Civility and the coming campaign
PHILIP C. GALANIS
Published: Mar 20, 2017
“Civility is not about dousing strongly held views. It's about making sure that people are willing to respect other perspectives.” – Jim Leach
The next general elections in The Bahamas will likely be held sometime in May, less than two months away, and people everywhere are beginning to prognosticate about the potential permutations of outcomes that are likely to occur on election day.
This past week, many Bahamians were taken aback, if not completely surprised, by a shocking squabble that spewed forth in the Golden Isles constituency between campaign teams of the two major political parties. Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider this… What can we do to foster and engender greater civility in the coming election campaign?
The temperature is rising!
As the pace of the general election campaign intensifies, so does the rhetorical temperature. If the past is any indication of future political campaign behavior, the name-calling, finger-pointing and blame-gaming is likely to accelerate at an exponential pace. Whatever one political party says is criticized by the other. If one party says that the sky is blue, a press conference is quickly convened to suggest that the correct color is azure. Not to be outdone, the third major political party insists that the correct color is aquamarine. In the meantime, the electorate watches in amazement at all the nonsense that spews from one political spokesman after another. This is not constructive.
We seem to have come to expect our politicians, irrespective of party affiliation, to make the most salacious, acrimonious, sensational and outrageous accusations against their opponents, with a goal of portraying their adversaries in the most negative light.
We all expect that there will be legitimate, deep-seated differences of opinion once the political season heats up, but those differences and objections are usually manifested by attacks on personalities, rather than on policies. If we are going to clearly demonstrate the differences between the policies of the political parties and the programs they seek to implement if elected, then there must be a quantum shift in our political culture.
The important question is, can we do this? Are the candidates who offer for office so bankrupt of ideas that they must resort to ad hominem attacks of their adversaries? Are they so bereft of solutions to the problems that plague our society that it is easier to attack the person, rather than their positions? We believe that the Bahamian people want more; they certainly deserve more. The most effective way to lower the rising political temperature is for the electorate to demand of those who seek to lead us in the next five years, an eloquent explanation of their proposed solutions to the problems that have plagued us for far too long.
They must artfully articulate how they will reduce the intractable scourge of crime and the fear of crime in our society. They must unambiguously announce what they will do to reduce the level of unemployment and poverty that has beset us for too long and how they will address the persistent challenges to our environment.
Challenging election candidates
As we approach the upcoming electoral contest, it is incumbent on responsible citizens to challenge election candidates to explain their positions on important national issues.
What is their vision for The Bahamas? How will their proposed policies resolve the pressing issues facing our nation? Are the candidates informed on national and international issues and developments that could affect us for generations to come? Are their proposed solutions workable and practicable? How will they represent us on the domestic and international stage? Most importantly, what are the direct and unintended consequences of policies that are proffered by the candidates and their political parties?
A schizophrenic reality
Some politicians and wannabes are masters of misdirection, who viciously attack each other in Parliament, in the press and on the campaign trail. And then, after their contentious confrontations with each other, they unabashedly retire to the privacy of each other’s homes, restaurants or favorite “drinking holes” to share in collegial convivium and cordial camaraderie that would leave the average citizen confused about whether this Jekyll and Hyde transformation is concocted in the twilight zone.
The electorate should not be fooled by this well-choreographed chicanery that is designed to deflect us from seeking and demanding real solutions to real problems.
Some current Parliamentarians on opposite sides of the political divide and those seeking high office are close, personal friends, some are familial relations, while others are even shareholders in the same companies. The reality is that these same politicians very often are related by marriage and, in other cases, stand as godfathers or godmothers for the children of members opposite, which, in fact, clearly demonstrates a level of confidence in each other to look after their children in case of adversity.
Notwithstanding these close ties, their behavior in Parliament or on the campaign trail would lead us to believe that they are dire enemies, diametrically opposed to each other, determined to demonize, denigrate and destroy one another.
Civility and the coming campaign
The Bahamian electorate should emphasize that, despite the propensity of some persons who are offering for political office to descend to insulting name-calling and defamatory character assassination of their adversaries, we will not tolerate or accept such behavior by those who seek high political office. Recent history has clearly demonstrated that, if they act this way during the campaign, this behavior will continue once elected to office.
We must appreciate that, in the final analysis, we are a very small country where many of us are related in some way or another. And, although we take our politics very seriously, we should never allow our political differences to irreparably divide us. We must never forget that we all love our country and all want the best for it and for our people. Long after the election exercise ends, we must all live here in peace and tranquility.
The only way to ensure that this occurs is to maintain a level of civility in the upcoming general elections. In this way, after all the rallies, after all the speeches, after all the posturing, pontificating and political polemics, we will be able to live in a society where we can always agree to disagree on the issues and not engage in uncivil and vitriolic social intercourse that is destructive to us individually or to our national psyche.
We are, after all the screaming and slogan-shouting is over, Bahamians who must be prepared to stand together and build our country into the kind of place where the generations to come can prosper and thrive, living in civility and peace.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.