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Bahamas WikiLeaks cables revealed

When he sat down with a U.S. Embassy official at his law office on April 8, 2003, Hubert Ingraham outlined who he thought would make up the new FNM leadership team, and dismissed any chance of Brent Symonette being a part of it due to his “personality and lack of appeal” outside the bounds of his wealthy constituency, according to an embassy cable obtained by The Nassau Guardian through WikiLeaks.

While he dismissed Symonette’s chance at a successful leadership bid, Ingraham denied that his race had anything to do with it.

According to the cable — which was classified by the embassy’s political/economic chief at the time, Brian Bachman — Ingraham said the best thing that could happen would be for Symonette to challenge for the leadership, because he “would be beaten so soundly that it would shatter all his illusions.”

But at the FNM convention more than two years later, Symonette did not challenge for the leadership. He went for deputy leader and won. He was made deputy prime minister when the party won at the polls in 2007.

The 2003 cable said Ingraham quickly and confidently rattled off who he believed the new FNM leadership team would be after the next party election: Turnquest as leader; former Minister of Economic Development Zhivargo Laing as deputy leader; former Attorney General Carl Bethel as party chairman, and former legislators Johnley Ferguson and Darron Cash to round out the leadership slate.

Ingraham characterized that group as “young, energetic and talented.”

According to that 2003 cable, Ingraham confidently predicted that the FNM would win the next election, saying Christie’s PLP “already had the markings of a one-term government.”

He was spot on in his assessment.

The cable also revealed that Ingraham said that he had already become convinced by January 2002 that the FNM would lose the May 2002 general election.

He scheduled the February referendum on citizenship and other issues “because he was confident that it would pass and would give the FNM momentum going into the election.”

The referendum failed.

When asked if he had any regrets from his 10 years in office, or if he would do anything differently if given the opportunity, Ingraham, according to the cable, quickly responded “Absolutely not!”

He said he was a contented man, and that he had accomplished virtually everything he set out to do.

On further reflection, he admitted that he wished that the FNM leadership transition had been better handled, but he deflected blame for that, saying that it should have been done earlier and smoother, but he was delayed by FNMs who kept urging him to put it off and trying to get him to run again, the cable said.

With regard to the failed constitutional referendum, which many point to as a key factor in the FNM’s electoral loss, Ingraham denied that it was a factor.

“He admitted to being shocked when the PLP came out against the referendum, since they had all voted for the various amendments in Parliament, but refused to characterize it as a political miscalculation,” the cable said.

“Ingraham showed a glint of anger at the suggestion that some in the FNM blamed him for the electoral loss, and fired back.

“He strongly defended his record and claimed that he was still the FNM’s most popular politician.

“He pointed out that he won in 1992 and 1997 by strong margins, and that it was only after he left the leadership that the FNM lost.”

According to Ingraham, the FNM asked him to step away from the campaign not because he was unpopular, but because his popularity left Turnquest in his shadow.

“Finally, he did grudgingly admit that he might have to share some of the blame for the FNM loss,” the cable said.

It quoted Ingraham as saying, “I guess if I take credit for the victories I also have to take credit for the losses.

“And no one can deny that I was responsible for the victories in 1992 and 1997!”

Ingraham said that he was not surprised the FNM lost in May, but only reluctantly agreed that he might share some of the blame for the loss, the cable said.

“He said he was fully confident of his continued popularity and consistently dodged questions about his own political future.”

The cable described Ingraham’s law office as “relatively small but nicely appointed.”

Ingraham at the time worked there alone with just a part-time receptionist who left before the meeting concluded.

The cable said, “Ingraham freely admitted that he was not very active in Parliament and didn’t anticipate that he would become more active any time soon.

He said he still considers himself an FNM, and will vote with the FNM parliamentarians, but is taking no role in ongoing party politics.

“When asked if he would complete his term or retire completely from politics, Ingraham said he hadn’t given it much thought.”

The embassy official wrote: “Ingraham quickly warmed to the political discussion however, and his love for the game sparkled in his eyes” as he discussed a broad range of topics.

“AMBITIOUS INCOMPETENTS”

Addressing the management style of then Prime Minister Perry Christie, Ingraham said he has always been weak and indecisive and lacks vision, but is a good man.

