A view from the wilderness
Perry Christie has had a lot of time to reflect on last year’s election defeat.
Ahead of our reporting last week on the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) post-election report, Christie said the two failed referenda under his watch, the cumulative impact of Save the Bays advertisements, the “assault” on his government by the press, the “hugely provocative rhetoric” about the Chinese presence in The Bahamas, allegations that his administration was selling citizenship and general frustration among Bahamians looking for jobs are all to blame for the party’s defeat at the polls.
Christie acknowledged that his administration had grown “numb” to much of what the people were feeling and said if the Minnis administration continues to make “excuses” for why it cannot deliver for the people, it, too, would face the same fate.
The post-election report we wrote about last week found that 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 were key reasons for the party’s defeat.
More than any other reason, the corruption perception and Christie staying on were the main factors for the loss, the report indicated.
The influence of money in the election was also viewed as a major contributor.
Christie lost his Centreville seat by four votes. The PLP secured just 37 percent of the popular vote. In 2012, it secured 48.62 percent of the popular vote.
The report, completed by Jamaican Social Development Practitioner Maureen Webber for the PLP, makes a compelling observation in this regard: “The party ignored the most important message of the 2012 ‘victory’: they were a minority government, and many of the internal reasons for the 2007 defeat remained intact.”
Webber said after the 2012 win, with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, the PLP “missed yet another signal on the political railway tracks: their base continued to shrink”.
The PLP could no longer make the claim that it had a base that would “guarantee victory”, Webber observed.
The analyst also found that ‘anything but Christie’ resonated in the lead-up to the election.
We asked Christie if he regrets not stepping aside when he had an opportunity to do so gracefully.
“No,” the former prime minister told National Review.
“I made a conscious decision to prepare myself for the election of 2017. We can apply retroactive judgment to it.
“There are two seats that you don’t lose. One is Centreville and one is Englerston, on our side; and in my case, I have to plead neglect, political neglect, in the sense that I never bothered to campaign. I never bothered to go into the new areas that [I] inherited from B.J. [Nottage] etc.
“And so, instead [I went out] and helped other people in their constituencies, and it was a mistake, and I paid a big price for that mistake.”
Christie added that the election outcome was impacted tremendously by young voters who have no loyalty to any particular party.
“That is why, in the last 20 years, no government has won a second term,” he said.
“That is a compelling view that one has to look at, and you always feel ‘Oh, I’m going to win a second term’. Hubert [Ingraham] would have felt it. I would have felt it. After he did it the first time, it hasn’t happened since. It’s something you have to deal with.”
The post-election report said that while there were gains on the social agenda, it appears to have been dwarfed by the failure to substantially address the agenda items that were more important to Bahamians — unemployment remained high, there was no further expansion of the economy, and the citizens of The Bahamas felt crime and violence were unchecked.
This, combined with the consistent portrayal of the PLP government as corrupt and the party leader as “old”, clearly presented challenges to achieving a positive outcome at the polls, the report added.
“While it appeared that the FNM were in disarray, weakened by internal struggles for leadership, the PLP were their own ‘opposition’, making unwise decisions as government which telegraphed arrogance and a disconnect with the voters.”
‘All defeats are painful’
Christie said he accepted the verdict.
“I did not dream of the possibility of being beaten by one vote, or two votes, or four votes, as a case may be. Didn’t even dream of it, but there you are. It happens. It is what it is,” he said.
The only choice that was available for Christie after the final recount in his constituency was to mount an Election Court challenge, something he was not prepared to do.
He lost in humiliating fashion, after more than four decades in public life.
“In politics, what you have to do is accept the verdict, and as you think about it, you come to understand why people did what they did; and so, I don’t know of regrets,” he said.
“There’s nothing you can do about it but accept that people exercise their judgment, and as popular as I thought I was, it came down to the fact that [I was not].”
The former PM said that, after last year’s election, he came across “all sorts of people” who were “misdirected” in how they were registered to vote.
“But I elected not to challenge it. I elected not to go ahead. I just accepted that judgment and decided to move on and to God be the glory,” Christie told National Review.
We also asked how painful the defeat was.
“All defeats are painful,” Christie said.
“I was anticipating that I was on a run with investments… And so, I thought we had the basis of a big jump in the economy going forward, and I was anticipating the American economy would have a positive impact from a Republican president and that The Bahamas would, in fact, be the beneficiary of not just the result of good policies and the execution of them for investments in The Bahamas, but also the justification would come from the American economy being able to fuel our tourism industry.”
He added that his administration thought it had laid the groundwork to reform the energy sector.
Webber observed that while the PLP government, during the period 2012—2017, had made advances in fiscal reform and improving infrastructure in the Family Islands, these were overshadowed by the inability to deliver on ‘big ticket’ items.
“There was a reduction of electricity bills, but the introduction of a mortgage foreclosure plan and a debt management plan did not materialize, and the reduction of electricity costs came in April 2017,” the report said.
“The party had committed to increase jobs and removing impediments to starting businesses.
“In the conversation with party workers during the consultations, they indicated there was no evidence that jobs were created for the average Bahamian, and, when they were, they were limited to ‘friends, family and lovers’.
As he reflected with National Review, Christie said, “The one thing I’m able to say is I had a total grasp of public policy, a total detailed grasp of all of the issues and challenges in all of the islands, and we were working assiduously on a plan to be able to get everything done.”
After winning 35 of the seats in the House of Assembly, the Free National Movement in government has spent the last year pointing to the mismanagement of the people’s affairs by the Christie administration.
Asked his thoughts on the continued vilification, Christie said, “It’s happening all over. You see what is happening in the United States of America.
“People have to try to build acceptance on the part of people who voted for them. They have to keep on rationalizing why they can’t find jobs, why things are so slow, and the best way to do that is to blame your opponents and say what you met in place couldn’t possibly be anticipated.
“And so, the blame game goes around. So, what happens is, they’re going to continue to have the same kind of experience that I had, where people grow numb listening to excuses and they just tune you out; and you don’t know that until you actually come out and you [look] back at it.”