National Review

Broken Alliances

 Disaffection in FNM ranks largely a product of weak leadership 

After the Free National Movement (FNM) announced in September 2016 that Mark Humes was its candidate for Fort Charlotte, the party’s leader, Dr. Hubert Minnis, speaking at an FNM rally outside the Mackey Street headquarters, declared him to be the next member of Parliament for Fort Charlotte – not a surprising declaration given the political climate we were in and given the fact that another FNM, the “disloyal” Dr. Andre Rollins, held the seat at that time.

Fast forward to four years into a tumultuous term in office where the FNM has decided against giving the nod to certain sitting MPs as another general election looms.

While in 2016 he was in jubilant agreement as Minnis predicted his victory in the constituency, Humes, now a sitting member of the House with a seemingly bruised ego and facing the reality that his days in Parliament are numbered, has taken offense to Minnis declaring another FNM – Drumeco Archer – as the next MP for Fort Charlotte.

Humes, who sat quietly over the last four years in the face of various abuses of power and disrespect shown by the party’s leadership to other parliamentary colleagues, now asks that Minnis show him some “respect” as the sitting MP and refrain from predicting that Archer will be the next area representative.

Mark Humes. FILE

Such are the dynamics of politics, we suppose. 

While every administration comes to office with understandable euphoria, a healthy amount of goodwill from the electorate and a deep sense of hopefulness, it is always interesting to watch how these strange bedfellows maneuver during the course of a term when the sounds and the feels of the victory rallies and the pomp and pageantry of the Opening of Parliament give way to the realities of governing, especially in a difficult climate of a challenged economy and strained public finances.

For Minnis and the FNM, the resounding victory at the polls and the weight of the mandate secured was historic.

We recall very clearly thinking on the night of May 10, 2017, just over four years ago, that it will be virtually impossible for Minnis to end the term with a loyal group of 34 MPs (the party won 35 of the 39 seats in the House).

Although in the days that followed, the new prime minister gave nearly every FNM MP an appointment either to his Cabinet or to some government board or agency, we believed that his flaws as a leader – his questionable competence and his inability to hold the confidence of the FNM’s parliamentary caucus while in opposition – portended grave challenges for the newly installed FNM team in Parliament.

For various reasons, 11 of the individuals elected on the FNM’s ticket in 2017 will not be on the ticket in the next election.

The reasons include retirement – as in the case of Brent Symonette and Brensil Rolle; rejection by the party – as in the case of Peter Turnquest, Rev. Frederick McAlpine, Lanisha Rolle and Mark Humes; and a decision by certain former FNMs to leave the party, as in the case of Halson Moultrie, Reece Chipman and Vaughn Miller.

And there are others whose reasons for not being on the ticket are unclear – James Albury and Shonel Ferguson fit that category. 

Turnquest, who resigned from Cabinet last November after his name was called in a lawsuit in relation to an alleged fraudulent scheme, informed in February that he was told by Minnis that he will not be getting a nomination. He later claimed he did not want a nomination.

Rolle, at one point viewed as among the most loyal of Minnis’ supporters, abruptly resigned from Cabinet in February. The former minister of youth, sports and culture did not provide a public explanation.

Minnis later advised that “certain matters” had been brought to his attention and were under investigation. Coming up on four months later, he has provided no report to the public on said investigation and we have no expectation that he ever will.

This is the same Minnis who in 2018 fired Chipman as chairman of the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation without explanation, and the same Minnis, who in 2018 advised the public that matters surrounding the firing of Bahamas Power and Light board members were being probed, and who, going on three years later, has provided no report on the matter to Bahamians, although he had repeatedly promised to.

Lanisha Rolle. FILE

Rolle, in her contribution to the budget debate yesterday, accused the executive of harming her reputation. She also said she was bullied as a female Cabinet minister and suggested she did not get the protection she deserved. She also expressed disappointment that the FNM did not honor what she claimed were the wishes of the Seabreeze constituency branch.

As it relates to the House speaker, Moultrie, it is widely believed that his decision to jump off the FNM’s sinking ship had less to do with principle and more to do with the fact that the party had decided to give the Nassau Village nomination to trade unionist Nicole Martin.

But no one should be surprised that the FNM cut Moultrie out of the nomination. He has spent the greater part of the term at war with the executive, even if his push for the legislature to be an independent arm of government, as envisioned by the constitution, had a noble aim.

MY HOW THINGS CHANGE

There was a time when Minnis had high praises for Moultrie and for the other rejected FNMs and FNMs who have since voluntarily left the party.

At an FNM rally in March 2017, Minnis told Nassau Village constituents, “Halson Moultrie will serve you well. He will serve you much better than Dion Smith, who has not served you well in government. The PLP has absolutely neglected Nassau Village.”

Minnis’ stated confidence in Moultrie was not surprising.

Moultrie just months earlier in December 2016, after the majority of the then FNM House of Assembly caucus dropped the axe on Minnis, dumping him as leader of the opposition, came out publicly in strong support of Minnis and his leadership.

Moultrie blasted the seven rebel FNM MPs, calling their action “insane” and “spiteful”. He said history was likely to look at then Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner and then Democratic National Alliance Leader Branville McCartney’s “infatuation for power” and consider both leaders “gullible, stupid even”.

Halson Moultrie.

Years later in 2018 when Moultrie as speaker demonstrated his total unfitness for the position as he launched a nasty attack from the speaker’s chair against the leader of the opposition and the former chief clerk of the House, the Minnis administration came to his defense, amending the Progressive Liberal Party’s vote of no confidence in Moultrie to a vote of confidence, which passed in the House given the FNM’s super majority.

