Who’s looking in the mirror? Part I
(This is the first of a two-part series which examines the current state of Bahamian politics and makes suggestions for what is required for the future political and socio-economic development of The Bahamas and the Bahamian people.)
What is this about?
I sat in awe on Sunday, October 16, 2011 and watched the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC. It was a moving event for me. As an enthusiastic fan of the sheer might and brilliance of the black diaspora, the image of King hails huge in my ethos. And in thinking of the pilgrimage of Martin Luther King, I began to think of the successes that we have achieved at home: strong black families; black leaders in all areas; some success and yet far too many shortcomings for a nation our size. I then focused on our future, of what lies ahead and whether it will be a promising one.
I also enthusiastically watched the events unfold in Jamaica, which led to the ascension of a 39- year-old, Andrew Holness, to the seat of prime minister after the voluntary departure of Bruce Golding from office. That led me to think of the lack of maturity of our political leaders.
Then, in my reflections I came to a place which made me question the current path that we are on and question whether we will have a bright and prosperous future if we remain on this path. And, then I froze when my mind fell upon my children and what will The Bahamas be like when they are adults. Will they be owners of the economy, be leaders of industry or will they be relegated to second-class citizenship? In my reflections, I searched deep, stripped of my political thinking, and was led to dream of a brighter future and a better tomorrow for them. But in the midst of this all, I knew that the road ahead will (and must) be paved by struggles and hard work to transform the gloom of the present into a bustling and promising future.
Whatever you might think, I suspect that we are all unified by the singular revelation that we are glued by an abiding respect for a future that always affords and accords to all of us a better, prosperous and bountiful hope of a glorious ‘promised land’ within these Bahama Islands.
Where are we today?
There is no denying the fact that the Bahamian economy has felt the impacts of the global recession. The unemployment rate is far too high. There is no denying the fact that overall household incomes have fallen over the past four years. The total number of tourist arrivals, whether cruise ship or stop over, has also been impacted by the economic downturn. Many small businesses have not been able to duck the severe and debilitating financial impacts. Many have closed and others that have survived have had to lay off staff and/or plan for reducing profits. The fact is that many homes have felt the effects of the crippling recession and whilst there remains an abundance of hope and prayer for a swift and strong recovery, there are no immediate signs on the horizon.
Many have criticized the present FNM administration for the manner in which they have managed the Bahamian economy, citing job losses and the rise of crime as the visible side effects of failed policies. Many of the criticisms have originated, at no surprise, from the lips of the opposition PLP. However, in a time of immediate news cycles on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News (yes, American stations), Bahamians have had the great advantage of following the events gripping Greece, Europe and even our most powerful nation to the north, the United States of America.
The ease by which information is now available has led to the reality that the Bahamian electorate is now more informed by the thousands. We have entered the age of information and this has had a tremendous influence on the thinking process of the traditional Bahamian voter.
The compelling question is whether those vying for political office recognize this new fascinating dispensation of the Bahamian voter and if so, have they made valuable adjustments to reflect the new era of politics.
The day of reckoning
The next elections must be called by May, 2012. Thus far the PLP has announced the majority of its candidates for the election cycle.
The Boundaries Commission was recently appointed, which is the first tangible step towards the elections. The FNM as the incumbent government appears to have decided to wait for the redistricting of the boundaries to launch its candidates. The fact that the PLP has named some new faces, with very little political experience, may be a part of its formula to say to voters that that party is preparing for future leadership. The fact is that when the PLP was in government from 2002 to 2007 there was no one in the cabinet of Prime Minister Perry Christie who was under the age of 45. The same is not true for Hubert Ingraham in his three terms as prime minister.
There is no denying that the upcoming campaign will be a referendum on Ingraham’s performance as prime minister. He has some tangible programs and initiatives that he can tout on the campaign trail. Nonetheless, the election is likely to be fought on the issue of leadership. Yes, leadership. Not vision. Not message. Not a plan for the future of The Bahamas. Yes, a simple visual and abstract thing as leadership.
The FNM’s guess is that Ingraham will win this battle hands down because Bahamians prefer a strong macho-like leader who can make decisions, no matter how silly or bad they may be. The FNM will say that the PLP and Christie are the same as in 2007. That Christie is weak and indecisive, because he could not transform his party by ridding it of the known ‘bad apples’. Christie too has the perception of being ‘late again’ and having a tendency to ‘over-speak’.
Both Ingraham and Christie are men over the age of 60 years. Christie turned 69 years in August. Bruce Golding, the former prime minister of Jamaica (as of Sunday, October 23, 2011) is 64 years. Golding decided to step down prior to the next election (in either December 2011 or in early 2012) to pave the way for a new dynamic young leadership in his Jamaica Labour Party. Many criticized former Prime Minister the late Sir Lynden Pindling for not stepping aside after the ‘terrible damage’ to his image brought on by the Commissions of Inquiry into drug trafficking and the Hotel Corporation. That would have been a path of honor and perhaps of restoring the dignity of his office and that of the party. Too, Pindling was seen as the PLP and many could not differentiate the two because in their eyes Pindling equals PLP. However, the same over-powering image that Pindling maintained and enjoyed, well he was our Moses, is not shared by either Christie or Ingraham. But, in the context of the FNM, no one else has been able to hand them victory; so, in some respects, Ingraham may be larger than Pindling in the context of FNM politics.
There is no denying the fact that many Bahamians, open-minded and independent thinking PLPs and FNMs, share the view that both Ingraham and Christie have had their time in frontline politics. They wish for them to drive off into the grand light of retirement. I am not sure that this is driven by age alone, or by the fact that they have been on the scene since 1977. But the view, shared by a growing segment of the populace, is that the two are bankrupt of new, fresh, progressive and transformative ideas.
For me, I suspect that these Bahamians are saying that more fundamentally Christie and Ingraham are dinosaurs of vision. That they grew up in an era in The Bahamas where they cannot or are incapable of fully understanding the new Bahamas that has unfolded; that the fight is less about black and white, about oppression or segregation, but more of poverty, expanding opportunities and of redesigning a system that caters to and places too much emphasis on the foreigner rather than the Bahamian potential.
Also, the public sees in Britain and the U.S.A., and now in Jamaica, dynamic new leaders in their 40s (or almost 40). Leaders who are articulate and smart, and who have charted the course of their nations in the worst of economic times, and who, with less experience in public life, have not caused the destruction of their national treasures. This is the door that Branville McCartney enters. But, some say that he is an ‘image-centric’ leader who has failed to engineer a political or national cause and who appears happy to have it all about him. The era of leader-worship is over and unfortunately McCartney’s timing is off badly. It is likely then that the DNA will be a non-starter.
There is no denying the truth that the Bahamian voter knows a ‘flakey’ leader when he sees one. We require and demand from our political leaders philosophical substance and a mature balanced-approach to nation building.
Raynard Rigby is a practicing attorney-at-law and he is a former national chairman of the Progressive Liberal Party (Nov. 2002-Feb 2008). He is the author of “A Blueprint for the Future of The Bahamas” (July, 2008) and “The Urgency for Change in the PLP” (2009). He remains an avid commentator on matters of national interests and importance.