National Review | Get to work
On May 10, 2017, the Bahamian people did the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) a favor.
The people removed Perry Christie from public life, and took those PLPs seen as complicit in national mismanagement with him.
It couldn’t have been easy for the PLP, but it had no one to blame but itself.
The PLP had allowed itself to be manipulated by Christie and his supporters, glamoured by a charisma that simply was not backed up by his two tenures in governance.
It was bitter medicine for the PLP.
So enraged was the public, that the party itself was nearly removed from parliamentary representation outright, a feat that would have been a first in 50 years.
As hard as that was for the PLP, it gave it a golden opportunity to remake itself no longer under the shadow of Christie.
The PLP should take comfort that, unless it implodes, its chances of winning the next election are solid.
The official opposition has won every election in Bahamian politics since 2002.
The PLP has had a cleansing that Christie’s gridlock would not allow, even after a stinging defeat in a roaring economy in 2007.
It also took out most serious challenges to the leadership of Philip Brave Davis, who silently seethed as Christie not only clung to the leadership of the party, but reneged on his promise to step down midway through his last term in office.
The FNM threat
Minnis found himself leader of the Free National Movement (FNM) after the 2012 election through no fault of his own.
The FNM had also experienced a cleansing in that year’s poll.
Hubert Ingraham was voted out as prime minister then, some would say irresponsibly, chose to retire, surrendering leadership of the party to Minnis.
Minnis moved quickly to stack the deck himself and isolated Ingraham loyalists, after the FNM ran an Ingraham-selected candidate in North Abaco to replace the former prime minister, and suffered an embarrassing back-to-back loss.
Minnis’ parliamentary colleagues by and large thought he was a bad fit for leader, and in yet another embarrassing episode for the FNM, was removed as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
The FNM was outraged that its duly elected leader was the victim of such betrayal and swiftly moved to rid the party of the “Rebel Seven”.
None of them received another nomination from the party.
The FNM moved to ratify its slate and built a campaign around the incredible dissatisfaction the electorate had with Christie and his supporters as the economy sputtered and crime climbed to record highs in several areas.
The Christie factor
The second iteration of Prime Minister Perry Christie was met with what can only be described as outrage by the Bahamian people.
Christie had, through his own mishandling of his Cabinet, and sheer inability to act on most things, somehow managed to align his administration with the perception of corruption.
However, there was something deeper at play with the public’s perception of Christie.
The public had given Christie another chance in 2012, despite a natural distrust of his capacity to change.
For Christie to squander a second mandate was an offense the Bahamian people could not endure.
People were astonished and irate that they had wasted a total of 10 years with Christie and seen no real, transformational change.
Really, why else would anyone want to be prime minister other than to transform the country and leave an appreciable legacy?
Christie, though well-intentioned, it seemed, just wanted to be prime minister.
The affront of him seeking yet another term in his 70s, was too much for the people.
Despite Christie summoning the energy of a much younger man and millions of dollars for a slick campaign, it was apparent to most that his days as prime minister were numbered.
For the public, it seemed a pleasure not only to punish Christie, but the PLP itself.
Election night was a figurative bloodbath.
Minister after minister fell.
PLP MP after PLP MP was sent packing in a landslide victory.
Context is important is understanding where the PLP must go from here.
Minnis mistakenly thinks the FNM victory was about him.
It was about Christie.
The Bahamian people had decided to get rid of him either way.
It mattered not who was leader of the FNM when the bell was rung.
Minnis is making a grave mistake in thinking he commands the love of the people.
Being prime minister of The Bahamas isn’t a job anyone should get comfortable with.
The days of leaders who retire at their leisure are over.
It is beyond reasonable probability that Minnis is the man to change that.
The Bahamian people took a chance on Minnis.
We knew his flaws.
He wasn’t a great speaker.
He certainly wasn’t the picture of intellectual rigor you would expect of a medical doctor.
And he eventually became hostile toward the media as he realized he was subject to serious vetting.
We followed him for many years, and at no point did he seem particularly studious about what it took to be prime minister or how to address what ailed The Bahamas.
He might not have been the prime minister The Bahamas wanted, but maybe he would be the prime minister The Bahamas needed at this time.
Minnis hasn’t been exactly knocking it out of the park with some of his more notable bad ideas: Oban, the value-added tax increase, his make-believe deadline for illegal immigrants to leave the country by December 31, 2017, allowing Minister Brent Symonette to be the beneficiary of a government contract, and speaking about transforming Ragged Island after Hurricane Irma.
Unravelling his constant references to fish will likely confound political historians for some time.
And somehow, his relationship with the media has gotten worse.
Closely watching Minnis for nearly the last two years as prime minister, his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness.
He tends to understand what he is not politically adept at or expert in – a rather voluminous list.
Knowing he doesn’t know, Minnis tends to take the advice of those who claim to be experts.
This leads to things that have been spectacularly unpopular, as we have mentioned.
But this ability to defer to experts may also lead Minnis to accomplish much more than Christie did.
Minnis has before him a real opportunity to transform the Port of Nassau, a ghastly place that harms our robust cruise ship business in one of the busiest ports in the world.