Leader of Government Business in the House Renward Wells told Parliament that Moultrie had “restored the honor, dignity and respect to the high office of speaker”. For his part, Minnis blasted the opposition PLP for what he viewed as disrespect of the speaker’s authority.

In more recent times as Moultrie’s blistering criticisms of the executive became more persistent and increasingly caustic, Minnis has chosen instead, it seems, to ignore the speaker and the party has decided to kick him to the curb, a move that was widely expected.

While Moultrie has announced he will run as an independent in the next election, and while he appears confident that his representation has made him “indispensable”, it would be an incredible upset if the people of Nassau Village decide to give him another shot.

We suspect that he will soon be on the outside of Parliament looking in, or at best, seated in the visitors’ gallery if he so chooses.

LOYALTY

Moultrie and Chipman are the only two independent members of Parliament.

Like Moultrie, Chipman, who pulled off an incredible win as an FNM when he in 2017 beat political titan former Prime Minister Perry Christie by four votes, is confident he will win the seat again, this time as an independent.

“Centreville has proven time and time again that they are an independent area and that they have voted for both parties. They voted for the PLP. They voted for the FNM and none have proven to do in the Centreville community what an independent candidate has done over the past three years,” he told The Tribune in March.

Chipman’s victory in Centreville came after Christie had won the seat since 1977.

Reece Chipman.

In October 2016, Minnis had nothing but high praises for Chipman.

“Reece’s commitment and work in the Centreville community will bring a welcomed approach to Parliament next year since their current representative, Prime Minister Christie, could not even be bothered to visit Centreville following Hurricane Matthew,” Minnis said.

While an FNM, Chipman voted against the government’s decision to raise value-added tax from 7.5 percent to 12 percent. Tensions between the MP and the PM had already been apparent with his unexplained firing months earlier.

In 2019, Chipman said in Parliament that he’d rather be a “political potcake than a political sell-out” and charged that no one can talk to him about loyalty to the FNM.

The remark was an apparent response to comments that were made by Minnis during the funeral of the late Tennyson Wells. Minnis praised Wells and said that politics in The Bahamas “requires loyalty, fortitude and political maturity”.

Unlike Moultrie, Chipman and Miller, Humes has not left the FNM and has, in fact, been largely silent in the House – something that could be viewed by some as a lack of enthusiasm for his constituency. 

If we go based on Humes’ own words in Parliament last week, then the decision by the FNM to deny him the nomination appears more than justified.

While asking the prime minister for respect, the MP said, “Typically, I’m very quiet here in the House. I listen quite intently to what’s taking place. And for most of the last few months, I have sort of graciously kept silent on most matters, well, actually, the last four years, most matters that have taken place in Fort Charlotte.”

Why would an MP worth his salt keep silent on “most matters” that have taken place in his constituency?

We know that Humes, an educator, has had no meaningful impact in the area of education while an MP despite a statement Minnis made after the FNM ratified the former president of the Union of Tertiary Educators of The Bahamas (UTEB).

Minnis said in September 2016 that Humes’ 20 years in education will be key in transforming the country’s education system for the better. 

What a laugh that was.

Humes should not be surprised that he has been cut out of the nomination for the next election, but we do agree that sitting MPs should be treated with a level of respect when their parties decide to move on from them.

A MAN OF THE PEOPLE

Like Humes, McAlpine should have seen the FNM’s denial of another nomination for him coming from a mile away.

It is beyond understanding that he still expected to get one when he spent the greater part of the term on an unrelenting crusade to highlight his party’s ineptness, its failures and its abuses of power. He has also previously warned that “it’s one and done” for many FNMs. 

It seems apparent that it is one and done for him too, but the voters will decide, assuming that he decides to go ahead as an independent in the election.

Frederick McAlpine.

While leading debate on the 2021/2022 budget in Parliament, Minnis spoke of “Pineridge-past”, an apparent reference to McAlpine, the Pineridge MP.

Of course, there was a time when Minnis had kinder words for the charismatic reverend and politician from Grand Bahama.

During the FNM’s launch of GB candidates in March 2017, Minnis declared, “In Pineridge, this time it’s McAlpine! Ducking (Michael) Darville (the PLP’s candidate) will not be able to hide from the Mac attack! Pineridge will have caring, competent and hands-on leadership. Pineridge will be FNM!”

The previous year, during the FNM’s high stakes convention, McAlpine in an address to delegates had appealed for unity.

“We’re the party that can deliver and has delivered for this nation, and if we wish to continue to do so we must stop the infighting,” he said. “We cannot tear each other apart, brother against brother, sister against sister, brother against sister and sister against brother.”

On its website, the FNM described McAlpine as “a concerned, caring, common man, with common sense and a common touch. He’s a man of the people and for the people; a nationalist at heart.”

In his contribution to the budget debate in the House of Assembly yesterday evening, McAlpine said the prime minister has squandered every opportunity to do right and make a difference in the lives of citizens.

He said Minnis has “divided his organization and hence the country”.

Like other colleagues, McAlpine is out of luck and out of favor with the FNM.

The state of affairs plaguing the Free National Movement and the government of The Bahamas, and the widespread disaffection within the ranks, speaks largely to Minnis’ lack of strong and capable leadership. 

It all falls at his feet.

As the FNM shuffles its deck, props up the less impressive in its ranks who are seeking re-election, weeds out the political pariahs and sprinkles new faces into the mix, it will be interesting to see who is left standing when the dust settles on polling day. 

Once inseparable political bedfellows must now find other quarters to occupy.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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