The Bahamas ruling party concedes election to opposition

Free National Movement Opposition Leader Hubert Minnis after voting in the Bahamas’ national election on Wednesday. Minnis says he has reports of voting problems in at least five constituencies.
Free National Movement Opposition Leader Hubert Minnis after voting in the Bahamas’ national election on Wednesday. Minnis says he has reports of voting problems in at least five constituencies.

The chairman of the Bahamas’ ruling Progressive Liberal Party conceded the national election Wednesday to the country’s main opposition party, the Free National Movement, less than an hour after the last polling station closed and before all the votes were counted.

“The voice of the people is the voice of God,” Bradley Roberts said, as he announced the party will go into rebuilding mode. 

It was still unclear how many of the 39 seats up for grabs would go to the FNM and its leader Hubert Minnis. The winner of the election is expected to control the government over the next five years. But supporters wasted no time heading to a victory rally.

The vote means the Bahamas, with 180,000 registered voters, has become the latest in the English-speaking Caribbean to kick out the ruling party and usher in the opposition. Over the last two years, the Turks and Caicos, St. Lucia, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Montserrat all did the same.

“I called Dr. Minnis earlier this evening to congratulate him on his party’s victory,” Prime Minister Perry Christie said about an hour after Roberts conceded. “I understand as perhaps few others, the challenges that await Dr. Minnis, and I wish him only success on behalf of our nation. He has my full support for a smooth transition.”

The last polling station closed in the Elizabeth constituency on New Providence at 8:15 p.m., more than two hours after most polls closed. 

Earlier in the day, voting had been marred by complaints resulting in a temporary suspension of voting for more than an hour early Wednesday after FNM candidate Duane Sands complained that unused ballots from last week’s chaotic advance voting were missing and a ballot box had no seal. The government extended voting hours for some polling places.

Sands’ complaints were dismissed by an attorney with the PLP, but not before some frustrated voters left the voting site. The Organization of American States (OAS), which had a team of 11 election observers fanned out across New Providence and Grand Bahama, immediately dispatched someone to follow up on the complaints.

“I’m hoping that all the reports amount to very little because it is difficult for anyone to make a judgment to suspend voting and I’m hoping that that kind of experience can be avoided,” Christie told reporters during a ceremony at the Royal Defense Force Base early Wednesday. “I find it inconceivable that there could be any kind of intent to deceive or intent to confuse. We think we have put in place the personnel to prevent that.”

Minnis said he had reports of voting irregularities in at least five constituencies, the Nassau Guardian reported.

On Wednesday afternoon, Parliamentary Commissioner Charles Albury issued a statement that “due to some technical problems related to a few ballots,” voting in the Elizabeth constituency would be extended 26 minutes past the normal 6 p.m. closing. Voting hours at the polling station that Sands complained about were extended until 8:15 p.m. Voting was also extended until 8 p.m. at a polling station in Seabreeze.

Albury maintained that “no irregularities were discovered in the electoral process” in those constituencies.

Sherry Tross, chief of mission for the OAS Electoral Observation Mission, said that observers did hear reports of late opening polls, missing ballots and other concerns at some polling stations throughout the day. Observers, she said, were deployed to see the problems firsthand.

“For those polling stations that I have observed, things have moved pretty smoothly. We know that when the polls opened this morning that there were large numbers of people, which really attest to the enthusiasm of the Bahamian people to exercise their right to vote,” she said. “The polling workers at the places we were at were very prepared, very professional, and things went well.” 

The election pitted Christie’s PLP against the FNM, the main opposition. 

Christie’s government, which came into power in 2012 after winning against the FNM, struggled to address the country’s double-digit unemployment, rising crime and a sluggish economy. The government also has been dogged with corruption allegations involving some ministers.

“The Progressive Liberal Party remains painfully aware that many of our people are still hurting — our policies have not touched all of our citizens, but sometimes big changes take time,” Roberts told Bahamian voters on the eve of the vote.