A tough sell
In response to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ premature declaration at a town hall meeting turned rally on January 22 that the Free National Movement’s (FNM) victory train has left the station, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis proclaimed on Monday night that the SS PLP is off the reef and its hull is repaired.
Catchy lines with a hollow effect.
Notwithstanding the fact that its former leader, Perry Christie, is finally off the political scene, the PLP of today is still lacking in dynamism and believability as it seeks to portray itself as rejuvenated and reformed.
In 2017, its main liability was Christie.
Today, its current leader struggles to distance himself from the sins of the PLP which was soundly rejected at the polls.
Davis, as Christie’s deputy, was no less responsible for the contemptible behavior that caused voters in large numbers to lose trust in the party.
It is still hard to trust that Davis suddenly has had an epiphany as it relates to good governance.
This is the PLP’s struggle today as it seeks to sanitize its image and sell a new bag of goods to the electorate.
It does not help that the same old players have popped up — Jerome Fitzgerald, Leslie Miller, Melanie Griffin, Arnold Forbes and Dion Smith were all present at the campaign launch rally.
We are now more than halfway into this term.
The country is clearly in an anti-FNM mood. But there is not a sense that it is leaning toward the PLP at this point.
Upon coming to office, Minnis and the FNM rapidly depleted capital from their political bank, eroding the tremendous goodwill with which they came to office.
They too have a credibility crisis.
They have reversed course on a number of issues since they were elected: value-added tax (VAT), the Spy Bill, a bailout for Bank of The Bahamas, are among them.
Under their watch, the cost of living is continuing to climb. Families are burdened. Purchasing power is diminishing.
On top of that, the prime minister and his ministers are seemingly becoming increasingly arrogant and tone deaf. They are distancing themselves from those who gave them power.
Many Bahamians are disappointed in them.
Time is running out for them to do more big things.
Hurricane Dorian did not make governing any easier.
The Minnis administration’s response to the storm has been lacking.
It is an overwhelming task, yes, but there is not a sense that there is strong leadership to do what needs to be done in a more efficient manner to restore communities and living standards.
Davis and the PLP see a window of opportunity.
Prompted by Minnis, they are seeking to be more aggressive in firing up their base.
But can they be viewed as a viable option?
After the 2017 election loss, the party’s leadership commissioned a post mortem to tell it what we all already knew, and that is why the PLP lost so dismally on May 10.
The researcher concluded that Christie fatigue; the failure to address “wrongdoing” 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 defeat.
Constituencies responding to an online survey indicated that the perception of the PLP as corrupt was the single greatest element that impacted the party.
The negative perception of Christie was the second element that had significant impact.
The message from the field was clear, according to that report completed by Maureen Webber, a Jamaican social development practitioner, who spent countless hours interviewing PLPs and examining the issues related to the loss.
That report recommended, among other strategies, that the PLP seek to broaden its base by attracting more youth voters; modernize how it communicates; rebuild partnerships with civil society, professional groups and the media; and begin to lead and participate in national conversations on anti-social behavior and crime.
The report also recommended that the party come up with a clear structured campaign leading into the next election.
Davis contends that the PLP is well on its way to grabbing back power.
He said at the Monday night rally that Bahamians have a choice between a united, reinvigorated PLP or a divided and demoralized FNM.
Can we believe the PLP?
Again, the PLP has a credibility problem.
The party is also fighting corruption perceptions. Again, those perceptions were the number one reason for the loss, according to the researcher hired by the PLP.
As it is now “silly” season, listen out for the wild, the unsubstantiated and the bizarre claims from both sides.
Davis’ new catchphrase is that the FNM is plagued with the “lying virus”.
It is clear that the trust issue will be the focus of the PLP’s campaign against the FNM.
According to Davis, the government’s incompetence is proving deadly. He charged that the Minnis administration is running our healthcare system into the ground.
There are no beds and no meds, “just a disaster”, the PLP leader concluded.
Careful research of the critical issues facing our primary hospital in Nassau speaks to the long-term problems of bed shortages. It persisted under the PLP too.
Davis declared at his rally that the FNM administration is at war with multiple unions. We won’t take up more space to outline all the labor unrest that persisted under the previous administration as well.
Unions should not allow themselves to be used as pawns once again in anybody’s political game.
The point here is not to defend the government or disparage the PLP, but to demonstrate the need for the electorate to be truly discerning in determining what to accept from our leaders — those who have the power and those seeking to get it.
Unless there are dramatic changes in the leadership of the FNM and the PLP, we are likely to face some truly dismal options come 2022.
The PLP still has to prove itself, but there is one advantage it has over those in government: as with previous elections, the vote to a large degree will likely ride on the level of frustration that has built against the incumbent party.
If increasing numbers of voters “check out” and become angry at Minnis and the FNM, their desire to punish them would be stronger than their distaste for the PLP.
And that would be the opposition’s trump card.