Bahamas go to poll in tight election overshadowed by COVID-19

The Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, United States, September 27, 2019. REUTERS / Lucas Jackson

NASSAU, Sept. 16 (Reuters) – Bahamians went to the polls on Thursday to elect a new government as the Atlantic island chain continued to suffer from a continued rise in COVID-19 cases and the collapse of the economy dependent on tourism due to the pandemic.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis of the Free National Movement (FNM) hopes to become the first prime minister in 24 years to win a second five-year term. But his party was neck and neck with the opposition Liberal Progressive Party (PLP) in the polls ahead of the snap elections.

The PLP has focused its campaign on what it says is the government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak and the economy which has seen unemployment soar to around 20% and the budget deficit swell during the pandemic.

Some 119 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Wednesday, bringing the active number to 1,679 in a country of just 400,000 people, while the positivity rate has hovered around 25% in the past six weeks.

Julian Rolle, chairman of the Public Hospitals Authority, told Bahamian media that it had become difficult to properly staff health facilities as around 5-10% of staff were quarantined due to the exposure to the virus.

“We can continue to wander aimlessly under the visionless, inept and scandalized Free National Movement, or we can usher in greater transparency, equality and prosperity with the PLP,” PLP leader Philip Davis told voters at the meeting. of his campaign rally on the eve of the election.

Minnis countered that the PLP cannot be trusted to revive one of the most prosperous economies in the Atlantic-Caribbean region where tourism accounts for around 50 percent of production and 60 percent of jobs.

Under his leadership, the Bahamas received a record 1.8 million visitors in 2019 and Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar has said he is targeting 1 million arrivals by air for 2021.

“The PLP is a threat to the economic progress that has started,” Minnis said Wednesday at his party’s last rally. “They would stop a lot of the projects that we started.”

Whichever party wins, it will face formidable challenges in power due to COVID-19 and its continued health and economic impact. The scattered archipelago stretching from eastern Florida to near Cuba is also rebuilding itself after being hit in 2019 by Hurricane Dorian, one of the Caribbean’s strongest hurricanes on record. , which has killed several hundred people in the Bahamas and left tens of thousands homeless.

The national debt stood at $ 10.356 billion at the end of June 2021, according to the Bahamas Ministry of Finance, which projects a budget deficit of $ 951 million for 2021-2022.

Gowon Bowe, managing director of Fidelity Bank (Bahamas), a publicly traded bank, told Reuters: “The reality is that we don’t have much leeway left. There will be no honeymoon for a new administration. to be right about the business because there are a lot of things we need to fix. “

Reporting by Neil Hartnell in Nassau Editing by Sarah Marsh and Alistair Bell

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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