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Complaints about voting irregularities mar Bahamas vote

Issues with ballots caused voting to be temporarily suspended and hours extended at some polling stations in the Bahamas on Wednesday during the country’s national election.

At one polling station on the island of New Providence, the vote in the Elizabeth constituency was halted for more than an hour after Free National Movement opposition candidate Duane Sands complained that unused ballots from last week’s chaotic advance voting were missing and a ballot box had no seal.

Sands’ complaints were dismissed by an attorney with the ruling Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), but not before some frustrated voters left the voting site.

“I’m hoping that all the reports amount to very little because it is difficult for anyone to make a judgment to suspend voting and I’m hoping that that kind of experience can be avoided,” Prime Minister Perry Christie told reporters during a ceremony at the Royal Defense Force Base Wednesday. “I find it inconceivable that there could be any kind of intent to deceive or intent to confuse. We think we have put in place the personnel to prevent that.”

Free National Movement opposition leader Hubert Minnis said he has reports of voting irregularities in at least five constituencies, the Nassau Guardian reported.

On Wednesday afternoon, Parliamentary Commissioner Charles Albury issued a statement saying that “due to some technical problems related to a few ballots,” voting in the Elizabeth constituency would be extended until 6:15 p.m., with the exception of the polling station that Sands’ complained about. That polling station would have its voting extended until 8:15 p.m. Voting was also extended for an additional two hours until 8 p.m. at a polling station in Seabreeze.

Albury said “no irregularities were discovered in the electoral process” in those constituencies.

The election pits Christie’s PLP against the FNM, the main opposition. There are 36 seats up for grabs and the party that wins the most seats will control the government for the next five years.

Christie’s government, which came into power in 2012 after winning against the FNM, is trying to win a consecutive term despite struggling to address the country’s double-digit unemployment, rising crime and a sluggish economy. The government also has been dogged with corruption allegations involving some ministers.

“The Progressive Liberal Party remains painfully aware that many of our people are still hurting – our policies have not touched all of our citizens, but sometimes big changes take time,” PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts told the Bahamas’ 180,000 voters on the eve of the vote.

Hoping to sway voters in what political observers say is a close race, Roberts promised that in a post-election PLP administration, Bahamians could look forward to improved health care, universal access to preschool education and sports academics for gifted students, among other promises.

Roberts acknowledged that the campaign rhetoric was “sharp, tough and salty.” But some observers said that meant issues were not debated.

“Not by any stretch of the imagination,” said Darron Cash, a former FNM chairman. “That is one of the most disappointing aspects of this campaign as an issues voter. Basic issues are being glossed over. There are unrealistic proposals being touted as if they have some semblance of reality.”

The Organization of American States, the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) regional grouping and the Commonwealth Observer Group are all monitoring the vote for signs of problems.


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