Through the analysis of election laws and citizenship provisions, and their historical development, this project seeks to investigate to which extent the state invited - or prevented - first colonial subjects and later citizens of the independent Bahamas to participate in political processes.
When the Bahamas’ first parliament convened in 1729, only approximately 250 persons out of a total population of approximately 1,400 were eligible to vote. The first election that could be described as adhering to the principle of one-person, one-vote was that of 1967. Expanding the suffrage was the result of battles fought between the three fronts of the white Bahamian oligarchy, known as the Bay Street Boys, controlling the colony’s legislature, London-appointed colonial administrators as well as the broad masses of the Bahamian population and their political vanguard.
When World War I shattered the illusion of Britishness amongst colonial subjects of the Bahamas, it set in motion a slow reform process that focussed first on education and the introduction of the secret ballot. After World War II reform movements became more organised. The first political party was founded in 1953, and an organised women’s suffrage movement succeeded in securing for women the right to vote in 1961. The 1960s brought about constitutional changes introducing ministerial government following the Westminster model, which was retained after independence. However, the small size of many postcolonial nations - and thus their legislatures - presents a particular challenge preventing the Westminster system from functioning as intended, instead leading to a “tyranny of cabinet” with an overpowering executive controlling a largely dependent legislature.
With independence in 1973, new citizenship provisions came into effect. These were mostly enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution, but partly defined by the new Nationality Act of the same year. Constitutional entitlement to citizenship is now derived from a largely patrilineal application of ius sanguinis with added elements of ius soli. It must be noted that the independence constitution was negotiated between Bahamian politicians and British officials at Clarence House in London; at the time, these provisions were not uniquely crafted to meet Bahamian postcolonial sentiments, but very much in line with British nationality law.
In 2002, an attempt was made to change the constitution. Amongst other things, the proposals sought to remove the gendered language as well as the common law principle of filius nullius from the citizenship provisions, allowing the children of Bahamian men and women equal claim to citizenship. While voters rejected the proposals at the polls, the topic of gender discrimination has remained in the public debate. Thus, in 2014, Prime Minister Christie, who, as Leader of the Opposition, had led the campaign against the first referendum, proposed a new, similar attempt at reducing inequality in the Constitution.
Bahamian historiography has focussed heavily on the socio-political aspects of the so-called Quiet Revolution in the Bahamas, for which it has defined a narrow time frame of two decades at most. I submit that extending the time frame to include even the early twentieth century as well as the present-day Bahamas, and shifting the focus towards constitutional and other legal developments will demonstrate that the Quiet Revolution was never finished, but rather abandoned once political power had been wrested from the Bay Street Boys. The result could be described an independent nation of dependent subjects.