POSTMORTEMReport: Perceived PLP corruption and Christie staying on, main reasons for loss
The Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) long anticipated post-election report points to ‘Christie fatigue’, the failure to address ‘wrongdoings’ of Cabinet ministers, persistent corruption perceptions, the constitutional and gaming referenda, the handling of the Rubis oil spill, ‘unnecessary’ spending on carnival and poor response in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew as key reasons for the party’s crushing defeat in the May 10, 2017 general election.
“Constituencies responding to the online survey indicate that the perception of the PLP as corrupt was the single greatest element which impacted the party,” the report states.
“This underscores the point that the PLP was its own opponent.
“The second element which had significant impact was the negative perception of the party leader.”
The report notes that these were two of the four elements raised by U.S. research, polling and strategic consulting firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, in its report examining why the PLP lost the 2007 general election.
The new analysis of the 2017 general election says the PLP had an opportunity to address these issues ahead of last year’s election.
None of these reasons would come as a surprise to any observer of Bahamian politics, but Maureen Webber’s clinical and extremely detailed assessment of the PLP’s 2017 general election loss should prove valuable for the party as it undertakes critically-needed reforms and attempts to position the post-Christie PLP for the next general election in 2022.
Webber, a Jamaican social development practitioner, indicates in the executive summary that there were 24 interviews with leaders, candidates and organizations of the PLP, in addition to an online survey to which 11 constituencies responded.
The facilitator/consultant also reviewed historic and current voting results in addition to the PLP’s campaign platform and other resource material.
The analysis concluded that the PLP itself was its own opponent.
There appeared to be a disconnect between the party and the government, the report says.
According to the report, former party leader Perry Christie stated: “The Cabinet ministers functioned as ‘government’. They had no party connection, focused on being ministers, and one of the corrupting influences is that you allow power to corrupt; you think that you got yourself there.
“There was a distance which caused a disconnect between government and party.”
This disconnect went beyond the party itself to the wider population, according to the report, titled ‘The ground has shifted. Finding new ground’.
It said the PLP government took action and made decisions without acknowledging and/or factoring in the current thinking of Bahamian citizens.
The feedback supported this sense that “we hurt ourselves more than the FNM”, according to the report.
Pointing to other factors that contributed to the loss, the report highlights the gaming referendum.
The report notes, “The PLP had committed to resolving the ‘gaming issue’ in The Bahamas, moving to regulate it, in the event that they were elected.
“In January 2013, the PLP held a referendum to ask Bahamians to make a decision on regulating the gaming industry.
“There were two questions put to the voters. The first referendum question was ‘should the government regulate and tax gambling web shops’ and the second ‘should the government establish a national lottery’.”
Notwithstanding the ‘no vote’, the PLP government moved forward with plans to regulate the industry and in November of 2014, the Gambling Bill was passed in the House of Assembly, the report notes. “Party workers in all 17 consultations were clear that the decision to move forward with the regulation signaled to Bahamians that ‘the PLP cannot be trusted’,” according to the report.
“During their field work, this was one of the elements which they heard constantly and an element which was linked directly to the PLP leader.”
The report also highlights the June 2016 constitutional referendum, which was also roundly rejected by the Bahamian electorate.
All proposed amendments to the Bahamian constitution were focused on gender inequality in citizenship matters.
The decision to hold a referendum with less than a year before the general election was constitutionally due, to openly launch a ‘Vote Yes’ campaign without adequate polling, against the backdrop of the gaming referendum has been considered ‘political suicide’, the analysis says.
It adds that during constituency consultations and interviews, participants shared other actions by the Christie administration that impacted negatively on the PLP’s campaign efforts.
These include the handling of the Rubis oil spill and a statement by then Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald.
Presumably, the report was speaking of Fitzgerald’s statement to us that he would have been fired as a Cabinet minister had he informed his constituents of a consultant’s report that warned of possible health risks to people who lived and worked in the area of the spill.
Losing support and lacking strategy
Webber’s report says analysis of the constituency election results for 2017 and a comparison with 2012 election results data point to a combination of reasons why the PLP experienced such a significant defeat.
PLP supporters in some instances opted not to vote.
“In brief, voters opted out as they made a decision not to give any indirect support to the PLP leader and therefore not to their candidate,” the report states.
It quotes one supporter saying, “…Mr. Christie lost the entire nation and his team bore the brunt of the blow”.
