A test of confidence
The parliamentary outcome of the opposition’s motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis was of no surprise to observers.
After all, a motion of no confidence in the leader of the governing party is by extension a motion against his administration and a test thereof, so outside of a prior internal plan to remove their leader — which Free National Movement (FNM) MPs would not have needed the opposition’s leading to carry out — it was expected that government MPs would resist such a motion, and they did.
During debate on the government’s amendment to the opposition’s motion, several of its MPs dismissed the motion as nothing more than the substance of politics.
Indeed, if the opposition knows that winning such a motion is highly unlikely, then of course the move was substantively political — politics in this kind of battle is the art of war.
But since the government claims to have recognized that politics was the weapon of choice, it should have demonstrated that it could win the battle on both fronts — in the House and in the streets where spectating voters would be watching from their view of the parliamentary Colosseum.
As opposed to a drawn out day of adulation followed by a fully anticipated win in the House, what the governing party ought to have also been able to do is pass critical political tests of confidence whose results ultimately faltered at the sword.
In the days leading up to last week’s House sitting, announcements began circulating on social media that the party would be holding a public show of support for its leadership outside Parliament.
Surely the governing party would be able to gather a respectable showing given its stated record of accomplishment since May 2017.
Flanked by his parliamentary colleagues who trotted as shields against the fiery darts of Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) sortie, Minnis made his way from the Cabinet Office across Parliament Square on the day of battle.
But when he and his soldiers got to the battle ground, there were far more of them than there were supporters.
That the governing party could only manage to bring out fewer supporters than there are seats in the House was a telling defeat in the political battle of the day.
Saliently, it indicated that the governing party’s machinery is not functioning as it ought to; for if it was, it ought to have been able to assemble a targeted number of supporters from each branch on New Providence.
The famous quote by Chinese military General Sun Tzu in his globally acclaimed “Art of War” comes to mind at this juncture: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
What the governing party’s political opponents came to know from the embarrassing turnout is that the FNM army, with all the expected resources at its disposal, does not appear to be battle ready and its ground troops are either unwilling to fight or too distressed to effectively wield the sword.
And what the opposition no doubt came to detect in the scrimmage is that regardless of the vote of MPs who are fighting for their personal survival, the governing party has the scent of an army at war with itself.
In politics as in life perception is reality, and if on the entire island of New Providence the party in power did not have the apparent influence and level of organization to gather much more than a dozen people to tell the nation and the world their party is making the country better, it signals to the electorate Sinatra’s timeless refrain, “And now, the end is near.”
MPs will no doubt scoff at this position, but the scoffing that matters emanated from Bahamians who took mockingly to social media while viewing the turnout with the cry, “Oh, look at the people!”
It is the people who put MPs in Parliament and not the MPs themselves, so it was a grand failure on the political battlefield that the same MPs who were pounding the tables in support of their work over the last two and a half years could not get the people who will vote on their resume a short time from now to come out and affirm that “The people’s time” is more than just a boomerang cliche.
Defection in battle
Soldiers die in battle all the time — it is a calculated facet of war.
But when soldiers defect, it is a blow to the army.
In the height of the battle, Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller announced his resignation from the FNM and his intention to return at the next House sitting as an independent.
His resignation was not entirely unexpected, but the timing was a blow in the court of public opinion as in Miller’s case he desired to remain loyal and supportive to the organization whose banner he carried, but it was a position he could no longer countenance.
Whatever his quality of representation has been will be decided upon on Election Day should he choose to contest the seat, but generally Miller is regarded as a good and decent man.
Based on his comments in interviews following his announcement, one has to question why his party would seemingly be so willing and prepared to lose members who express a desire to stay on board.
FNM Chairman Carl Culmer was quoted in an Eyewitness News report as stating that the resignations of Vaughn Miller and Centerville MP Reece Chipman before him had “no impact”.
To even the most casual of readers, that statement denotes that the two men and their presence in the FNM did not matter.
The problem with that statement from a political standpoint is the message it sends not only to supporters but to the wider public.
If the leadership of the governing party is so willing to dismiss former members who fought alongside them and worked to bring two seats into the FNM fold — one being Chipman’s historic capture of the seat held by former Prime Minister Perry Christie — it tells the country that the FNM is a party that has little value for its own people.
How far a stretch is it for the average Bahamian, FNM supporter or foot soldier, to conclude that if even the MPs hold little value once they do not please the leadership, they should count themselves as “where ya put ma”?
The reality is that if MPs have a reasonable level of positive community and civic involvement prior to their election to office, their actual constituencies extend beyond the fluid boundaries of their seat.
Miller is a religious leader. Few constituencies in this country are larger than the Christian church and while Miller has certainly not indicated an intent to stir church folk against the governing party, those who value him for his place in the religious constituency would likely be sympathetic to his cause.
No MP is an island and no individual is either. Everyone is related to someone who is connected to someone else, so in politics one must always keep in mind that when you wound one individual, you are wounding many others who might not have been there when the blows were struck, but will turn against you and turn others against you because of those blows.
And the winner is?
FNM MPs assessed that the opposition’s no confidence motion was designed in part to encourage public animus against the government.
That an opposition party would be able to accomplish that in just 30 months after a crushing 35-4 defeat at the polls says as much about the opposition party’s abilities as it does about the governing party’s inabilities.
Though Minnis and his government won the House fight, what their response strategy to the motion resulted in was almost 12 hours of patting themselves on the back while grieving and traumatized Bahamians on two storm-ravaged islands and hotly discontented Bahamians on New Providence and elsewhere looked on.
The FNM army’s battle plan caused it to be drawn into making itself look even more disconnected from reality and from the state of the public consciousness than Bahamians had given it credit for.
Sure the PLP was not likely to win the House vote, but the question is that in the political battle of the day, what did the PLP lose?
The governing party lost the street battle where elections and trials in the court of public opinion are won and lost, it lost a member of its caucus and it sidestepped the opportunity to quickly dispense with the opposition’s motion so as to move on to pressing government business within that last sitting.
Lining up the soldiers to kiss the ring for half a day is not strategy, it is unskilled reactivity.
“Victorious warriors win first then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first then seek to win,” Tzu asserts.
In the Colosseum last week, we were not entertained and our confidence that public confidence will further erode on this trajectory remained the strongest gladiator of them all.