Sunday, May 19, 2019
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Winning hearts and minds

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis had his first in a series of national addresses in January to begin the year. He focused on the economy.

“Our growth and expansion agenda includes a dynamic mix of Bahamian and foreign direct investment,” he said, reiterating that since mid-2017 his government has approved an estimated $3.7 billion worth of foreign investment projects.

“Many of these projects, once approved, immediately contracted Bahamian firms for legal, accounting, project management, engineering, environmental, architectural, consulting and other professional services.”

Minnis noted that while the unemployment rate increased from 10 percent last May to 10.7 percent in November, The Bahamas is making progress, as the number of discouraged workers decreased by 6.7 percent. People who were without hope are looking for jobs.

The economy is expanding. In its December visit and report, the International Monetary Fund projected we hit 2.3 percent GDP growth last year, and that there will be 2.1 percent growth this year.

Tourism numbers are improving too, said the prime minister, noting that preliminary stopover numbers through October 2018 stood at 1.33 million, a 10 percent increase over the same period the previous year.

The outlook remains favorable for continued growth in air arrivals, with bookings for the first quarter of 2019 forecast to be ahead by 10.3 percent for international arrivals, Minnis added.

Assuming the United States and China reach consensus with their trade dispute, the Bahamian economy should continue to expand. Wealthy North American visitors are fueling our resurgent air arrivals totals.

What Minnis must remember, however, is a growing economy alone doesn’t guarantee reelection. Perry Christie was the prime minister in 2007 when the economy was fine. He lost that election.

Minnis must work on his connection with voters. He has to do better at capturing hearts and minds.

Our people are in a peculiar place. They are angry. They are frustrated. They are suspicious. They are mistrustful. By the next election they would not have reelected a government in 25 years.

Some of this is the result of a tough decade. Crime was at crisis levels. The economy tanked. People lost loved ones, wealth and property. The mood remains upset.

Minnis must work on finding “the magic” to make Bahamians think he is the champion of their concerns. A deep survey of the people might help him and his team understand where the collective mind is.

If you do not understand the people, what their desires are, what their anxieties are, your doing and working might end up all for naught when election day comes.

Anecdotally we hear people, regular people, saying this government is not for the “small man”. That’s not true, but we’ve heard this often. We suspect that sentiment is rooted in the value-added tax (VAT) hike at the last budget – a first since the tax was instituted.

To be successful, the Free National Movement (FNM) needs the people to think the opposite. It needs to be perceived as a fighter for the advancement of those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

Finding “the magic” is difficult. French President Emmanuel Macron is searching for it, too. Street protests have threatened his presidency. He has proposed new policies and is touring and engaging with the electorate.

Doing is important, but keeping the people with you is critical as well. For the FNM to win again, the people’s view of the prime minister needs to improve. They think of Minnis as a bit too detached, a bit too cold.

Whether that is true doesn’t matter. Voters vote and decide. Minnis and his new communications team must focus, specifically, on the prime minister’s likability. That issue is crucial in determining if he will or will not win a second term.

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