The Bahamas

PR Political Rights 38 40
CL Civil Liberties 53 60
Last Year's Score & Status
91 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

The Bahamas is a stable democracy where political rights and civil liberties are generally respected. However, the islands have a relatively high homicide rate. Harsh immigration policies, which mainly affect Haitian-Bahamians and Haitian migrants, are often executed in the absence of due process. Government corruption is a serious problem that is thought to have had significant economic consequences.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • In June, opposition lawmaker Adrian Gibson was charged with abuse of power over his conduct as chairman of the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC). His trial is expected to begin in 2023.
  • In August, Attorney General L. Ryan Pinder said the government would amend the Bahamas Nationality Act to bring gender equality to citizenship.
  • In September, Prime Minister Philip Davis said the government would hold a referendum on whether The Bahamas should become a republic but did not specify a date. The British monarch is currently the head of state.
  • Sam Bankman-Fried, chief executive of the Bahamas-headquartered cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was arrested and extradited to the United States in December, a month after the firm filed for bankruptcy in a US court. FTX lawyers accused Bahamian regulators of colluding with Bankman-Fried to impact the firm’s bankruptcy proceedings in December, while the government vehemently objected to criticism of its conduct.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The Bahamas is governed under a parliamentary system, and a mostly ceremonial governor-general is appointed by the British monarch as head of state.

The prime minister is head of government and is appointed by the governor-general; the office is usually held by the leader of the largest party in Parliament or the head of a parliamentary coalition. In September 2021, Philip Davis became prime minister after the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won that month’s parliamentary election.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

Members of the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament, the 39-member House of Assembly, are directly elected to five-year terms. The 16 members of the Senate are appointed for five-year terms by the governor-general based on recommendations made by the prime minister and the opposition leader.

The PLP won 32 House of Assembly seats in the September 2021 elections, defeating the ruling Free National Movement (FNM). The Coalition of Independents and the Democratic National Alliance respectively won over 6 and 1 percent of the vote but won no seats. Turnout stood at 65 percent, a relatively low figure. Organization of American States (OAS) monitors praised the electoral process and COVID-19-related protocols.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4.004 4.004

The electoral process is regulated by the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) and generally well managed by the Parliamentary Registration Department. The parliamentary commissioner heads the department and is appointed by the governor-general acting on the recommendation of the prime minister after consultation with the opposition leader.

After the PEA was amended in 2020, electoral authorities implemented a continuous voter register, which was used in the 2021 polls. In its postelectoral report, the OAS warned that individuals who were not included in the 2017 voter list or who did not register by the August 2021 election announcement may have been disenfranchised. The OAS reiterated prior calls to digitize voter registration and issue campaign-finance regulations.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4.004 4.004

Political parties organize freely and operate unhindered. However, as electoral financing is not regulated, there is no legal obligation to disclose funding sources and no limit on campaign spending.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

Opposition parties operate without undue interference. Political power has alternated between the PLP and the FNM since the country achieved independence in 1973.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4.004 4.004

Voters and candidates are generally able to exercise their political choices freely. However, a lack of campaign-finance regulations leaves open avenues for the outsized role of money in politics.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4.004 4.004

Only citizens may vote, and protracted citizenship and naturalization proceedings make achieving citizenship difficult for children born in The Bahamas to foreign parents. This predominantly affects children of Haitian immigrants.

Women are politically underrepresented. In its 2021 postelectoral report, the OAS noted that women do not often seek office, in part due to “gendered perceptions of politics” and social pressure. The OAS nevertheless noted an increase in women candidates. Seven women won House of Assembly seats. Four women were appointed to the Senate. Women additionally serve as speakers of both houses.

Openly LGBT+ people are not overtly represented in politics.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4.004 4.004

Freely elected officials are generally unhindered in determining policy.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

Anticorruption mechanisms are relatively weak. There is no agency specifically empowered to handle allegations of government corruption. Rates of reporting corruption are low, as whistleblowers fear retaliation. The PLP vowed to establish an independent anticorruption body and an ombudsman after taking power but did not do so by the end of 2022.

In June 2022, FNM parliamentarian Adrian Gibson was charged with abuse of power while he served as chairman of the WSC. Gibson had stepped down as chairman in 2021 after facing allegations of misconduct. His trial is expected to begin in 2023.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3.003 4.004

Government procurement processes lack transparency, and political parties and campaigns are not required to disclose their finances. Legislators and other high-ranking public officials must disclose their income and assets annually under the Public Disclosure Act but often fail to submit the required information on time, without penalty.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) of 2019 aims to improve transparency of public-sector spending. The FRA created an independent oversight and enforcement body, the Fiscal Responsibility Council. The Public Procurement Act (PPA), which is meant to ensure transparency in government contracts, took effect in 2021. In October 2022, Prime Minister Davis tabled a new bill to replace the PPA, calling it “deficient.”

