Polling begins in the Bahamas

NASSAU, Bahamas, Monday, May 7, 2012 – Voters head to the polls today to decide who will lead the Bahamas government – the ruling Free National Movement, the opposition Progressive Liberal Party, or the Democratic National Alliance.

While a number of Bahamians voted in the country’s Advance Poll last Tuesday (a vote which was, for the first time, expanded beyond uniformed officers and poll workers), today’s vote that ultimately decide the country’s new government.

Some 7,865 persons had applied to vote in the Advanced Poll. Grand Bahama represented 12 per cent of the advanced poll voters. Some 240 people were scheduled to vote in Central Grand Bahama; In East Grand Bahama 210; in Marco City 220; in Pineridge 250; and in West End and Bimini 92. A number of police officers were stationed at the Foster Pestaina Center to maintain peace and order.

However, concerned voters raised questions about the advanced poll results after claims surfaced that parliamentary registration officials were forced to re-open ballot boxes yesterday.

It was alleged that the wrong information was accidentally placed in some of the boxes.

Since April 17, the governing Free National Movement (FNM) Party, the official Opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the newest political party, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), have unleashed a series of ad campaigns to lure supporters as 17 candidates vie for a seat in one of the five constituencies — West Grand Bahama and Bimini, Central Grand Bahama, Marco City, East Grand Bahama and Pineridge.

There is no nationwide pre-election polling in the Bahamas, a scattered archipelago of 700 islands home to 350,000 people and one of the most prosperous countries in the Caribbean region.

Analysts, however, predict a close race between current Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, of the ruling FNM, and Perry Christie, a former prime minister and leader of the opposition PLP.

The FNM is campaigning on a number of new infrastructure initiatives, from a massive road works project to a new international departures terminal at Nassau’s airport, part of its “We Deliver” campaign slogan.

The PLP, on the other hand, led by former Prime Minister Perry Christie, alleges that these investments have come at the cost of Bahamians — hence its slogan of Investing in Bahamians.

The DNA, led by former FNM Member of Parliament Branville McCartney, says crime is the biggest issue in the country.

The Bahamas, like many small Caribbean countries, is struggling with a sluggish economic recovery from the global recession and grappling with rising crime rates.

Tourism and offshore banking, the economic backbone of the Bahamas, have been hit hard. The International Monetary Fund forecasts the economy will grow by 2.5 percent in 2012, after expanding around 2 percent in 2011.

Christie says Ingraham, who also served as prime minister from 1992 to 2002, has failed to engineer a vigorous economic turnaround in a country where the unemployment rate stands at 14.7 percent.

Authorities blame rising crime – for instance, 127 murders last year compared with 94 in 2010 – on remnants of drug trafficking and gangsterism they say flourished in the Bahamas during the 1970s and 1980s.

Last week, electoral observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) arrived in Nassau to watch the electoral process and the country’s May 7 vote.

It is the first time the Bahamas has invited electoral observation missions to the country.

The OAS team will include 18 observers, with CARICOM’s mission to consist of 10 members.

The CARICOM mission includes members from Caribbean nations including Guyana, Antigua, Barbados and Trinidad, among others.

The Bahamian vote is the latest in a string of recent observations missions undertaken by the OAS in the region, which has watched elections in four countries: Belize, Jamaica, St Lucia and Guyana, since November 2011. (Source: Caribbean Journal)

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