The analysis found that some PLP supporters voted for the FNM.
Loftus Roker, who served as a minister in the Cabinet of the late Sir Lynden Pindling, is quoted as saying, “I, like many, did not vote for the FNM. I voted to send a message to the core of the PLP. Message sent.”
The analysis found that the PLP did not appear to have a voter registration strategy, while the FNM did.
“There is clear indication that the FNM decided on ‘how to win’ the seats they were targeting and that was in part to encourage their supporters in critical polling stations where they already had strength to register…The FNM maximized support in their strong zones by first ensuring they had the numbers on the voters list.”
It also found that the PLP did not have a national campaign strategy and for several of the constituencies did not have the skill sets nor did they have the supporting resources to build and implement a local campaign strategy.
There was also inadequate technical support, financial support and oversight of marginal seats, in particular those with new candidates, many nominated too late to undertake an effective campaign, the report says.
“The FNM were clinical in their targeting to create ‘wins’,” the analysis found.
“However, the significant defeat was due to the PLP’s absence of a strategy.”
The executive summary states that the defeat of the PLP came against the backdrop of a slow growth economy; perceptions, despite data showing a decline in murder rates, that crime and violence were increasing and that corruption was rife in The Bahamas despite The Bahamas scoring as the least corrupt country in the Caribbean.
Voters stated that there was no increase in jobs and cited this as a reason for ‘change’, despite a continued decline in unemployment over the past three years, the report says.
“Voters filtered and excluded any of the gains made by the PLP as government. The filter had three layers, corruption, arrogance and an ineffective political leader,” the summary adds.
“The campaign for the 2017 general elections began four years too late.
“Despite having less than 50 percent share of the popular vote the party did form the government in 2012, with 29 of the 38 seats.”
It adds that one senior supporter of the party stated that a “negative effect of winning was no understanding of how did we get there. There was no understanding of victory”.
The executive summary says work on the 2017 campaign began in earnest in January 2017.
“Not only was it too late, it failed to energize the party base, did not appear to have a coherent strategy; no one appeared responsible for charting a path to victory,” it says.
“Most candidates and campaign committees did the best they could within their own environment and felt little gain from the work of the National Campaign Committee.
“For its part, the Free National Movement began their campaign immediately following their defeat in 2012, they played on and played up all indiscretions of the PLP, were consistent in highlighting failures and targets not met by the PLP government.
“Despite their internal issues they ran a strong and focused campaign, with new and young candidates and a message which resonated with Bahamians. The end result, the FNM earned a resounding endorsement [from] the Bahamian voter.”
The message from the field was clear, the executive summary adds: “The party must repair our reputation and prove that we have received the message sent by the electorate and we are willing to change.”
“They made clear that the leadership team must have new faces; they accepted that there needs to be some retention of leaders with expertise but that they should no longer be in the majority, and in addition there was a call for an overall need to refresh the core of candidates.”
Corruption has haunted the PLP and party workers want this addressed, the summary states.
Party workers expressed that the PLP must clean house; anyone who has been involved in anything questionable must be removed from the front line; and those who are accused but not confirmed should also be asked to not lead on initiatives in the party until the matter is cleared.
The executive summary adds: “Party workers were clear that there must be a move to broaden youth involvement in the party to balance the importance of the stalwarts with the young in the party.
“The party should seek to genuinely broaden its youth base, engaging them and also provide status similar to that of the party stalwarts.
“Further to that, the party must modernize how it communicates, that it must communicate using all channels, specifically the role of social media must be given a sustainable space in the work of the party. Finally, the call from all consultations was that the party must ‘return to the fields’ and do real political work.”
The summary says the PLP must seek to rebuild and build partnerships with civil society, professional groups and the media; begin to lead and participate in national conversations on anti-social behavior and crime, creating an ecosystem for the next generation to create employment.
“While the PLP seeks to recalibrate internally, this shift must be underpinned with a participatory review of the party constitution, an inclusive process which allows for members and supporters to own the PLP moving forward and accept the rules and structures of the movement,” the executive summary states.
“Finally and of equal importance, there needs to be a clear structured campaign leading into the 2022 constitutionally due elections; categorize constituencies guided by their performance at the polls in May 2017 and their historical performance; create programs and activities unique to each category and assign the correct, efficient and effective resources to each category to not only monitor but actively support, give guidance to their assigned constituencies.”