Thursday, Sep 19, 2019
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PLP eyes rebirth

The shellacking the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) got at the polls last year demonstrated that the party was in urgent need of addressing structural issues.

The PLP moved from 62.8 percent share of the votes in 1968 to 37 percent over a period of nearly five decades, observed the researcher who completed the party’s post election report.

The new leader, Philip Brave Davis, challenged by the stain of the condemnable actions of the PLP in its most recent term, has committed to effecting reforms.

Seven months ago, Davis appointed a committee headed by former PLP Chairman Raynard Rigby to review the party’s constitution. The constitution is now set for its first overhaul in its 65-year history. The review will be the focus of a July 28 convention.

“This is not a gloss job,” said Rigby, an attorney, when he spoke with National Review.

“We are tackling the big issues and we are putting forth progressive solutions to move the party beyond what all of us could imagine today.

“After the process, there is going to be the ability for great flexibility in the political activity of the party. The party is going to be more democratic than it has been in years and more importantly the party is going to hold every member to a high standard of honesty and integrity in public life.”

The PLP has been particularly challenged on the issue of integrity in public life with perceived corruption a major reason for its 2017 defeat.

In her post election study for the party, Maureen Webber, a Jamaican social development practitioner who conducted a clinical review of the reasons for the loss, said, “Corruption has haunted the PLP and party workers want this addressed.

“First, they make clear that the party must clean house, remove anyone from the front line who has been involved in anything questionable.

“Those who are accused but not confirmed should also be asked to not lead on initiatives in the party until the matter is cleared.”

Webber wrote that it cannot be business as usual for the party.

The party needs to generate a new model for its political organization, she stated.

“While the PLP seeks to recalibrate internally, this shift must be underpinned with a participatory review of the party constitution,” Webber wrote, “an inclusive process which allows for members and supporters to own the PLP moving forward and accept the rules and structures of the movement.

“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, and give guidance to their assigned constituencies.”

The 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, Webber observed.

In some instances, PLP supporters opted not to vote. In other instances, PLP supporters voted for the FNM.

A key reason for the PLP’s significant loss was its failure to hold its base.

The PLP under Perry Christie was widely viewed as a deeply undemocratic party where there was almost god-like worship for the leader.

Perry Christie.

Christie no doubt loved the power of his office as party leader, and the office of prime minister.

He appeared more enamored with power than concerned with effectively governing The Bahamas.

His last few years in public life were defined more than anything by a desperate struggle to hold his grip on power, ultimately sinking the entire party in the process, damaging its brand and eroding the gains it made over the course of its existence.

In January 2017, he said he was determined to serve in Parliament longer than Sir Lynden Pindling, the late former prime minister, who was leader of the PLP from 1956 until 1997.

Christie was seen as the untouchable head of the PLP, who appointed hundreds of stalwart councilors, securing his leadership position of the PLP in the misguided hope that the PLP would have been able to pull off an election win, securing for him another five-year rule as the king over our lands.

But Christie and his supporters never predicted things would go as they did.

Their hope was that Emperor Christie would have gotten another term in office before anointing his successor.

But the Bahamian people had other plans.

They kicked Christie out of office. He did not even win his seat on May 10.

He did not get an opportunity even to say his farewell in the House of Assembly after serving more than 40 years in public life.

Webber observed that some PLP supporters opted out of voting as they made the decision not to give any indirect support to the PLP leader and therefore to PLP candidates.

As reported on by National Review in May, former PLP Cabinet minister Loftus Roker said it best: “I like many did not vote for the FNM, I voted to send a message to the core of the PLP. Message sent.”

A more democratic PLP

The absurdity of the PLP’s hero worship – supported by its archaic constitution – was on full display when the PLP held its convention in early 2017, months before the general election.

It was the first PLP convention in years.

Alfred Sears, the former Fort Charlotte MP and a former minister in Christie’s first Cabinet, was scorned by some in the party for daring to challenge the leader.

Ahead of the leadership vote, hundreds of Christie supporters chanted “One leader!”

Sears said Christie’s appointment of new stalwart councilors was a move to stack the deck against him.

Before the race, National Review observed: “The determination to mute the impact of Sears’ challenge is glaring. But the way in which the PLP has handled the challenge to Christie’s leadership is seedy, unfair and stifles quality political debate.

“It also discourages quality contenders from stepping forward.

“The appointment of hundreds of stalwarts on the eve of this week’s convention is reprehensible.

“Far from portraying Christie as a democrat, it strengthens the narrative that he is increasingly a desperate and panicked leader with an insatiable lust for power.”

We went back to that 2017 PLP convention reference as that leadership race was a strong indication of the need for PLP reforms, even though the party remained delusional and defiant to its detriment.

Rigby told us that the new constitution will ensure a more democratic PLP under Davis and any future leader.

“The constitution has far outlived its time,” he said.

“It did not take advantage of the change of Bahamian politics. It did not provide for the flexibility required. Politics is about volunteerism and people have to be comfortable in that environment to engage in the necessary political activity.”

The proposed changes of the Rigby committee have not yet been made public.

Before the most recent PLP convention last fall that saw Davis’ election as leader, Sears submitted a detailed package of proposed amendments to the PLP’s constitution, including proposals to institute a 50 percent quota for women in all elected structures, limiting the powers of the leader of the party going into national conventions and mandating stricter financial controls.

He made those recommendations to the National General Council (NGC).

He wrote that the devastating loss the PLP suffered at the polls showed that the party did not reflect its core values in government.

“The PLP lost its historical role, I believe, as the champion of political reform, economic restructuring and Bahamian economic empowerment,” Sears said.

“The party must once again lead the public narrative for national liberation for the Bahamian people.”

He said his proposed amendments were based on the recommendations contained in the party’s core values of democratic practice and his leadership platform for the January convention.

It was his view that the amendments would signal to the electorate that the PLP is “serious about regaining its position as an instrument of liberal and progressive political, social, cultural and economic transformation in The Bahamas”.

He said a transparent and accountable internal governance process is the best evidence that the PLP is “worthy and can be entrusted with the progressive and liberal transformation of The Bahamas”.

Last year’s loss spoke to a party that is clearly out of step with the electorate and it clearly spoke to a political organization that has lost its way amongst its own supporters.

Rigby is confident that the new constitution will signal genuine change within the PLP and set the framework for a more relevant party with some hope for a return to power.

“The level of democracy in the party is going to be balanced. There is not a scale that is going to be higher than the next,” he said.

The country should watch and see what this new constitution will bring, whether it will create a true rebirth in the party, whether it will allow the party to give the public the view that it has done a serious internal examination and whether it has learnt from its past mistakes.

Rigby observed: “The most fascinating part of this process has been the active engagement by every segment of the party in the process across the country and it really speaks to a party that has the ability to rise beyond its current challenges.”

This is an opportunity for the PLP to show the public that it is serious about taking a new direction.

Philip Brave Davis.

Davis will be able to speak to a reform which he led quickly and championed. He will be able to show that he is tackling important issues in the party and is not kicking the can down the road in that regard.

The constitution is the party’s bible. The kind of constitution the party agrees on at its one-day convention should speak to the kind of leader Davis intends to be.

He has to be able to set himself apart from Christie. That will be difficult to do given his role in the most recent incarnation of the Christie administration.

Davis has to demonstrate that he can lead, not just the three PLP members in the House, but lead the party to the point where the popularity of the PLP increases exponentially over the next couple years.

Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of the Nassau Guardian.

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