land is enforced through the immediate closure of all numbers houses in the country? The Prime Minister’s regard for the church prompted him to tell Bahamian women to remain second-class citizens, but it does not prompt him to have the law of the land enforced? Rather unseemly in a debate with the church at its apex.

And if the voice of the church was so paramount to Mr. Christie, why did he and his colleagues not satisfy themselves that churches had been consulted before they all voted “yes” in Parliament for this Constitutional amendment?

The Prime Minister told reporters at the conclave meantime, that the reason his government is putting this referendum to the people again, is that it is not only what the Bahamian people think on this issue that is important, but also “what the world thinks.”

Ah yes, that all-important “world” of which we have been a part since creation including the year 2002 AD. That world that watched in awe and disappointment as The Bahamas, led by the campaign of Perry Gladstone Christie and his PLP, said a resounding ‘no’ to equality for its women. Perhaps though, we should be pleased to hear that the world has become worthy of a promotion from our Prime Minister, because prior to May 7, he and his Party while in Opposition worked tirelessly to convince the Bahamian people that the state of world (economically in that case) had little to nothing to do with the state of The Bahamas.

Mr. Christie’s statements leave two logical conclusions to be drawn – either he is a parliamentarian who is given to haphazard voting on his country’s laws, since he voted “yes” to amend the nation’s Supreme Law (the Constitution) then declared that the vote should have been “no”, or he is a parliamentarian and now Prime Minister who is only concerned about constitutional equality for Bahamians if there is personal political gain in appearing to champion the same. Either way for him, as the youth would say, ‘it’s not a good look’.

So alas, the Party that successfully rode the tsunami of political momentum generated by the earthquake of upholding inequality for its country’s women, will now seek to convince these same women that though they were less than Bahamian in 2002, they are now exceptionally Bahamian in 2012.

Incidentally, the Prime Minister also stressed that it wasn’t the 2002 proposed amendment itself he and his Party were against, but rather “the process”. Well, the process of amending the Constitution is firstly securing no less than a two-thirds majority of votes in both the House and Senate, and then for the public it is getting up, going to a polling station and voting “yes” or “no”. A pretty clear-cut process from where I sit as an eligible voter, but if the Prime Minister still opposes the process of amending the Constitution, I will be sure to keep my eyes and ears open for his proposed changes to the process.

Hypocrisy having been established, professors of political observation have got to place at least one gold star on Prime Minister Christie’s class project on the Bahamas Constitution though, because in 2002 Mr. Christie was publicly in favor of discrimination against Bahamians (women), and a decade later in 2012 he is once again publicly in favor of discrimination against Bahamians (casino gambling).

So, for this project, at least the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister is consistent.