Freedom in the World
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Following a February 2010 by-election for the Elizabeth constituency seat, an election court in March overturned the ruling Free National Movement party’s narrow victory over the opposition Progressive Liberal Party.
The Bahamas, a former British colony, became an independent state within the Commonwealth in 1973. Lynden Pindling served as the country’s first prime minister and head of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) for a quarter-century. After years of allegations of corruption and involvement by high-ranking officials in narcotics trafficking, Pindling and the PLP were defeated by the Free National Movement (FNM) party in the 1992 elections.
The FNM ruled the Bahamas for 10 years under Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, until the 2002 elections brought the PLP, led by Perry Christie, back to power. In May 2007, the FNM triumphed at the polls, winning 23 parliamentary seats to the PLP’s 18, thereby restoring Ingraham to the premiership. Christie retained his position as leader of the opposition by winning an overwhelming majority of votes at the PLP leadership conference in October 2009.
Following the surprise resignation in January 2010 of PLP representative Malcolm Adderley, a by-election was called for February to fill the Elizabeth constituency seat. The governing FNM, the PLP, the newly formed National Development Party, the Workers’ Party, and the Bahamas Democratic Movement (BDM) all fielded candidates. The FNM was declared the winner by just two votes, a close result that was challenged by the PLP and triggered a mandatory recount. In March, an election court ruled in favor of the PLP, thus overturning the election-day results.
As the Caribbean’s only upper-income country, the Bahamas has established a model service economy based on an impressive tourism sector—which accounts for a large share of national income—and offshore financial services. However, the Bahamian tourism industry continues to suffer from the global economic crisis that struck in late 2008, posing new challenges for the Ingraham government. Marijuana cultivation and trafficking by foreign nationals residing in the country has led the United States to keep the Bahamas on the list of major drug-producing or drug-transit countries. In October 2010, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly landed on the island of Exuma to investigate Bahamian customs officials’ complicity in car theft and smuggling operations from the United States.
The Bahamas is an electoral democracy. The lower house of the bicameral Parliament, the 41-member House of Assembly, is directly elected for five-year terms. The 16 members of the upper house, the Senate, are appointed for five-year terms by the governor-general, who represents the British monarch as head of state. Nine of the senators are appointed on the recommendation of the prime minister, four on the recommendation of the opposition leader, and three on the recommendation of the prime minister after consulting with the opposition leader. The head of the majority party or coalition in Parliament typically serves as prime minister. Political parties can organize freely.
Corruption remains a problem at all levels of government. Top officials frequently face allegations of administrative graft, domestically and from abroad.
The Bahamas has a well-developed tradition of respecting press freedom. The privately-owned daily and weekly newspapers express a variety of views, as do the government-run radio station and four privately owned radio broadcasters. Strict and antiquated libel laws dating to British legal codes are seldom invoked. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
Religious and academic freedoms are respected.
Freedoms of association and assembly are protected. Constitutional guarantees of the right to form nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally respected, and human rights organizations have broad access to institutions and individuals. Labor, business, and professional organizations are also generally free from government interference. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent.
The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and a court of appeals, with the additional right of appeal to the Privy Council in London under certain circumstances. Some progress has been reported in reducing both the duration of court cases and the backlog of criminal appeals, though complaints of excessive pretrial detentions continue. In 2006, the Privy Council ruled that mandatory death sentences for individuals convicted of murder in the Bahamas are unconstitutional. In practice, the death penalty was last carried out in 2000.
NGOs have occasionally documented cases of prisoner abuse and arbitrary arrest. Overcrowding in the country’s prison remains a major problem, and juveniles are often housed with adults, increasing the risk of sexual abuse. The correctional training institute established in 2005 has worked to segregate violent and nonviolent offenders. However, the institute continues to face problems of limited capacity, including inadequate space to segregate offenders and insufficient numbers of trained personnel.
The Bahamas remains a major transit point for migrants coming from elsewhere in the Caribbean, especially Cuba and Haiti, in the hope of reaching the United States. Discrimination against Haitian immigrants persists, and between 30,000 and 40,000 recent Haitian immigrants reside illegally in the Bahamas. Strict citizenship requirements and a stringent work-permit system leave Haitians with few rights. The government halted the deportation of Haitians immediately following the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. However, as the financial crisis continued to weaken the country’s tourism sector—which is a main employer of undocumented workers—the government resumed its repatriation of undocumented immigrants in September, deporting approximately 900 Haitians by November.
The government is strongly opposed to homosexuality. However, the Bahamas spends more than US$1 million annually on antiretroviral drugs for HIV-infected patients. Gender equality has not been achieved, and only 12 percent of the seats in the Parliament are held by women. Domestic violence remains a problem.