Pinder: Gerrymandering a Threat to Democracy

0
2633

Ryan Pinder MP for Elizabeth

L. Ryan Pinder Member for the Elizabeth Constituency
Address to Parliament Constituencies Commission Report

November 29, 2011

Mr. Speaker …

Introduction

Today I stand on behalf of the good and proud constituents of Elizabeth. The residents of the Elizabeth constituency chose me to be their voice in this honourable place, and to represent their interests. We come here to debate the Boundaries Commission report that made extensive and deliberate revisions to the constituency boundaries. These changes have affected the residents of Elizabeth more so than most other constituencies in the Bahamas. The current constituency of Elizabeth has lost 7 of its 12 polling divisions, replaced by 6 new polling divisions out of the current Yamacraw and St. Anne’s constituencies. More than half of the residents of Elizabeth have been disenfranchised, have been misled, and have told me, they will make this FNM government pay for such an egregious attempt to manipulate the democracy of this great country.

Sincerity of the Government

I sat and listened to the Prime Minister’s contribution on the tabling of the new boundaries report, and I was amused at his attempt to be sincere, and try to sell the new boundaries on a statistical analysis, when it is clear, even to me, a new member in this honourable place, that these re-configurations were motivated by personal motives, once again showing his M.O. of politics over people. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the Prime Minister say he was going to take care of the Honourable Member from St. Thomas Moore. Likewise I can’t tell you how many times the Prime Minister has said out of frustration that I will be the shortest sitting Member in the House of Assembly. Its as if he cannot get over getting beat in the Elizabeth by election. Clearly certain re-districting was motivated by personal vengeance, not in the best interest of Bahamians.

Well, despite these threats by the Prime Minster, despite the personal motivation against certain members on this side, one thing is clear, those that he has focused on, including me and my colleague from St. Thomas Moore, will prove to the Prime Minister, once again, that we will beat him. The Prime Minister proclaimed over and over during my by election that he was going to beat me, well we on this side won that election. So despite the intentions of the Prime Minster, despite how he draws the lines, one thing is for sure, his actions will not change the minds of the Bahamian people. Bahamians demand People over Politics, and this is what I offer, this is what my current constituents know of me, and this is what my new constituents can expect of me.

Despite any gerrymandering attempts, the Free National Movement will lose this election; the Progressive Liberal Party will win the elections, which means that the Bahamian people will ultimately win. Despite the confidence I have in my ability to win, in our ability to win, gerrymandering as a principle is wrong and puts at risk the democracy we enjoy in this great country. A sitting Government should run on its performance and not have to resort to playing petty politics.

Gerrymandering a Threat to Democracy

The practice of gerrymandering involves the attempt to concentrate one’s extreme opponents in “unwinnable” districts (“throwing-away”) and spreading one’s supporters evenly over “winnable” districts (“smoothing”). This is exactly what we have witnessed by this FNM Government, some say what we have in front of us is the most extreme attempt to manipulate an election based on constituency boundaries gerrymandering in recent memory.

It is my belief that extreme gerrymandering as we are witnessing with these boundaries is a threat to the democratic institution of our country. Many well-respected institutions agree with me.

The League of Women Voters in the United States has said “Democracy is at risk when partisan gerrymandering ensures that elections are over before the people vote.”

The book Democracy at Risk, By Stephen Macedo, Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh states that “the current practice of giving the power to redraw district lines to incumbent partisan politicians, armed with ever more powerful computers and more accurate voting maps, allows them to craft noncompetitive congressional districts ever more effectively. This, in turn, undermines political interest, along with it, voting and a host of other vital participatory activities.”

Representatives of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in Congressional testimony, voiced their opinions on the dangers of gerrymandering to democracy. NYCLU Legal Director Art Eisenberg testified, “For our electoral system to operate fairly, our government must remain neutral in administering it.” Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director in very strong testimony stated “Political gerrymandering creates sham democracy, what good is your vote when the election districts have been set up to ensure that your vote doesn’t matter?”

I am not of the view that this blatant political attempt to manipulate the elections by this FNM Government will in fact accomplish their goals. I am of the firm belief that the Progressive Liberal Party will be the next Government of the Bahamas, not only because of the clear failures and mismanagement of the country’s affairs by this Government, but because the plans programmes of the PLP for the Bahamas and all Bahamians are the better option for the country. Bahamians believe in a party that believes in them. Bahamians day by day are expressing to me that they believe in the PLP and the PLP believes in People over Politics.

Evidence of Fear by the FNM Government

The draconian actions by the FNM demonstrate the level of fear and paranoia that they are experiencing. A reduction of seats in New Providence and Grand Bahama demonstrate the extent of this paranoia and lack of support that the Bahamian people are expressing for the Governing party.

Likewise, the goal of concentrating PLP supporters in certain constituencies, and the creation of more assumed to be “marginal constituencies” demonstrates further paranoia and the choice of Politics over People. This plan, however, is flawed. We all recognize that people vote, not boundary lines. We also all recognize that there is a significant level of disdain for this FNM Government by the Bahamian people brought on by the mismanagement of the affairs of the Bahamas, and the pain inflicted on the backs of Bahamians as a result of this mismanagement.

Bahamians cry out every day because of the destruction of Bahamian owned businesses, the complete disregard for the continued, sustainable employment of Bahamians. Bahamians today struggle to keep a roof over the head; struggle to put food on the table. I propose that it is because of the FNM’s mismanagement of this country’s affairs, from the economy, to the roadworks, to the financial status of the country, to the pressures on Bahamian businesses that has caused pain and suffering to scores of Bahamians. Bahamians are upset, upset at this Government, it is evident, and it is the basis for the desperation we see today, the Bahamian people want a party that puts People over Politics and I put to you that party is the Progressive Liberal Party.

