The question was one of five where citizens were as if they approved of;
1. the removal of gender discrimination from the constitution
2. the creation of a national commission to monitor the standards of teachers
3. the creation of an independent parliamentary commissioner
4. the creation of an independent election boundaries commission
5. the increase of the retirement ages of judges from 60 to 65 (or 68 to 72 for appellate judges)
The debate for ending the discrimination within the constitution started as early as 1997, where the FNM used as apart of their campaign platform, that it was their ‘commitment to improving the equality of the sexes’.
The then Prime Minister, Hubert Ingraham in “2002 noted that for far too long, the constitution has held double standards; a state of affairs that for too many years have deprived the children of Bahamian women, married to foreign nationals, of citizenship; and denied the foreign-born spouses of Bahamian women the right to be registered as Bahamians, a right granted by the Constitution to the spouses of Bahamian men.”
Subsequently on December 6th, 2001, the then Prime Minister informed Members of the House of Assembly that it was the government’s intention to have a referendum on the same day of the country’s upcoming general election, highlighting the discrimination question as the key issue for having the referendum.
But as the month long public debacle about the pending referendum commenced, the debate became contentious and political. The opposition said that the process regarding the referendum was unfair, subsequently they no longer support it. Perry Christie leader of the Opposition said this course of action was illegitimate and urged the Bahamian people to either not participate or vote no. And vote no they did.
All five questions were rejected by voters, with between 62.8 and 70.9% voting against.
November 26, 2012, marked the 50th anniversary of Bahamian women obtaining the right to vote in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. This event was celebrated with a joint parliamentary session, with members of both the Upper and Lower House in attendance.
Female parliamentarians read for the first time in the Lower House, a petition speech written by the late Dame Doris Johnson advocating the right for women to vote in the Bahamas; and the names of the leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the Bahamas were enshrined.
The special joint parliamentarian session ended with Prime Minister Perry Christie reconfirming his government’s pledge to hold a constitutional referendum by July 2013.
Clearly there were a number of issues which caused 2002 referendum to fail. The Bahamian populace felt that the referendum was rushed and a month of public discourse was not enough. Having the official opposition not supporting the referendum made the process contentious; That along with having the Prime minister stating that who so ever wins the referendum will win the general election, forced Bahamians to pick political sides.
But the question now is what went wrong during that last historic referendum, and should the Bahamian public be concern about such results happening again?
– By Cecil Newry