The Bahamian government faced criticism over the collapse of FTX, a major cryptocurrency exchange that filed for bankruptcy in the United States in November 2022. FTX collapsed after a press report suggested that chief executive Sam Bankman-Fried used FTX’s cryptocurrency as collateral in other loans, prompting customers to withdraw from the exchange. In early November, the Securities Commission of The Bahamas (SCB) called on the national police to investigate FTX over concerns that it was mismanaging assets in a manner that amounted to a crime. In December, the SCB disclosed that it had seized FTX assets worth $3.5 billion in November and said it would return those assets to creditors and customers. The firm’s lawyers accused Bahamian regulators of colluding with Bankman-Fried to impact bankruptcy proceedings. The government in Nassau, meanwhile, vehemently objected to criticism of its conduct regarding FTX.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3.003 4.004

Press freedom in The Bahamas is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. Privately owned newspapers and radio broadcasters freely express a variety of views, although partisanship is common. Libel is a rarely enforced criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Religious freedom is generally respected.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic institutions are generally free from political pressure and other interference.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

People can freely express their views without fear of retribution or surveillance. However, ordinary Bahamians can face libel charges.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected and is respected in practice.

Prince William and Princess Catherine of the United Kingdom visited The Bahamas in March 2022; protesters called for reparations for slavery during that visit. In October, Lincoln Bain, leader of the Coalition of Independents, and eight supporters were arrested after police tried to move their protest away from the steps of Parliament, which the protesters allegedly resisted.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of association is generally protected, and a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in the country. A 2019 NGO registration law required NGOs to declare sources of contributions and donations and account for annual income and expenditures.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4.004 4.004

Labor, business, and professional organizations are generally free from government interference. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

The judicial system is headed by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, with the additional right of appeal to the London-based Privy Council under certain circumstances.

The Bahamian judiciary is independent. In 2021, the Bahamas Bar Association called for legislation to better codify judicial independence. The Inter-American Development Bank has suggested separating the public prosecutor and attorney general’s offices to ensure independence.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

Due process in civil and criminal matters generally prevails. However, the government only appoints counsel to defendants in capital cases, leaving some people without legal representation.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4.004 4.004

Homicide and violent crime rates in The Bahamas remain among the highest in the Caribbean. In August 2022, Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander said there were 85 murders over the year to date, a 21 percent increase over the same period in 2021. However, state security agents generally do not engage in the illegal use of force against civilians, and the population is not threatened by large-scale violence or insurgencies. Prison conditions, meanwhile, are poor.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2.002 4.004

The constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. LGBT+ people continue to report discrimination in employment and housing. LGBT+ advocates celebrated the country’s third annual Pride week in October 2022.

Harsh immigration policies enacted in 2014 target Haitian-Bahamians and Haitian migrants, requiring them to carry a passport and residency permits. The government prioritizes Bahamian citizens for hiring, land grants, and shelter in hurricane relief centers, and has pursued removal of shantytowns that primarily house migrants.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

The freedom of movement is protected. Migrants and Haitian-Bahamians’ ability to move freely is affected by their lack of Bahamian identity documents, however.

Roadblocks have been erected as part of immigration enforcement actions.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4.004 4.004

The country has a strong private sector, and the economy relies mostly on tourism and financial services. Individuals are free to establish businesses.

The government has worked to dismantle shantytowns in recent years. In 2021, a Supreme Court judge expanded an existing injunction to prohibit the dismantlement of any unregulated community in Abaco. In October 2022, Attorney General Pinder said the government was preparing contempt proceedings over structures that were erected in Abaco in apparent violation of that injunction. That same month, the Spanish Wells Commonage Committee announced a one-year construction ban in the Blackwood shantytown.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3.003 4.004

The government does not place explicit restrictions on social freedoms. However, the constitution distinguishes between Bahamian men and women in the transmission of citizenship to a spouse or child, resulting in distinctions in treatment of married Bahamian women’s children and their foreign-born husbands.

In a 2020 ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed the granting of Bahamian citizenship to a Bahamian-born child regardless of the gender or marital status of their Bahamian parent. The Court of Appeal upheld that ruling in 2021. The former FNM government vowed to appeal to the Privy Council. In August 2022, Pinder said the incumbent PLP government would legislate to allow men and women to pass citizenship onto children.

Violence against women, including domestic violence and marital rape, is a serious issue. Same-sex marriage is not legalized.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

The Bahamas is a source, destination, and transit country for forced labor and sexual exploitation. According to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2022, the government made significant efforts to address trafficking. Migrant workers, many of whom arrive in The Bahamas to work in the agricultural sector and in domestic services, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

On The Bahamas

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  • Global Freedom Score

    91 100 free