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In 50 years, Wilchcombe third minister to die in office

Obie Wilchcombe, the West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP, was the minister of social services, information and broadcasting with responsibility for Bahamas Information Services and the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.

Wilchcombe is the third minister to die in office in The Bahamas in the last 50 years.

He is the only minister with portfolio to die in office.

In February 1997, not long before the general election that year, Charles “Chuck” Virgil, who was minister of state for housing, was murdered. 

Parliament had already been dissolved and Virgil was not seeking re-election in Fort Charlotte.

In July 1971, Clarence Bain, the Mangrove Cay MP, who was minister without portfolio, died in office.

Darrell Rolle was elected to fill the seat in a by-election in September 1971.

Several other sitting MPs died in The Bahamas over the years, but it is unusual for that to happen.

In 1968, the death of Uriah McPhee, an MP from the Shirlea district, left Prime Minister Lynden Pindling with a significant decision to make as the PLP no longer enjoyed a one-seat majority in the House of Assembly after the 1967 general election when Majority Rule was attained.

Pindling had to decide whether to go to by-election or test the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) popularity in a general election.

He called for a general election on April 10, 15 months after his party toppled the United Bahamian Party (UBP).

The PLP won 29 seats. The UBP won seven, and there were one independent (Alvin Braynen) and one Labour Party seat (Randol Fawkes).

The July 1982 death of Shadrach Morris resulted in a by-election in Grants Town in October that year. Bradley Roberts was elected to fill the seat.

The May 1986 death of Sinclair Outten, MP for St. Barnabas, prompted the February 1987 by-election in which Dr. Matthew Rose was elected.

In May 1990, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, the MP for Marco City, died.

David Thompson was elected in the by-election in June 1990.

With Wilchcombe’s death, the West Grand Bahama and Bimini seat is now vacant.

While the immediate focus of the government in the wake of Wilchcombe’s death will be to ensure he gets a fitting burial, and that the appropriate tributes are paid to him in and outside the Parliament, the focus will eventually shift toward a by-election to fill the seat left vacation. 

In West Grand Bahama and Bimini in the 2021 general election, Wilchcombe, a former minister of tourism who served in the Christie administration, made a comeback, securing 53 percent of the 3,856 votes cast.

The Free National Movement’s Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe, who was the only woman in the Cabinet of Dr. Hubert Minnis, got 38 percent.

In 2017, she received 52 percent of the votes to Wilchcombe’s 47 percent.

On the matter of by-elections, Article 67 of the constitution states that whenever any person vacates his seat as a member of the House of Assembly for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the governor general shall issue a writ for the election of a member to fill the vacancy and such election shall be held within 60 days after the occurrence of the vacancy.