Listening to talk shows or political campaign speeches, it is obvious that the criteria for making a choice between parties or candidates are very vague. When pressed for a reason for their support, answers from voters sound like this:

“I’m looking for someone who has the interest of the country at heart”.

“I want someone who believes in Bahamian first.”

“It’s time to give someone else a chance.”

“You cyan’ do much worse dan ‘dis!”

When asked to explain how these statements help identify a choice, the explanations are even mare vague. Frustrated respondents make reference to one of three beliefs:

  1. The belief that people go into politics primarily to line their own pockets.
  2. The belief that political power is used to unfairly benefit “friends and family”.
  3. The belief that Government should take care of their personal needs, as represented by their mortgage, their child’s schooling or their ability to find a job.

In other words, as long as a candidate or their party would promise to take care of us – by finding us jobs, negotiating high salaries, offering free education, healthcare or electricity – whether they actually know how to do the job they are applying for or not is not important. After all, others in the past have proven incompetent, and the country is still standing!

This seems a little fatalistic to me. At least during the interview process, we should require applicants to present something that shows that they know what the job is, and have both the commitment and the ability to do it. Declaring that the present staff is incompetent or that the other applicants have no experience is just not good enough.

What makes this process even more difficult is that it’s necessary to recognize that the voter’s choice is not one choice, but two. First, there is the choice of the party whose policies a voter would like to see in place. Government is formed by the party that forms the government, not by the individual candidates, and citizens should know what policies would deliver good government so as to make that first choice. Then, and only then does the choice of the individual candidate become relevant. Candidates must be able to discuss their party’s policies with voters and to commit to support them. But without knowing the requirements of good government, any choice is simply based upon emotion, more often than not just desperation.

So, I have a suggestion. For those who may be looking for a guideline for assessing the success of a government or to evaluate those seeking support to run the government, and assuming that the government’s purpose really is to provide for the satisfaction of the basic needs of its people, I suggest the use of Maslow’s list of human needs to help define the job.

Need #1: Food and Shelter

The way Government ensures the sustained ability to meet the basic, physical survival needs of its citizens is by developing and maintaining adequate trade and a healthy economy. All other services require that these are healthy. Therefore candidates and their parties must be able to demonstrate an understanding of the structure and workings of both trade and the economy, and to present strategies for expanding both.

Need #2: Safety and Security

What makes us feel safe primarily is the rule of law and the institutionalization of the protective agencies. The proper functioning of the justice system and the constant improvement of the framework for the application of the law is the most important form of satisfaction.

Need #3: Belonging

The development of communities requires government to recognize that communities exist, and to develop those agents that provide for the sharing of the value systems and traditions that create and strengthen them. Cultural activity, both formal and informal, is the primary agent for the sustained development of communities, local and national. Government must provide the facilities and opportunities for expanded cultural expression.

Need #4: Self Worth

The sharing of history and of the accomplishments of the members of the community are the most important activities in the satisfaction of this need. Parties and candidates should understand the importance of historical preservation, the teaching of history, monument-building, cultural activity, civic design and the honouring of locally-defined heroes.

Need #5: Self Actualization

This is about “being all you can be”. It is about dreaming. It is about the creation of a mindset that celebrates the act of dreaming, reduces the social impact of failure and provides the infrastructure for self-improvement. It is not about the safety of welfare or protection from the outside world, but rather the pursuit of personally-defined dreams. Both the parties and the candidates must commit to facilitating that pursuit.

Today we are inches from the milestone of another election. We speak of our democracy and our political maturity. It must, by now, be time to demand that political parties and candidates speak of the satisfaction of the real basic needs of the Bahamian citizenry, not just about the dis-honesty or self-destructive behavior of their opponents, or trying to excite us with promises of “free” stuff.

Political parties exist to offer alternative ways to address the satisfaction of our needs. Maybe it’s time for us to require them to do so, or to stop wasting our time, our energy or, most importantly, our dreams for the future.