Monday, Oct 23, 2017
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After the convention, then what?

PLP has a trust problem that’s not easily solved

In two weeks the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will select its leader to succeed Perry Christie. Christie led the party to a humiliating defeat on May 10. It won only four constituencies and a third of the vote. Even Christie lost his seat – the first time that has happened to a sitting Bahamian prime minister.

Philip Brave Davis, the interim leader, and Glenys Hanna-Martin are the contenders. Davis is the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP who served as public works minister. Hanna-Martin is the Englerston MP who served as transport minister.

She is the first woman to seriously vie for the post.

of PLP leader. Her candidacy follows Loretta Butler-Turner’s two contests against Dr. Hubert Minnis for leadership of the Free National Movement (FNM) during that party’s last term in opposition.

Butler-Turner did not win, but she opened the door for other women to pursue the top job in political parties.

Hanna-Martin has the experience to be leader. She won her seat four times between 2002 and 2017. She was PLP chairman. She’s served in Cabinet for a decade.

What she will find out, though, is the same thing Butler-Turner did: The Bahamas is a sexist place.

We’ve voted twice against giving women equal rights in referenda. When the Ingraham administration proposed fully outlawing marital rape, there was uproar, and the government backed down.

We have made progress. Women are regularly in Cabinet and they have been deputy leaders of both major parties. The culture has just not evolved enough yet to where a woman would be selected to lead.

Davis will win. His great challenge will not be at the convention. It will be after, trying to restore trust between his party and the people.

Broken trust

The PLP’s identity is rooted in being the party that led the country to majority rule.

The party skillfully instructed generations over the years of its importance to the lives of black people. “You’d still be under white rule without the PLP”. “You’d not have access to full education”. “The middle-class dream would be unattainable”.

The majority rule success fueled PLP governments through the Lynden Pindling years and Perry Christie’s first term. The PLP had a connection with common people.

The last Christie term damaged that link.

PLPs underestimated the effect of the implementation of value-added tax (VAT) and the allegations of corruption that became public.

The people think the PLP taxed them and stole their money. And since the Free National Movement (FNM) has come to power, it has done an effective job “releasing the dirt”. Lavish contracts were awarded to PLPs who had no expertise. There are millions of dollars of unaccounted for hurricane funds. Excessive rental contracts went to the party elite. Public-private partnerships that made no sense were entered into, transferring state money to preferred vendors.

The PLP’s strategy since the election has been to attack the governing party. That’s standard politics, but it doesn’t address the party’s core problem. Bahamians don’t trust the PLP. They especially don’t want the PLP back in power with access to their money.

The soon-to-be-elected PLP leader has quite the task ahead of him. If he is to be successful, he has to restore trust between his party and the people. Simply hitting out at the FNM won’t work. With every statement the PLP releases, with every question it poses, Bahamians see people they think dishonest trying to bamboozle them again.

Truth be told, none of the old faces from the Christie years may be able to forge a new connection with this Bahamas. Christie’s last government was the worst we’ve had since majority rule. Its failure was spectacular. All who were involved bear some responsibility for what resulted.

The party needs a total rebuild. The PLP is in such a bad place that if a general election were held today, it would win no seats.

The PLP will be vibrant again when the old faces go and new ones emerge with reputations the people respect and admire. Then Bahamians will listen again.

It will take another general election defeat for the PLP to realize this. Many wise PLPs already do, but they are powerless to change the party.

Young PLPs who see the problem should position themselves now for 2027.

Get involved. Get experience. After another disaster in 2022, the party will be yours. Remake it. It once was great. It is not right now.

 

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