Simon Kelner: Bahamas offers up a vision of electoral paradise

 

Share
Related Topics

Do not chide yourself if this news has passed you by, but in six days' time the people of the Bahamas go to the polls. It is an election that seems to matter a great deal to them, or at least it matters in a way that we who have a jaded palate for democracy would find very striking, and, in many ways, humbling.

The Bahamian electoral system is the one bequeathed to them by their British former colonial masters, a first-past-the-post poll to decide who wins a seat in the House of Representatives (there are 38 constituencies, and a registered electorate of 172,000). Universal suffrage came to the Bahamas only in 1967, and democracy is something they cherish in the way anyone would a gift so recently bestowed.

Everywhere are signs of engagement that make British elections appear so drab and colourless by comparison. Vast numbers of people wear T-shirts proclaiming their support for one of the three main parties: everywhere you go are posters, on walls, on lamp posts, on billboards, hanging from telegraph wires, on virtually every square inch of free public space; and it's what people are talking about – almost to the exclusion of everything else – at work and at home, in bars, restaurants, churches, and meeting places.

I knew I was in the midst of a national obsession when my waitress disappeared midway through dinner service in a Nassau restaurant. I eventually found her, huddled round a television set with most of her colleagues. And you know what they were watching? Live coverage of a political rally. Can you imagine a similar scene in the run-up to a general election in Britain? I'm sorry, sir. Work has to stop. You see, Boris Johnson is making a keynote address. Reductio ad absurdum, as Boris would have it.

Politics in a country like the Bahamas is how it should be: vibrant and connective. Not just that, but there is a huge amount of candour and directness in the campaigning: it would certainly make our elections more interesting if candidates were able to give full vent to their feelings in the Bahamian manner, where political meetings have the same calm deliberation and studied equanimity as an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. And although we showed them how to handle the machinery of a parliamentary democracy, we could learn from them something in the way of openness.

For instance, all of the 133 candidates standing in next Monday's poll have to declare details of their annual income, their liabilities, their assets and their net worth. And while there is much talk of corruption, and of how policy can be adapted for a brown envelope stuffed with cash, there is – at least to an outsider from a country where politics is mired in cynicism, sleaze and cronyism – a refreshing sense that politicians can make a real difference, and that every vote counts. The public's feeling of engagement has a clear effect on turnout: the lowest figure was a mere 87.9 per cent of the electorate in 1987, while an incredible 98.5 per cent turned out to vote in 1997.

When you see the wheels of democracy turning so dynamically, it's a beguiling sight.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?