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After Christie, then what?

Perhaps I have been too hard on Perry Gladstone Christie.  

I spent the first 23 years of my life living in a land where Pindling was king.  He was the embodiment of our highest aspirations as a people.  Those are huge shoes to fill.  There will be no one like Pindling ever again.  Perhaps I have been too hard on Perry Christie.

The truth is, the real truth is, he is not simply leader of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) because Pindling wished it to be so.  He is not simply leader of the PLP because he has installed councilors to ensure his power.  No, those things are only part of the story.

The fact is, there is no one in the PLP who is as popular, who is as much of a unifying force, who is ultimately as skilled politically as Perry G. Christie.  No one.  Whatever his faults, he is a steadying presence within the PLP.  He is the glue that holds a very diverse group of very strong personalities together.  Despite his flaws, he is still the most inspiring communicator in the PLP.  And he will give his ministers the freedom to shine (of course, the flip side is also true).

Bradley Roberts, Leslie Miller, Vincent Peet, Obie Wilchombe, Brave Davis, Fred Mitchell, Glenys Hanna-Martin, Shane Gibson, Allyson Maynard-Gibson, none of them have all the ingredients that make for a credible leader of the PLP and a prime minister.

The 66-year-old Dr. B.J. Nottage came closest, but his time has come and gone unfortunately.  Phil Galanis, who ran for the post of PLP leader against Christie and Dr. Nottage, has by now so estranged himself by way of his frank criticisms of the party that he is (regrettably) no longer in the running.  Paul Moss had mass appeal but he moved too soon.  Sean McWeeney, a highly regarded statesman, has never had the appetite for electoral politics and surely wouldn’t dream of enduring it at this stage in his life.

 

Who should be next?

Christie is it.  Say what we want, he is still leader because no one has been able to take it from him.  And truth be told, none of his parliamentary brothers and sisters believe in themselves enough or can convince their mates to believe in them enough to mount a serious, all out challenge.  Such a challenge would have to be nasty, merciless in fact, and might damage the party so seriously it would limp into the next election instead of striding in confidently.  The prime ministership is Christie’s to win or lose in 2012.  He is the front-runner as far as I can see, going into the holidays.  The PLP must be considered the favorite to win next year’s election.

But this is the 68-year-old Perry Christie’s last hurrah.  If he wins or if he loses, the question remains: who will be the next leader of the Progressive Liberal Party?  I actually think the question is easily answered.  Alfred Sears.

Sears is 58.  He has served two terms as the member of Parliament for Fort Charlotte, first being elected at 49 years of age in 1992.  The problem is Sears is leaving politics to dedicate all his time to his private legal practice.  Dr. Andre Rollins has been named the new candidate for Fort Charlotte.  I think this is a mistake by Sears and a great loss for the PLP who will regret Sears’ departure.

Sears was obviously Christie’s most trusted and highly regarded cabinet minister.  So much so, that for the first time in our nation’s history, he held the offices of both attorney general and minister of education.  I can only imagine that he has been a huge go-to person for Christie.  A former college professor, Sears is brilliant and comes from the humblest of backgrounds, pulling himself up from poverty through his tireless work ethic and intelligence.  His contributions on the floor of the House of Assembly are always very sound.  He has the right temperament, the right skills, and most of all he has the vision to lead the PLP and the country.  I believe that we haven’t seen all that Sears is capable of and that he can become a leader with broad appeal when the moment calls for it.  Despite his bookish sophistication, he still retains some of his working class sensibility and I believe he can win over a crowd.

Sears has the capacity to inspire and the kind of personality that lends itself to team building.  He can relate to all classes and colors and is widely respected.  Newcomers like Renward Wells, Jerome Fitzgerald, Dr. Kendal Major, Dr. Andre Rollins and others are only just learning the ropes of the PLP and national politics.  Sears’ sincerity and his passion make him the best man for the job at this time and for the foreseeable future.

The problem is Sears is leaving politics.  Word is his practice missed him while he was in cabinet and he prefers to become a very wealthy man than tarry in the PLP.  First of all, the fact that Alfred Sears is leaving politics to go back to practice law full time says he kept his hands clean.  He doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who entered politics to raid “the cookie jar”.  This is another thing that distinguishes him from so many other members of the political class.

I have no doubt that a man of Sears’ reputation and ability can easily dwarf a cabinet minister and MP’s salary in his private practice.  Nonetheless, everything possible ought to be done to persuade him that this is not the time to hang it up and sit on the sidelines.  The PLP needs Sears and so does the country.

 

Successor must be found

Win or lose, Christie and the PLP must find a successor in the next five years.  The man or woman who succeeds Christie must be sitting in the House to take on the job.  And he must be someone the Bahamian people can all take seriously.

I would have liked to say the next leader of the PLP should be someone like Raynard Rigby.  The 42-year-old was chairman of the PLP for five years and showed that he had what it took to go toe-to-toe with his opposite number in the Free National Movement (FNM).  Rigby was also man enough to speak his mind after the 2007 election defeat, and call for Christie to do the right thing and step down.  He showed courage, unlike many gutless PLPs who smile at Christie but want him out behind his back.  Unfortunately, Rigby seems prepared to remain on the sidelines and Christie seems unwilling to reach out.  It’s a shame.  If Ingraham can work with Michael Pintard and Darron Cash (two men who haven’t been afraid to speak their minds) why should Christie lose the services of Rigby?  The PLP needs every available hand.  And younger, dynamic politicians like Rigby, who are savvy and credible and lack baggage, are what the PLP needs to take back power from the FNM.

Given the absence then, of a credible, experienced, knowledgeable 40-something, who is familiar to party insiders and who would more easily appeal to the electorate, Alfred Sears is the smartest, safest choice.  He will be able to attract talent to the PLP that others of his generation cannot.  The PLP should offer Sears a safe seat and Sears should take it.  If he’s not prime minister by 2015 he will probably be in 2017.

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