NASSAU –– Bahamians have rejected changes to the Constitution that the government had said were aimed at ensuring gender equality in citizenship matters, with the majority voting “no” in Tuesday’s referendum.
Official results are not expected until this afternoon, but Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall said preliminary figures showed that the four bills which would have facilitated the changes were soundly rejected by the electorate.
The first bill would have allowed children born abroad to obtain Bahamian citizenship from either their Bahamian father or mother, in circumstances where the other parent is not Bahamian; the second would have enabled a Bahamian woman who marries a non-Bahamian man to secure for him the same ability to apply for Bahamian citizenship currently afforded to a Bahamian man married to a non-Bahamian woman; the third change would have seen an unmarried Bahamian man being able to pass on his Bahamian citizenship to a child fathered with a non-Bahamian woman, if he is able to provide DNA evidence that he is the father; and the fourth amendment would have updated Article 26 of the Constitution, to make it unconstitutional for Parliament to pass any laws that discriminate based on sex.
The outcome of Tuesday’s referendum was disappointing for the Perry Christie administration which had run an aggressive Vote Yes campaign.
Prime Minister Christie described it as a “setback” but said the referendum was fair, transparent and open and the voice of the people would be respected and honoured.
“I will never stop believing that our sons and daughters deserve equal rights in our Constitution and equal treatment under our laws. We believe that when the dust clears, there will be room and time for proper reflection. Although Tuesday’s rejection of the gender equality bills is clearly a setback for the programme of constitutional reform, it is by no means an end to it,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
“Instead the programme of constitutional reform must continue. How, when and in what form it will continue will be the subject of further consultations with my Cabinet, the Constitutional Commission, the Opposition and civil society.”
But Opposition Leader Hubert Minnis has contended that the population’s vote in the referendum should send a strong message to the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration.
“The results were clearly a rejection of the PLP Government who unfairly favoured one side above another,” he said in a statement released Wednesday.
The Free National Movement (FNM) leader also pointed to a number of failings leading up to and on voting day, including government funding the Yes campaign while at the same time denying funding to the No campaign; persons being denied their fundamental right to cast their ballot; entry to polling stations denied to observers from the FNM; polls opening and balloting proceeding before the FNM observers were allowed in the room; and the unavailability of hard copies of the register of voters.
“These irregularities are of great concern to us, especially in light of the upcoming general elections, and we wish to put the government on notice that these irregularities must be fixed. In light of this, the Free National Movement will demand that international organizations be invited to observe The Bahamas general elections in 2017,” Minnis said.