So far, much of the coverage of the lead-up to the 2012 general election has been formulaic and insipid. Most of the coverage has focused on the speeches at the opening of various constituency headquarters.
The speeches contain the typical red meat and thrust and parry one expects to hear at political rallies. The press dutifully report the back and forth inclusive of the main points of the speeches particularly those of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Yet, there is something missing.
Both of the major parties have spoken of the critical issues of the economy and crime. While voters often enjoy the polemics and pageantry of election time, most can distinguish between electioneering and what the outcome of the election will mean in terms of policy and governance.
There is a famous quote that notes that while politicians campaign in poetry they must govern in prose. Poetry involves the rhetorical flourish of a campaign. Prose is concerned with the hard work of governance and getting things done.
While Perry Christie’s strong suit may be the art of rhetoric it is Hubert Ingraham who has excelled at the art of governance. Hence, the overriding theme of the election is leadership. The question in the end for voters is, after comparing the leadership of Perry Christie and Hubert Ingraham, who they believe can best lead in terms of the economy, crime and a complex of policy issues.
On the issue of crime the Ingraham administration introduced a comprehensive crime agenda over the past five years including an omnibus package of crime legislation. It would be a useful public service for the print and broadcast media to assess the details of the current Government’s anticrime measures.
The PLP has produced a booklet of its anti-crime measures and is running ads on the same. The press should assess the details of the Opposition’s approach to crime. The press should also assess the anticrime measures the PLP promised in its 2002 manifesto as well as the measures put in place by the Christie administration from 2002 to 2007.
As elections are about comparisons and choices the press can assist voters by reporting how the anticrime measures of the FNM and the PLP compare and contrast. And, what of the record of both parties in terms of legislation enacted and policies introduced.
The press can do the same kind of comparisons and contrasts on the economy and a host of issues from land policy and immigration to health care and education. This journal has editorialized that the Opposition’s promise to double the national education budget is far-fetched and near-impossible.
The Nassau Guardian has also shown that the PLP’s claim to have produced 22,000 jobs from 2002 to 2007 is insupportable in terms of employment numbers produced by the Department of Statistics.
This journal also opined in the context of various programmes proposed by the PLP: “Coherent and plausible plans on crime and the economy actually do not need quirky names. They simply need to work and have the will of a competent government behind them.”
This paper further noted:
“When a party announces multiple named programs at every speaking engagement, and it does not explain how they would be paid for, who would lead them and if they have been fully planned out, that party could come across as less than serious.”
Prime Minister has also announced a number of new proposals that the FNM will introduce if it wins re-election. These include a Sports Tourism Encouragement Act and a Summer Institute for boys leaving primary school for junior high. Some enterprising reporter might be dispatched to find out more details about these proposals.
There has been some clamour for debates during the course of the upcoming electoral contest. Why can’t such debates take place between representatives of the major parties sponsored by a media house such as The Nassau Guardian in collaboration with Cable 12?
One debate topic may be the economy and compare the approach of the PLP and the FNM on the global economic downturn as well as the future of the Bahamian economy. Perhaps the Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing can present for the FNM with Elizabeth MP Ryan Pinder, who has spoken repeatedly on economic issues, appearing for the PLP.
Independents and young voters tend to identify less with party labels and are not as interested in what might excite base voters. The former voters are more influenced by the quality of leadership, a party’s record and realistic and creative proposals for the future.
Most voters have come to expect little from most talk radio shows and television chat shows in terms of in-depth and informed discussions of the issues. Those programs are designed more to inflate and showcase the egos of their hosts.
Voters expect more from the mainline press in terms of the key issues in this election. Will the national press rise to the occasion in terms of better political journalism and creative reporting of the 2012 general election? Some attempts are being made in this direction. Still, there is much work to be done.