Perry Gladstone Christie became prime minister of the Bahamas in May of 2002 after a long career in his Caribbean island-nation's main legislative body, the National Assembly. Christie heads the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) of the Bahamas, which dominated the political landscape even before the country won independence from Britain in 1973. His rise to leadership of the Bahamas reflects the socially committed character of the relatively affluent island nation, which has a majority black population but whose economy is heavily de pendent on tourism. "The mark of a country, and the measure of a society," Christie declared in his inaugural address, according to Miami Herald journalist Jacqueline Charles, "is the extent to which it is committed to helping the most unfortunate."
Christie was born in 1944 in Nassau, the Bahamian capital on the most populous island in the 700-island archipelago. Once known as a haven for pirates and even deemed a "Privateers' Republic" with Edward Teach, the pirate known as Blackbeard, as its chief magistrate, the Bahamas officially became part of the British Empire in 1717. New England loyalists to the British crown arrived after they were given land grants there during the American Revolutionary War, and they established cotton plantations. Slaves were brought from Africa to work the land, but the cotton crops failed to thrive in the tropical soil, and Britain outlawed slavery in the early 1800s in its territories. After that point, vessels of the Royal Navy would intercept slave ships bound for North America and take the human cargo to freedom in the Bahamas instead.
Christie's family was part of the 85-percent black majority in the country, a population that expanded over several generations. His father owned a taxi, and his mother was trained as a nurse. He was a lackluster student at Eastern Senior School in New Providence, but an outstanding track athlete who took part in 1960 West Indies Federation Games and even won a medal in the triple jump at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1962. Ousted from his school because of poor grades, Christie eventually finished his academic credentials through the University Tutorial College in London. He went on to study law at Britain's Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London, and earned his law degree from the University of Birmingham, where he headed its debating society.
After being granted his degree from Birmingham in 1969, Christie returned to the Bahamas. He joined the law firm of McKinney Bancroft and Hughes, and in 1973 was named to the board of directors for the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas. With another attorney, Hubert Ingraham, he established his own practice, Christie Ingraham and Company; Ingraham would later serve as prime minister from 1992 to 2002, though he and Christie had parted ways professionally and politically by then.
The Bahamas has a parliamentary system similar to Britain's. A party leader whose party has won the majority in the National Assembly elections becomes the prime minister, though technically he or she is appointed by the governor general, who represents the British monarch. The governor general also appoints members of the 16-member Senate, some with the advice of the prime minister. In November of 1974, Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling recommended Christie for a Senate seat. Barely 30 years old, he was thought to be the youngest-ever member of the Bahamian Senate.
In 1977, Christie ran for a seat in the National Assembly, whose members are directly elected. He ran from Centerville on the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) ticket and won. The PLP had dominated Bahamanian politics since the 1950s, and Pindling, its longtime leader, was known as the "Black Moses" in the Bahamas for leading the country to independence from British colonial rule. During that first term, Pindling gave Christie a cabinet post as minister of health and national insurance, which he held for five years. Reelected in 1982 to his second term, Christie was made Pindling's minister of tourism, a key economic and goodwill job, but the PLP and Pindling were soon to become embroiled in a deep political scandal. There were charges of widespread corruption inside Pindling's government and even hints of ties to drug traffickers. In 1984 Christie resigned from Pindling's cabinet to distance himself from the political fracas, and he publicly chastised those in the PLP tainted by bribery.
Christie still held onto his National Assembly seat, however, and was re-elected in 1987 as an independent. He returned to the PLP fold in 1990 and again served in a Pindling cabinet, this time as minister of agriculture, trade, and industry. In 1992 Centerville voters once again returned him to office, but the PLP lost badly in the general election that year, and Pindling was forced to step down as prime minister. At the time, he was the longest-serving elected leader in the Western Hemisphere. Christie's former law colleague Ingraham, by then head of the Free National Movement (FNM) party, became prime minister for the next ten years.
At a Glance …
Born on August 21, 1944 (some sources say 1943), in Nassau, Bahamas; son of Gladstone L. (a taxi owner) and Naomi (a nurse; maiden name, Allen) Christie; married to Bernadette Hanna (an accountant and attorney); children: Steffan, Adam, Alexandra. Education: Attended University Tutorial College; University of Birmingham, law degree (with honors), 1969; also studied at the Inner Temple, London. Politics: Progressive Liberal Party of the Bahamas. Religion: Anglican Church.
Career: McKinney Bancroft and Hughes, Bahamas, attorney, from 1969; Christie Ingraham and Company law firm, co-founder; appointed to the Bahamas Senate, 1974-77; elected to the National Assembly, on the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) ticket, 1977-; Minister of Health and National Insurance, 1977-82; Minister of Tourism, 1982-84; Minister of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, 1990-92; elected co-deputy leader of the PLP, 1993, and party chair, 1997; Prime Minister of the Bahamas, 2002-.
Memberships: Board member, Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas, 1973.
Addresses: Office—Office of the Prime Minister, Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre, West Bay Street, Nassau, N.P., Bahamas.
Christie, meanwhile, rose through the ranks of his own party. In 1993 he became the PLP's co-deputy leader and four years later was elected PLP chair, succeeding Pindling. Between 1997 and 2002 he was the official leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, but in the 2002 general elections the PLP fared much better, taking 29 of the 40 National Assembly seats. It was a historic landslide election, and Christie became only the third prime minister in the history of an independent Bahamas. He was sworn into office in September of 2002. His first cabinet included Cynthia "Mother" Pratt, a popular figure in the Bahamas whom he made minister of national security and the also first woman deputy prime minister in the country's history. Christie also established a constitutional review commission to suggest constitutional reforms. This was an important step in the political achievement of women in the Bahamas, who had been shut out of the 1972 convention that drafted the Constitution for an independent Bahamas.
Christie's main political rival is Tommy Turnquest, who leads the FNM. Married to Bernadette, an accountant, Christie is the father of three. The longest-serving member of the National Assembly, Christie is known for his campaign crowd-pleaser, the junkanoo dance. Junkanoo is an annual December 26 event in Nassau, when groups of musicians parade through the streets in colorful costumes and an array of musical instruments that include the cowbell. Christie is a longtime member of the Valley Boys, one of the oldest junkanoo groups.
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Travel Weekly, September 29, 2003, p. 4.
"Office of the Prime Minister," Commonwealth of the Bahamas, www.opm.gov.bs/pmbio.php (June 22, 2005).
"The Rt. Hon. Perry Gladstone Christie," Government of the Bahamas, www.bahamas.gov.bs/bahamasweb2/home.nsf/Lookup/Perry+Christie (June 29, 2005).