By extension, the transformation of downtown is also within his reach.
The prime minister has an opportunity to solve the country’s energy generation issues.
There is the chance of reform at Bahamas Power and Light (BPL), a subsidiary of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation.
His handling of BPL has been messy in the aftermath of the previous board being dismantled, but there is still time to make meaningful change.
Minnis has before him an opportunity to reform Grand Bahama, an island the FNM will need to secure if the party has any real shot at reelection.
The Minnis administration has been successful at positioning the police force to have notable success with lowering the murder count, no small feat.
Minister of National Security Marvin Dames is also well-poised, despite being the center of the PLP’s recent ire, to make real strides with national security.
It remains to be seen if this administration’s bid to reinvent National Health Insurance and implement a tax to fund it will be successful.
However, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, another current target of the PLP, appears to be working diligently to at least reform the healthcare plant on New Providence and Grand Bahama.
Minnis also seems to want to focus on the redevelopment of Over-the-Hill.
However, the approach seems piecemeal, and would likely not have the impact Minnis seeks in time for the next election.
However, Minnis must realize that the two things Bahamians care most about are the economy and crime.
Making significant headway on one front, without making significant progress on the other will also likely end badly for the FNM.
The way forward for the PLP
In a recent press statement, PLP Deputy Leader and Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper told the prime minster to “get to work”.
He was responding to the prime minister’s comments about him and the PLP at an FNM meeting on Grand Bahama.
The prime minister says Cooper talked to him about running for the FNM on Exuma.
Cooper says it never happened.
Cooper said he would seek legal advice as to whether he was defamed by other things Minnis said, but with all the mud both parties sling, the defamation suits would be endless if they were serious about such action.
What Cooper should see more clearly, though, is that the FNM sees him as a credible threat.
You rarely hear the prime minister speaking about Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes or Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin.
Cooper has been good for the PLP brand.
He’s young in politics, free of scandal, has a solid reputation as a successful businessman, and has gone toe-to-toe with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest on fiscal policy.
Davis and Cooper are a good fit for the PLP so far.
Davis has the connections to money and the grassroots, and Cooper has the appeal to a younger generation.
There has been talk of Cooper challenging Davis for leadership of the party at the next convention.
But this is an organization that had only two leaders from 1956 to 2017.
Cooper may not have the stomach or the will to finance a real challenge to Davis.
Waiting until the next election would be smart for him.
If the PLP wins, he’ll be deputy prime minister.
If the PLP loses, but Cooper retains his seat, he would be next in line for leadership of the party.
What should Davis do?
Davis, no doubt spurred on by PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell, has made his bread and butter issue for nearly the last five weeks the Dames and Sands saga.
Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt excoriated both ministers in her ruling acquitting former PLP Senator Frank Smith of bribery and corruption charges.
It was worth making noise over.
And Davis did not miss it.
The PLP raised holy hell.
The PLP boycotted Parliament, for reasons that really don’t make sense.
We get it. The PLP wants Dames and Sands to resign.
However, Minnis clearly won’t address it and the ministers don’t appear to be going anywhere.
Moving on, but holding that particular card in its back pocket might be the way to go for the PLP.
Continuing this course of action seems a waste of time.
What Davis and the PLP need to be doing is working to win the next election.
Pundits saying Davis is unelectable ignore history.
It demonstrates anyone leading one of the two major parties can win an election.
As was stated, the country is not in love with Minnis, despite what he thinks.
If he cannot perform, he and his administration would be replaced rather easily.
However, Davis must make a case for better from the PLP in case the prime minister performs well on several fronts.
He must demonstrate an ability to reform, that Christie lacked.
He has started somewhat with early candidate recruiting and putting old voices on the back burner.
He must shore up his base, but also attract the voters who abandoned the PLP.
The equation is somewhat simple.
If the PLP can get back enough voters who abandoned it for the FNM in the last election, and new voters, to cross the 50 percent mark in most constituencies, it would win the next election.
Hold the base; woo back previous support; court new voters.
The PLP must remind PLPs why they are PLPs – Majority Rule, economic empowerment, fighting for the little guy, etc.
The PLP must show that it has changed. Abandon this constant defense of Christie.
He can’t help you now.
The PLP must demonstrate to young people, who are currently experiencing an employment rate of around 25 percent, that they have a future in this country.
Many of them do not believe or understand this.
Putting more young people in his shadow Cabinet may help.
Attacking the FNM is fine. But it will not be enough.
More energy must be spent looking toward the next election, despite it probably being years away.
Minnis may not have a great shot at winning the next election based on history, but he has two things going for him.
He is not Christie. The people have not grown exasperated with him to that level.
He is not in Ingraham’s position.
Ingraham had to guide the country through a massive recession that was no fault of his own in a third term.
However, he is Hubert Minnis.
That he is teachable and changeable in getting out of his own way is possible, but unlikely.
Davis is now where he has longed to be for years.
He is one election away from being prime minister.
He can either “get to work” in reforming and repositioning his party or he can sit back and become the one PLP leader since Majority Rule, who could not guide his party to victory.