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When will the general election loser depart?

A general election looms. The opposition Progressive Liberal Party(PLP)has selected about half of the candidates it will field for the contest. The governing Free National Movement(FNM)is finishing its agenda in an effort to present to the people a case it hopes is convincing enough for re-election.

At this stage it is unclear who will lead the next government. Consideration of the fate of the party leaders after the contest is almost as interesting as consideration of which party will win the election.

Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie entered the House of Assembly in 1977. Since, each has won his seat in every successive election. In doing so, both men have amassed much political power.

The Bahamas is a democracy with a political party system that is not so democratic. Once the post of party leader is secured, in The Bahamas it is up to the leader to determine when he will leave.

No FNM can defeat Ingraham and become party leader; no PLP can defeat Christie and become party leader.

Many assume the loser at the next general election will walk away from front-line politics soon after the votes are counted. This assumption is largely based on the age of the men. Christie will be 68 this year and Ingraham 64.

But with so much power, and the inability to be defeated in a party contest, should we assume that either man would leave right away?

Ingraham has said repeatedly that he will listen to the people. If they want him to go, he says he will go graciously. When the FNM lost in 2002, he left. He did this before hearing that’voice of the people’asking him to return. If that voice calls him again, would he listen again at the age of almost 70?

Christie would be a two-time loser if the PLP is defeated again by the FNM. In the Westminster tradition leaders say goodbye at this point. Christie, though, does not like to be forced to decisions about his leadership of the PLP. A scenario could emerge where he says he would stay on as leader for a year or so after a second consecutive defeat in order to allow for the election of another party leader.

A year or so could stretch into a long time.

Pondering this question about the futures of these men reveals the weakness of our political system. If they want to stay, both could withstand for some time the voices in their parties who would want them to go.

Both men should be admired for being Machiavellian enough to have secured enough power to determine how it will end. They are both extraordinary politicians.

The country, though, is establishing the wrong leadership tradition. Men have become as powerful as the political system they oversee.

Sir Lynden Pindling was suffering from terminal cancer when he finally retired from politics. His political sons will too say when they will go. And with the ultimate power to decide, no one should assume when the loser will say goodbye.

We should not blame them for winning the political fights and securing this power. Instead, Bahamians should become more involved with politics and the main political parties beyond merely expressing views at election time.

Bahamians have the power to shape the political culture of this country.

This must be done through active participation. We can only get quality leadership if it is demanded.

More of the electorate needs to influence and guide the political party system on a more consistent basis. Currently, too few people who think too similarly control and run the major political parties.

If a broader selection of Bahamians would become involved with this system, men will have less control over their political futures than they currently do.

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