Roberts: Darron Cash is ignorant of particulars of failed 2002 referendum

Bradley Roberts

Bradley B. Roberts
National Chairman
Progressive Liberal Party

29th November 2012

When FNM Chair Darron Cash claimed in the media that the Progressive Liberal Party was ‘rewriting history’ over women’s rights, he was being either willfully ignorant or intellectually dishonest about the circumstances surrounding the failed 2002 referendum on gender equality among other issues.

PLP leader Perry Christie was clear and specific when at a Forum at the College of The Bahamas on 30th January 2002, he pointed out the fundamental flaws with the referendum. Mr. Christie pointed out that the framing of the questions on the ballot did not fairly represent the bill passed in the House. He said that the framing of the question on foreign spouses for example “deceives the voter in voting for something that is not even in the bill. It seeks to fool people into believing that if the bill becomes law it will give foreign spouses an automatic right to Bahamian citizenship after five years of marriage. The bill will do no such thing. That is why I say that the question is based on fraudulent and fictitious premises.”

Mr. Christie also questioned whether both Houses of Parliament would have to ratify the bills passed in Parliament a second time because the bills would have died with the dissolution of the House after the referendum would have taken place.

Further, the late Paul Adderley, the former Attorney General argued that Article 54 of the constitution would have to be amended to legally empower the Government to amend Article 54 to alter the entrenched provisions of the Constitution. Mr. Christie felt that these situations among others were sufficiently unclear and the implications far reaching enough for the referendum to be withdrawn and for further consultation to take place.

Mr. Cash must agree that the then FNM government conceded that the referendum process was fundamentally flawed when the then Prime Minister dropped the sixth and final question from the ballot without any explanation for why it was not included in the proclamation for the writ of the referendum. That question would have approved of an amendment to the constitution that would give a five-year spousal permit to work in The Bahamas and then the right to citizenship for all spouses of Bahamians.

The FNM government was the driver of the process and content of the referendum, framed all of the questions and any confusion in the public domain was the result of the gross mishandling of the same by the governing Free National Movement.

It is important to note that both the Anglican and Catholic Archbishops called for more consultations and a delay in the vote. This sentiment was echoed by the Bahamas Christian Council. It did not help the (FNM) government’s case when the then Prime Minister publicly attacked the Catholic Archbishop over his views. The PLP for its part and given its own concerns about the referendum, sided with the church and protested the flawed process and today we do not apologize for taking that stand.

Given the history of the role of the Progressive Liberal Party in the fight for social justice for all and in particular the women’s right to vote, nobody can credibly challenge the PLP’s commitment to gender equality.

I urge Mr. Cash to go back in time and research in detail the history of the PLP and the specific circumstances surrounding the failed 2002 referendum. The record will clearly show that the PLP never opposed equality for women, but vigorously opposed the FNM’s gross mishandling of an event with such critical importance to our democracy and way of life.