So, the creation of more marginal seats in an environment of dissatisfaction with the Government, and intrigue by the plans of the PLP will result in what I believe will be the most dominant win by the PLP whenever the election is called. I can say this because I listen to the Bahamian people; I listen to the level of dissatisfaction, not only by the general public, but more significantly, the core FNM supporters. It is my prediction, these boundary revisions, motivated out of desperation by the FNM Government will backfire, will allow more and more Bahamians to realize and understand that the PLP has the right plan to govern this country, the PLP has the best team to govern this country, that the PLP will be the next government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and in doing so, the PLP will put People over Politics.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth, as currently proposed in the Boundaries Commission report we debate today, is far from the Elizabeth constituency that I, less than two years ago, ran in the by election to represent. As mentioned earlier, 7 of my current 12 Polling Divisions have been removed. Almost the entire Sea Breeze portion of Elizabeth has been removed; Senator Hope Strachan will represent you well. A Polling Division in Elizabeth Estates has been removed. The majority of the current Elizabeth residents no longer will reside in Elizabeth.

Under the proposed lines, the majority of Elizabeth includes everything from Joe Farrington Road and Marigold Farm Road east to the end of Nassau, south to the water, inclusive of areas north on Fox Hill Road to Prince Charles Drive. Included are current 2 polling divisions from Elizabeth Estates, and the polling division that comprises the area between Sandilands Village Road and Prince Charles along Fox Hill Road, and the Kool Acres and areas north of Lumumba Road.

New areas include the following:

Hanna’s Road

Yamacraw Beach Estates

Yamacraw Shores

Seagull Gardens

St. Andrews Beach Estates

Treasure Cove

Port New Providence.

Although fundamentally different, the continuing residents, and the new residents of the new Elizabeth constituency continue the same message that the residents of Elizabeth did less than two years ago – they tell me, it doesn’t matter what the lines are, it doesn’t matter how many new residents are in Elizabeth, at the end of the day, whenever the bell might ring, Elizabeth will be Tryin’ Ryan, Ryan the Lion.

Bahamians recognize good representation; Bahamians recognize and appreciate those who are honest and sincere. Those new constituents have told me, we welcome you Ryan, we have had great representation with the Honourable Melanie Griffin, but we have also heard about how well you have represented the constituency of Elizabeth. They say, we are encouraged, and we will support you.

The residents in Treasure Cove and Port New Providence tell me that they haven’t seen their MP in 5 years, and some say they didn’t see their representative then, during the general elections. These residents want effective representation, they want someone who cares, they tell me they have seen what I have done in just 18 months, and have pledged support to me. Those who have only supported the FNM have pledged their support to me. It certainly is a new day, and Elizabeth; you have a partner in me for many many years to come.

We will continue our community initiatives together. Supporting our youth. Providing opportunities to succeed. We will together bring the message of empowerment, the message of community advancement, the message of People over Politics.

Independent Boundaries Commission

The PLP has taken a position that we support an Independent Constituency Boundaries Commission. The integrity of our democracy, and the constitutional purpose of the constituency boundaries commission requires, in my opinion, independence in its deliberation and determination. We might have differing opinions on the mechanics of how an independent commission might operate. For example, my personal belief is that a basis for deciding the population distribution of a constituency should be done every ten years on the basis of the census. The Bahamian Constitution provides:

“In carrying out a review for the purposes of this Article, the Commission shall be guided by the general consideration that the number of voters entitled to vote for the purposes of electing every member of the House of Assembly shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, be the same and the need to take account of special consideration such as the needs of sparsely populated areas, the practicably of elected members maintaining contact with electors in such areas, size, physical features, natural boundaries and geographical isolation.”

Instead of drawing boundary lines based on registered voters at some arbitrary date, the census figures would be an objective measurement of our population distribution. The argument is put forward that because of the language quoted above, and specifically the reference to “voters entitled to vote” that registered voters is the proper measurement. But this measurement is at an arbitrary point in time, Bahamians will register after the constituency boundary line determination, therefore making this so called statistical determination flawed. The language “voters entitled to vote” I argue includes all Bahamians over the age of 18 who by law have the option to register, and to vote.

It is my opinion that what we have before us today fails the guidelines and is simply an exercise of political gerrymandering. However, I believe the Bahamian People will stand tall and say to the Prime Minister, its no longer “politics as usual” in the Bahamas, its time for you to go, and a new day in Bahamian Politics be ushered in, a day where we see People over Politics in all Government deliberations. Mr. that is what I believe in, and that is what I am committed to. This is what the next Government of the Bahamas; a PLP Government will deliver to the Bahamian people

Conclusion

In conclusion, I want to be clear, the process we debate today is flawed, there are better ways to draw constituency boundary lines, I have given one proposal. The motives of this Government in creating these constituencies are likewise flawed, motivated out of fear and desperation, motivated out of the desire for personal vengeance. Despite the flaws, however, in what we see today, I want the Bahamian people, the constituents of Elizabeth, and the new constituents of Elizabeth that I will be the Member of Parliament for Elizabeth after the next general elections, I will represent your interest, and your communities in the fashion I always have, putting People over Politics. Your interests and concerns will be represented in the same fashion that I have over the last 18+ months, honestly, aggressively, and with the intent and desire to see the constituency of Elizabeth a safer and better place to live.

As my Leader said at the outset of the by election campaign there will be “No Retreat, No Surrender.”