More and more these weeks and months leading up to the coming general elections are being described in various quarters as the “silly season”.
That is meant, presumably, that the players in the ongoing political debate are prone to saying things they would not ordinarily say, making charges and laying blames they know could never be substantiated, and generally entering into exchanges which are frivolous and sometimes asinine when there are genuine and pressing issues crying out for sensible argument.
To a degree, perhaps all that is fine, providing as it does a kind of comic relief – as Shakespeare often insinuated in his tragedies – in between the heavy sessions concentrating on the planks of the manifestos of the various contending political organisations.
Politicians of all shades are often fascinated by large crowds, particularly crowds of their own known supporters, and the more the crowd applauds and wave pom-poms and and yell for more, the more the speaker heaps on what often is largely and perhaps essentially bull, with some of them actually dancing to the music.
All that has become part of the silly season, when the chief objective is to impress the electorate to the extent that on election day the people will respond by voting for the most impressive party or individual.
Already, even before there is an indication of whether election day will be weeks or months away, the remarks of vitriol and vituperation have begun flying fast and to an extent furiously, with parties charging against one another with political ferocity.
Of course the insinuation of the Democratic National Alliance into the fray has tended to make a difference in the ongoing tenor of the debate, but that has only added a third dimension to what in this season, for a good part of the electorate, is reduced to little more than confusion.
Up through the years there have been incidents during campaigns which may have been considered ridiculous or laughable, but which, at the end of the day, have actually helped to dull the sharp edge of the constant contention.
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Back in 1946, for example, when the late Sir Henry Taylor tested the political waters for the first time, he encountered a variety of situations on the campaign trail which were alternately hilarious and heart-breaking.
Taylor, who seven years later was to become one of the three founders of the Progressive Liberal Party, had offered as a candidate for his native Long Island in a a bye-election necessitated by the resignation from the House of Assembly of the representative, Guilbert Dupuch.
Taylor was virtually penniless at the time, and in fact had to search around for the fifty pounds for his nomination fee. Yet this penniless man, who years later would become the third governor general of the Bahamas, had the gall to boast that he would not pay a penny for a vote.
His opponent in the face was Alexander Knowles, a successful farmer whose son, James, would one day represent Long Island in the House an serve as a cabinet minister in the Free National Movement government.
It was a rough campaign for the penniless Henry Taylor, but he roughed it and toughed it against a strong and well heeled adversary, some of whose campaign generals began spreading the word that Taylor was a heavy drinker and therefore not fit to sit in the House of Assembly.
One night when he was speaking during a campaign meeting in Glinton’s in the north of the island, when he knew that a cousin of Alexander Knowles was in the audience. He told the crowd that he was well aware of the accusations that he was a drunkard.
“I am not a drunkard,” he said, “but I have been talking to you for the last hour, and my throat is dry. Have any of you gentlemen in he audience a bottle in your pocket? Please bring it to the platform that that I can relieve my thirst.”
Several bottles were brought up, and Taylor took a sip from each.
“Now, gentlemen, if any of you do not drink, I want you to vote for the teetotaler, Mr, Alexander Knowles. Those of you that drink, please vote for me. I guarantee that I will beat him.”
Henry Taylor lost that election, but went on the win the seat in the general election of 1949.
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Sometimes the silly season turned tragic, as during the campaign for the fateful 1972 general election, the first in which the then infant Free National Movement was a contender.
The body of an FNM supporter and campaign worker, Barry Major from Grant’s Town, was murdered in Perpall Tract. There was an extended investigation, and his killers were eventually executed.
Then there were those incidents in the 1956 general elections which cold hardly have altered the outcome of that poll, but which were learning trees. The PLP had been established in 1953, and offered a full slate of 29 candidates in New Providence and the Out Islands.
One of those incidents involved the West End seat in Grand Bahama where the party’s candidate went missing on nomination day, and so he Bay Street candidate won the seat by acclamation. One report was that the PLP’s man had been “detained” in South Florida and couldn’t get back in time.
Another story was that he had received a handsome gift of several hundred pounds, via Bay Street, not to nominate.
Then there was the election in Acklins and Crooked Island, where the PLP’s candidate was young A. Loftus Roker.
The PLP had won four seats in New Providence, and one of the victors, Randol Fawkes, was traveling by mailboat to Crooked Island to assist the young candidate during the last days of the campaign there.
Apparently on that trip Roker revealed to Randol Fawkes that he, Loftus, was not quite 21, the legal voting age, which also meant the legal age for nominating to run for a seat.
The late Eugene Dupuch won the seat, and it was said that through the discretion of Kendal G.L. Isaacs, who was then Solicitor General, that legal action was not taken against Loftus Roker, who in later years was elected to the House of Assembly and served in several cabinet posts in the PLP government.
Most likely general elections this year will not take place until somewhat nearer the summer, and so the silly season will have to be endured for some time yet. The angry exchanges will continue, with even close friends or relatives lashing out in political anger, most of which will be regretted when the elections are over.
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In the meantime, the season must be endured, and Bahamians might find some solace in the story of an eastern monarch who had seen and done just about everything and, bored, he summoned some of his wisest advisors and ask them to go and search for an expression that would bring him hope.
They searched diligently, and after a time returned to the monarch and handed him a parchment on which they had written, “And this too shall pass away.”
So it shall. So it shall.