“People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, ‘Just criticize and don’t do anything and let’s win by default.’ That’s ridiculous.” — Paul Ryan
The Bahamas is a little over two years away from the next general election, and, according to recent press reports, last week, the Free National Movement (FNM) launched its 2022 campaign.
Since the general election of 2002, successive governments have been turned out of office, fired by the people after each of their five-year mandates.
Given the historical record of the last 18 years, it has become commonplace and virtually expected for the party in opposition to win the general election.
The contributing factors of the official opposition’s success are quickly and conveniently forgotten.
The reality is that it is not so much that the official opposition wins as it is that the incumbent party loses.
Given the realities above, we would like to consider this — is it likely that the official opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will win the next general election by default?
The unequivocal answer to this week’s question is no. There is no guarantee that, despite the historical record of general elections over the last 18 years, the PLP will win the next general election by default.
It is true that the current FNM-led government has been disappointing on many fronts and that its popularity has decreased since its landslide defeat of the PLP-led government in 2017.
However, the PLP will be as delusional as its last leader was if it assumes that dissatisfaction with the FNM has translated into support for the PLP.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Every day that the PLP fails to realize that it must work to transform dissatisfaction, disappointment and disaffection into support for its programs and policies, it is a day the party comes closer to remaining in opposition after the next general election.
What are some of the proactive steps that the PLP can take to achieve its desire to become the winner at the next general election?
The PLP’s leadership
The first step that the PLP can take to ensure that it wins at the next poll is to define its chain of command more clearly.
Every organization must have a clearly defined chain of command if it expects to achieve its objectives. The PLP is no exception.
While the PLP has duly elected officers, including the leader, the deputy leader and chairman, to mention a few, the public should not be confused by the role of each member of the party’s leadership.
In discussions with many Bahamians, there is a sense that the party’s chairman is the de facto leader, while the party leader is its fundraiser-in-chief.
Many well-intended PLP supporters and party detractors believe that the chairman exercises an excessively prominent public profile, sometimes eclipsing the leader, and often making public statements that promote the chairman instead of the party or the leader.
While no one could accuse the chairman of inertia or sloth, all too often the party hastily and impetuously responds to issues that it should just ignore.
The general public has grown tired of the constant rapid response, tit-for-tat, ill-considered and poorly conceived public utterances that leave people wondering: what was that all about?
If the PLP expects to attract more people to its cause, the party must seriously consider whether it should select a new, and possibly younger, chairman before the 2022 election; one who can better engage and communicate with the public and the press regarding the party’s message, plans and proposals, devoid of hostility, aggravation and dismissiveness.
The last general election demonstrated that the Bahamian people were weary of and unimpressed by most of the PLP candidates, which resulted in the party winning only four of 39 seats in Parliament.
Although this result was primarily a resolute repudiation of the then party leader, Bahamians sent a resounding message that they were also unimpressed by many of the party’s candidates.
To appeal to a greater cross-section of the Bahamian electorate, the PLP must unambiguously decide that it will not run most of the candidates who it offered in the last general election. They were sent packing, and most of them should not be resurrected.
This reality specifically applies to any member of Parliament who publicly embarrassed the party while in office, or who, by his utterances and behavior, demonstrated that he does not respect women.
This ban also applies to any member who was relieved of any Cabinet responsibilities for just cause in the last dispensation.
The party’s leadership also must not succumb to the pressure of allowing any candidate who failed in the last election, and who will not be re-nominated, to have any influence whatsoever on the party’s potential candidates.
Such persons failed the last time out, and do not deserve to have any input into their successors. The most important role, in fact the only role for them to play in the PLP, is to sit down and shut up.
Finally, there must be an unequivocal understanding that constituency seats do not belong to any individual member of the PLP.
The party’s standard bearers are its representatives, and the process governing their selection must be transparent and fair.
Above all, the party must select its standard bearers in a manner that ensures that all prospective candidates are chosen in an orderly and dignified manner.
The party needs to develop and articulate public policy positions that are cogent and well-articulated on all issues confronting the nation.
The party must speak on all matters with one voice after it has fleshed out, debated and analyzed such positions in camera. The party’s message should be neither ambiguous nor divisive.
Thinking and acting strategically
The PLP must think and act strategically about all its activities.
It cannot afford to succumb to political entrapment by allowing the government to script the party’s narrative.
The party must thoughtfully and prudently assess whether it should respond to all of the government’s pronouncements and decisions.
When the party does respond, it should be with well-considered and coherently formulated ideas that will inspire confidence in the electorate that the party is once again prepared to assume the reins of governance.
To effectively implement its strategic options, the PLP must fully recognize that optics are fundamentally important to the party’s success.
This means that the party leadership must surgically scrutinize who it invites to accompany the leader on trips around the country.
The adage that you are judged by the company you keep should be uppermost in the minds of the party leadership.
Accompanying delegations to the Family Islands should be carefully selected with this in mind.
The time has come for the official opposition to realize that it should not seek to win by default.
It should win because of the superiority of its ideas, the comprehensiveness of its plans and the inclusiveness of its programs.
The PLP should skillfully design its plans to adequately and effectively address all the issues and challenges that confront us and to create a solid and captivating vision for a better Bahamas for all its citizens, today and for generations to come.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.