Consider This | The official opposition – three years later
“There can be no going back to the way things were before. We will have a new and different future. What each country must decide is: What kind of future will we build?” — Philip Brave Davis, QC, leader of the official opposition
Last week, we reviewed the Free National Movement’s (FNM’s) third anniversary since its election on May 10, 2017. To be fair, we thought that it would be appropriate to do a similar analysis of the performance of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) during the last three years in opposition.
Therefore, this week, we will consider this — how has the official opposition performed since its defeat at the polls three years ago?
As an electorate, Bahamians are exceptionally astute and equally punitive.
On Election Day, voters eagerly embrace their five-year ritual to exact their pound of flesh from their elected representatives in whom they have lost faith or who have developed an aura of arrogance and exterior of entitlement.
Bahamians arrive at the polls very early and very quietly on Election Day and then proceed with decisive determination and derision to vote their lackluster representative out of office. This has been a recurring theme for the last four consecutive elections. Since 1997, no incumbent government has succeeded in making a compelling case for a return to office.
Months before the last election, there were a few ardent PLP supporters who advised Prime Minister Christie that his time had come to demit office, and that the PLP could not prevail in the impending plebiscite under his leadership.
Some courageous supporters implored him to honor his pledge to demit office mid-term, transferring the reins of power to a successor as he had promised he would do at the beginning of his second, non-consecutive term. Sometimes, though, power becomes intoxicating. In this particular case, it became toxic.
The PLP crashed and burned at the polls in 2017, winning only four of the 39 seats in Parliament.
The sitting prime minister was unceremoniously crushed in his own constituency, an unparalleled event in the annals of Bahamian political history.
The defeated party leader and outgoing prime minister was succeeded as the leader of the PLP and leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition by the same person, the former deputy prime minister, to whom the former prime minister had made that unfulfilled promise to transfer the leadership of the party. This broken promise resulted in an ironic turn of events.
Shortly after assuming office, the FNM government choreographed a full-court press to sever the head of what it characterized as a party replete with corrupt politicians who had just been rejected at the polls.
The government launched specious speculations and unsubstantiated allegations against several former PLP parliamentarians, charging them with corruption in office.
Of the three former parliamentarians who were charged in court with corruption while in office, two were acquitted, one with the condemnation by the court of questionable political interference in the judicial process. The third case has not yet been heard.
Rising from the ashes
Notwithstanding the distraction of the political prosecutions, the party set out to rise from the scorched cinders of the last general election.
A re-energized and reinvigorated PLP adopted a practice of hosting numerous seminars for prospective candidates, frequent constituency and town meetings, and reactivated some of the party’s organs that were dormant for so many years. The party invited many new, young members who expressed an interest in offering as candidates in the next general election to participate in leadership seminars.
The party embarked upon crucial constitutional reforms. This important initiative, chaired by attorney Raynard Rigby, provided for greater participation of party stakeholders, strengthened the party’s atrophied organs, and rectified constitutional abuses, such as self-entrenchment, that were exploited by the party’s former leader.
Under Philip Brave Davis’ leadership, the PLP has hosted four party conventions in the last three years, compared to the unparalleled and dismal record of nine successive years without a national party convention under the former leader, Christie, although the PLP’s constitution mandates annual conventions.
Davis focused on reforming how the party operates and making it more inclusive, essential prerequisites to changing how the party thinks about the future. The leader has also concentrated more on policy development and solutions for a rapidly changing Bahamas.
Removing the cobwebs
Over the last three years, the party leader has recognized that he must remove the political cobwebs and must reinvent the PLP. To accomplish this, he met with many PLP standard-bearers who lost their seats in the last election, but who nevertheless are endeavoring to obtain a nomination in the next general election.
PLP supporters and independents, who want to support the PLP, hope that the party will not capitulate to former defeated members of Parliament who contributed to the party’s embarrassing downfall in the 2017 election.
The vast majority of those defeated MPs should be discouraged from seeking a nomination. They were unacceptable and rejected the last time and, if those with superfluous baggage are renominated, they would pose a persistent problem for the party’s goal of becoming the government.
They should fully comprehend that the people do not want to hear from them or the leaders of the last administration who lost their seats, including the former “one leader” who could not even win his own seat and who piloted the party to its worst defeat in modern Bahamian politics.
A frenetic feeding frenzy
Given the missteps and mistakes of the current administration, and sensing a PLP victory, many people want to get on board the PLP train.
A few marginalized and disgruntled PLPs who worry that there is no place for them in a newly reformed party are trying to cause trouble and foment mischief. They are intent on undermining the party’s forward momentum to promote their personal agendas.
However, the leader is actively seeking new voices. It’s his party now. Former MPs should not be treated with any extra deference, but instead must prove they are able to set aside past practices and are ready for a “Brave” new era.
Rebuilding, reorganizing and re-engineering
In an attempt to rebuild, reorganize, and re-engineer the party, the leader has held regular press conferences to address essential issues of the day. The party has routinely hosted public meetings to discuss matters of national importance and to challenge and criticize the misguided practices and policies of the current administration.
Miles to go
Over the last three years in opposition, the four members in Parliament have consistently held the government to account. They correctly challenged the conduct of a Cabinet minister who resigned because, by his own admission, he had exceeded his authority in the handling of a COVID-19 pandemic related episode.
Despite the incremental improvements that the PLP has initiated in the last three years, there remain several crucial challenges that the party must confront head-on, with brutal honesty and resolute resolve.
One such challenge is the questionable lifestyles of some of the neophytes who have emerged as possible potential candidates.
Their alternative lifestyles are antithetical to the sensibilities of a discerning electorate. The party cannot afford to adopt the posture of the proverbial ostrich who buries his head in the sand. We will address this and other critical challenges that the party must definitively address in a future column.
The PLP has become more democratic, unified and organized in the last three years than at any time during the 20 years of the former party leader and prime minister. However, there is no time for the leader to rest on his laurels and assume that the party will win simply because Bahamians are unhappy with some of the government’s policies and practices.
The party has considerable work to do to persuade the electorate that it has learned the lessons from its last tenure as the government.
Under the leadership of Davis, the Bahamian people are gradually noticing the substantial changes that are taking place in the party.
Victory at the polls in the next general election remains within its grasp. However, it must not delude itself with the mistaken perception that disaffection and disappointment with the government will automatically translate into support for the PLP.
When he assumed the PLP leadership three years ago, Davis recognized very early that the party he loves needed remaking, that the core values of the PLP must remain fundamental for the party’s success, and that a new era calls for innovation and new voices.
As Davis recently noted, “There can be no going back to the way things were before. We will have a new and different future. What each country must decide is: What kind of future will we build?”
It now remains for him to clearly articulate the kind of future he proposes to build that will inspire Bahamians to buy into his vision of a better Bahamas for all Bahamians.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to [email protected].