Ingraham, according to the cable, also said however that Christie is the only one in the PLP with broad enough appeal to bring in swing voters, largely because he, unlike many other PLP politicians, is viewed as “trustworthy” and “solid”.

Ingraham said even FNMs don’t fear for the country with Christie in charge, as he is unlikely to do anything rash, the cable said.

Ingraham described the Christie cabinet as “a collection of ambitious incompetents”.

He termed the PLP government’s legislative agenda non-existent, and vigorously defended his record during his 10 years in office, claiming to have no regrets.

Ingraham told the embassy official that he and Christie remained good friends and talked by phone a couple times a week.

“Ingraham said that they didn’t always talk politics, but didn’t avoid the topic either, and said he offered advice to Christie regularly.

“He said that he believes Christie is a good man, and well-intentioned, but criticized his leadership style.”

Ingraham said, “Perry has always been indecisive, and will always be indecisive. It’s just the way he is. He can’t change.”

He also alleged that Christie had no real vision other than a general desire to improve social programs, and nothing he really wanted to accomplish, the cable said.

Ingraham contrasted Christie with himself, saying he had come in with a definite agenda and moved decisively to accomplish it, whereas Christie “enjoys being prime minister” but doesn’t really feel any urgency to get things done.

The cable said: “Combined with the fact that he loves his job, Ingraham sees Christie as firmly implanted in the PLP leadership and consequently, the PM’s office.”

“It would take dynamite to get him out of that seat,” said Ingraham, when asked if he thought Christie would run for another term.

The cable reveals that Ingraham had nothing good to say about the cabinet of his friend Perry Christie, although he was generally complimentary about Christie.

“Once you get past Perry, what have you got?” he was quoted as saying.

Ingraham described the Christie cabinet as “inexperienced, incompetent and politically unschooled.”

He also said many of them harbor political ambitions and have their own agendas, and shook his head at Christie’s seeming inability to control them, the cable said.

Ingraham said he “never would have tolerated such behavior” in his own cabinet.

He sympathized with Christie, however, noting how, under the Westminster system, it is difficult to just remove a cabinet minister or discipline him effectively, as all it may do is create a political enemy who retains his seat in Parliament.

The cable said: “Ingraham acknowledged that this had never stopped him, but claimed, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, that that was ‘because I was always confident — confident that I had the support of the people. Perry doesn’t have that confidence’.”

In fact, Ingraham said he believed the PLP had squandered its mandate almost immediately and no longer enjoyed the support of the people, because of its inaction and political stumbles.

THOUGHTS ON THE FNM

But in 2003 Ingraham was not only critical of the PLP, a read of the cable shows.

He acknowledged that just because the PLP was losing support that didn’t mean that people were ready to turn back to the FNM.

He said that the FNM had a lot of work to do before it would be competitive politically again.

What was most needed, he said, was unity.

According to Ingraham, many of the FNM’s wounds were self-inflicted, and he had harsh criticism for former ministers Algernon Allen and Tennyson Wells, who attacked the leadership process that saw them unsuccessfully challenge Turnquest, Ingraham’s handpicked successor, and then complained bitterly in public about Ingraham’s stacking the deck, the cable said.

It added that Ingraham “vehemently but unconvincingly” denied influencing the leadership process and defended Turnquest as “the best man for the job at the time.”

The cable said Ingraham did criticize Turnquest’s decision to accept a celebratory party financed by a contractor doing business with his ministry, saying it gave the PLP and Allen and Wells a convenient target.

Ingraham said it was an “unfortunate decision”. According to the cable, he thought it was very damaging to Turnquest’s chances in the next leadership election.

“Nonetheless,” the cable continued, “Ingraham predicted that Tommy would survive any leadership challenge in the upcoming May FNM convention.

“In fact, he predicted that no serious challenge would emerge at this convention.

“According to Ingraham, those most likely to challenge Tommy Turnquest would lay low at this convention, since they don’t really have any desire to be the leader of an opposition party for the next four years, and would bring out their serious challenge at the next convention, which he predicted would be in another 18 months, by which time the next election would already be in sight on the horizon.”

In 2005, Ingraham entered the leadership race, and again emerged as the leader of the FNM.

He took the party into the 2007 election, promoting his trust agenda, and wrested power from Christie and the PLP.

Today, Ingraham is seeking a fourth non-consecutive term in office.

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