The government of Perry Christie was swept from office in an election defeat on 10 May that the news site Tribune 242 termed a ‘rout’. Heralding ‘a new era in Bahamian politics’, Tribune reported that nearly all of Christie’s Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) ministers and senior members had lost their seats as the Free National Movement swept to a landslide victory, winning 34 of the 39 seats contested. The FNM’s leader, Dr Hubert Minnis, became only the fourth prime minister in the Bahamas’ 44 years of independence.
It was a crushing blow for Christie, who served two five-year terms as prime minister and was the country’s longest-serving parliamentarian. Throwing a shadow over the election, and over politics in the Bahamas for more than a decade, were the towers of the vast $4.2bn Baha Mar resort. As an MP for 40 years, despite being beset by controversy over Baha Mar, Christie had good reason to feel confident, even claiming he had on the ‘full armour of God’ and joking that ‘God can’t stop me now’. As the rhetoric became more heated, the Bahamas Weekly ran verbatim statements from the PLP’s Michael Darville accusing their FNM rivals of nefarious goings-on and Minnis in turn accusing the PLP of corruption.
Turnout was down on 2012 and 2007, but still an impressive 87%, the Nassau Guardian reported. The Caricom observers gave the election ‘high marks’, with the only significant criticism being a call for more modern technology in the voter registration. Caricom said the polls were ‘of a very high standard comparable with anywhere else in the region’. The interim statement of the Commonwealth Observer Group also gave the election its blessing, as did the Organization of American States. Not everyone was convinced, however. The Bahamas Press declared ‘something sinister’ had occurred. ‘A constituency like West End and Bimini where more than 300 voters cannot be identified or found! What in da hell is dis?’ it asked.
The resort and the election
Baha Mar, which has three hotels with some 2,300 rooms, a huge casino and 1,500 employees (with plans for 5,500) over its 4 sq km, became the ‘world’s biggest white elephant’, the Independent said last year, when it reported on the legal dispute between the Swiss-born local businessman Sarkis Izmirlian and a Chinese state-owned construction firm and bank after Baha Mar filed for bankruptcy protection. The London newspaper said the delay in opening had ‘put the Bahamian state economy under threat and placed China’s reputation as a credible partner on international construction deals under the spotlight’.
According to Global Construction Review, Minnis called the Christie government’s deal with the resort’s eventual Chinese buyer, the Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, a ‘brazen theft of our country’s assets’. Far from seeing ownership of the island’s biggest enterprise move abroad, GCR said: ‘The audacious Baha Mar resort was meant to have boosted the fortunes of the tiny island nation, which has suffered from economic stagnation.’
Christie opened part of the mega-resort in late April, weeks before the election – and more than a decade after work began, the New York Times reported. However, Minnis is known to be sceptical about the resort and it remains to be seen how many of the grandiose promises made 12 years ago will be realised. Either way, it has became an epitaph for Christie.
Oren Gruenbaum is the Editor of Commonwealth Update, published in the Round Table Journal.