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May 11, 2010

Comments

Dexter Johnson

I have been for the past 10 years a lecturer in Constitutional law in the UWI LLB programme. I have produced several works on constitutional law and related topics including one entitled 'Critical Problems in Bahamian Constitutional law'. In this book I deal extensively with the subject of your article along with other unique problems that bedevil the Bahamian constitutional system.

Do you recall the SDP headed by Norman Solomon? It was the official opposition with its members including Mike Lightbourne, Pierre Dupuch, Noel Roberts, and Jimmy Knowles. At that time the FNM was in existence but had no parliamentarians.

The Social Democratic Party was organised and led by Mr Solomon in 1979 and served as opposition to the Pindling administration until 1981. You will recall that the dissident eight left the PLP to form the FNM in 1970, so the FNM was a third party all the time that the SDP was in existence.
Now the FNM is the government: surely this shows that a third party can be viable?

The arguments that were presented by the persons you canvassed do not do justice to the fundamental value of proportional representation.

I suggest that the media can do greater justice to its claim of an obligation to educate the Bahamian people if it would simply use the much richer palette of views available through the availability of the academic resources that we do possess.

In this case the matter of proportional representation and the matter of third parties would have been more comprehensively traversed.

I have been debating this issue with Arthur Foulkes on and off in the media for years now, and after I reminded him that his FNM was itself a third party he mitigated his tone against third parties.

In my books I support the argument for proportional representation, and I would be happy to supply you with a review copy.

The success of the FNM as a once third party will happen again to another third party. What interests me is the observation that I have made that for a third party to really succeed there is very often the 'cannabilisation' of one of the major parties.

In my view this is very likely to happen after the next general election in this country, and that point alone is one that had you sought my view as a trained academic, would have been worth discussing.

I am certain that you have not considered this aspect of the dynamic...which you would have if you had recalled the role of the SDP and what happened to it. It was cannabilised by the third party FNM...and the rest is history!

larry smith

Dexter, you are quite correct in retrospect - you would have been an ideal person to speak to, and I would be happy to revisit this issue in discussion with you.

However, I don't agree with you about the SDP (or the BDP) - those parties were just sitting FNMs who had a temporary difficulty with Cecil Wallace-Whitfield. They were short-lived artificial creations in my view, and I deliberately did not mention them in my article.

larry smith

By the way, the SDP mps were Norman Solomon, Jeanne Thompson, Jimmy Knowles and Keith Duncombe.

The political history of that period is convoluted. I addressed some of it in a recent article about Cecil Wallace-Whitfield.

"Although the stage was now set for a major political realignment, it would not be the quick or easy process that many had hoped for. The FNM's first test at the polls in a 1971 Andros bye-election was a total disaster. And in the 1972 general election - fought largely on the issue of independence - all of the PLP dissidents lost their seats, sending Whitfield into years of political seclusion.

"Former solicitor-general Sir Kendal Isaacs stepped in to lead the FNM. When he resigned due to ill health in early 1976, Whitfield re-emerged to became the effective leader again, but disputes over the selection of candidates for the 1977 general election led to a split. FNM parliamentarians rejected Whitfield and formed the short-lived Bahamian Democratic Party.

"Efforts to reunite the opposition produced another split when Norman Solomon set up the even shorter-lived Social Democratic Party. Eventually, Whitfield stood down as leader shortly before the 1982 general election, when the PLP increased its share of the vote to 57 per cent. But this time the FNM won all three seats on Grand Bahama, confirming that island as an opposition stronghold. And Whitfield convincingly took Pine Ridge - his first electoral success since 1968."

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