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Major Upset in Bahamas Elections

May 3, 2002

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NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) _ In a major parliamentary election upset, ruling party leader Tommy Turnquest and his deputy lost their seats in a landslide for the opposition Progressive Liberal Party.

Preliminary official results from polling stations Thursday night gave 23 seats to the Liberals, eight to the Free National Movement and three to independents. The results were announced by electoral officials.

A record 130 candidates from the two main parties, two smaller parties and independent platforms were competing for 40 Parliament seats. Voters cast ballot for individual candidates and not for parties.

The results also showed Foreign Minister Janet Bostwick _ the first woman elected to Parliament 20 years ago _ losing to the Liberals, along with House of Assembly leader Italia Johnson.

The Liberals led Bahamas to independence in 1973 and were routed in disgrace 10 years ago amid charges then Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling had taken bribes from Colombian drug lords. The charges were never proven.

``I’m very much surprised and I’m shocked and disappointed,″ Free National Movement supporter Eleanor Penn said amid an explosive mood of disbelief and anger at the party’s headquarters, where one woman burst into tears.

Outside, Liberal Party supporters took to the streets in an early show of victory, honking car horns in cavalcades that blocked downtown streets.

Official results are expected Friday.

There were no immediate declarations from either Turnquest or Liberal Party leader Perry Christie, a lawyer who appears poised to become the next prime minister.

The rout of the National Movement appeared to reflect opposition charges that it was elitist, had ignored the needs of the smaller islands and poorer people, and was selling out the country to foreign interests.

Preliminary numbers announced by presiding officers at polling stations gave Turnquest 1,621 votes to 1,767 for the Liberal’s Keod Smith, an attorney who had accused his opponent of trying to bribe voters in the Mount Mariah constituency.

Charges of corruption have dogged Turnquest, a millionaire banker, throughout the campaign. Among them were claims he gave air-conditioning contracts at inflated prices to party supporters.

It was unclear what his defeat would mean for leadership of the National Movement. Outgoing Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham had announced his retirement after 10 years at the helm of this archipelago of more than 700 islands that begin off the coast of Florida.

The Bahamas has become one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean from offshore banking and tourism.

The Free National Movement had 35 seats, Christie’s Liberals four and the Coalition for Democratic Reform one. The Democratic Reform’s seat also went to the Liberals.

Two former ministers who left the party after Turnquest was appointed the leader in August won their seats running as independents, according to initial results. They are former Agriculture Minister Pierre Dupuch and former Attorney General Tennyson Wells.

Voters had lined up in the hundreds to cast ballots at polls that opened at 8 a.m. and closed at 6 p.m. There were 144,883 voters registered and 90 percent participated in 1997 elections.

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