Amid fears of padding of the official voters scroll, Bahamians will on Wednesday vote in general elections with crime, a declining economy and a lack of job opportunities for professionals among the main issues.
Prime Minister Perry Christie is seeking a second consecutive five year term in office, pitting his Progressive Labor Party (PLP) against the Free National Movement of leader Hubert Minnis.
Minnis, a father of three boys, medical doctor and businessman has asked the party faithful to “fire the PLP” and give his party a change to improve an economy that has basically recorded no growth in the past three years.
The PLP on the other hand has said that it needs more time to fix an economy that was already in decline when it won general elections in May of 2102, almost to the date of this week’s polls.
The elections commission has said that it has 181,000 people on its sanitized electoral scroll who are eligible to vote despite skepticism about possible padding as a month ago the total was 174,070. A total of just over 171,000 were registered in 2012. Observers from the Commonwealth are already on the island.
Christie’s PLP and the FNM are coming up against a smaller third force, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) but is not expected to do well in a country, which like its Caribbean neighbors, is dominated by a two-party culture.
The PLP won 29 of the 38 seats back in 2012 but polls are indicating that even if it manages to win a second straight term, its majority is expected to be reduced.
Locals are going to the polls as police battle to keep guns out of the hands of young and as government struggles to improve the country’s tourism dependent economy.
The Business section of the Tribune Newspaper reported this week that the island last year recorded its fourth consecutive year of close to zero percent economic growth. The International Monetary Fund said that unless something dramatic happens this year, low to no GDP growth is likely to repeat.
“The bottom line is that we need to change the way this country is governed and make sure there is fiscal responsibility, that the wastage and mismanagement in government comes to a stop and we cut out the corruption that is costing the country millions and millions of dollars,” said DNA political leader Branville McCartney.
He argued that hundreds of Bahamians who study abroad each year are remaining overseas because of a palpable lack of opportunities back home. I was talking to my daughter this morning. More and more students are staying abroad, and have made their minds up not to come home unless things change drastically. It’s causing a significant brain drain. They have no choice but to stay elsewhere. It’s not happening in the Bahamas. That’s the reality,” he said.
Just 50 miles off the Florida coast, the Bahamas is an important and favored destination for vacationing Americans. Some years, arrivals for both cruise and stay over visitors can reach up to six million, making it one of the leading locations in the region.
But nearby Cuba has opened up, numbers are growing and other destinations such as Puerto Rico and St. Maarten are competing for market share.
Another key issue has to do with the Bah Mar hotel, casino and entertainment complex in the capital Nassau. The incomplete project has dragged on for years but agreements signed with new owners appear to give hope that it will finally be completed and employ up to 5,500 Bahamians.