The decision by the Candidates Committee of the Progressive Liberal Party to endorse Obie Wilchcombe as the PLP’s candidate for West Grand Bahama and Bimini once again could impact the rebranded image its leader Philip Brave Davis is seeking to project, and, according to sources close to the process, represents a capitulation by Davis and committee members to powerful and influential forces within the party who backed the former minister of tourism.
In deciding its slate of candidates, the PLP needs to establish an acceptable balance of desirable newcomers and experienced individuals who would be able to play important roles in a Davis administration should the party succeed in the next election.
Many voters who are disappointed by the Minnis administration are still sitting on the fence. They want to vote for an alternative, but Davis’ PLP is also for many not a desirable option.
Davis needs to ensure he does not lose that group who, while anxious to see the backs of Dr. Hubert Minnis and his crew, are still uneasy about the possibility of a return to government of the PLP and the so-called “all for me baby” crowd.
In politics, perception matters, sometimes even more so than reality.
The presence of Perry Christie as leader of the PLP in 2017 was identified by Jamaican social development practitioner Maureen Webber – who was engaged by the party to conduct a post mortem on the election loss – as a key reason for the blistering defeat suffered by the party, which won just four of the 39 seats in the House of Assembly.
Webber also listed other reasons, including 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 as reasons for the defeat.
Many Bahamians have no appetite for the same old faces from Christie’s PLP who are collectively responsible for the despicable manner in which our affairs were handled.
We note that very wisely, some of the main players in the former administration have either decided not to seek a nomination or have been advised that they would not be given one.
Former ministers like Shane Gibson, Jerome Fitzgerald and V. Alfred Gray would all substantially hurt the PLP’s chances of re-election.
Davis and the PLP could still win with Wilchcombe on the ticket, but it is unfortunate that the PLP continues to entertain political dinosaurs still desperately in search of political relevance.
The party insists on dipping into a dry well.
Wilchcombe, who entered politics under former Prime Minister the late Sir Lynden Pindling – who has been dead over 20 years now – previously served as chairman of the PLP and was a member of both Christie cabinets.
He still reads from and prays from the Pindling bible and political playbook. Somewhere along the way, he apparently received a political anointing from Pindling and has always had failed leadership aspirations.
Back in February when we asked him if he still desired to become leader, Wilchcombe said, “At this particular time, no. My aspirations are simply to serve the people. I would love to be able to help the leader, Brave Davis, help him with his programs and help him in preparation of the programs for a better country. That’s what I want to do.
“I’m a consummate team player. The party spoke and I accepted it. He defeated me in 2009 (for deputy leader) and I’ve never gone against him, never opposed him. I thought I’d be a better chairman because I think I understand the nuts and bolts of the party. I wanted to be a part of his team. I lost but I’ve never been anti-my party at all.”
Wilchcombe is a smart politician. He no doubt understands that now is not the time to be expressing any desires to lead the PLP.
With tepid performance as tourism minister, Wilchcombe, who was among the strongest cheerleaders of an obviously unpopular and power hunger Christie, has no standout achievements that make his return to the political stage cause for any excitement or hope that transformational governance will finally dawn.
In 2016 as the Christie government’s contemptible performance was making Minnis and the FNM an attractive pick for many Bahamians, Wilchcombe declared that it was still Christie’s turn to lead the PLP.
Today, he remains a sad link to the failures of the Christie era. It was an administration beset by scandal after scandal, one that demonstrated no commitment to transparency and accountability and one that showed a general disregard for the wishes of the electorate and disrespected Bahamians on multiple levels.
Under Wilchcombe’s watch as tourism minister, the disastrous Fyre Festival unfolded, causing significant economic losses to Exumians and grave embarrassment to the country.
There was no accounting for how this was allowed to happen. There was only deflection.
Under Wilchcombe’s watch as tourism minister, taxpayers lost $650,000, which the ministry approved for the Caribbean Muzik Festival, which never happened.
There was no accounting for this either. The people’s money was simply flushed down the toilette.
The unnecessary spending on carnival, identified as one of the contributing factors to the party’s loss, was also a matter the former tourism minister played an integral and infamous role in.
Describing his leadership in the ministry during these controversies and scandals, one former tourism ministry professional said, “He buried his head in the sand and acted like it wasn’t happening.”
Of course, Davis, as Christie’s deputy, had been instrumental in the decision making of the former administration.
It is virtually impossible for him to distance himself from the past behaviors of the former government, although he has said he is working to reform the party and intends to display a brand of politics that would transform our system of government.
Though Davis will undoubtedly benefit from the widespread disenchantment with the Minnis administration, he has significant hurdles to overcome as the stench of the former administration lingers four years on.
Davis will seek to convince voters that he and other colleagues who were responsible for repulsive actions that led to them being chased out of the seat of power have undergone a political renewal, now finally have the answers to our most significant challenges, and are equipped to execute desperately needed solutions.
Can we expect Wilchcombe to be a part of his senior team?
One influential senior PLP said Davis has made no commitment to Wilchcombe that he would be a member of his Cabinet should the PLP get re-elected.
However, this was the same senior member who emphatically stated several weeks ago, after Wilchcombe secured the support of the West Grand Bahama and Bimini branches, that the former minister would not get the PLP’s nomination for that constituency.
We understand there were various forces at play in securing the Candidates Committee’s green light, including powerful party personalities’ support of Wilchcombe.
Among them was Glenys Hanna-Martin, the Englerston MP whose influence with the women in the party meant that a rejection of Wilchcombe would have likely created unwanted backlash for Davis from the Hana-Martin faction.
“We acted in the interest of unity,” the senior PLP told us.
Other prominent figures also exerted influence on the process.
We asked senior PLP Sir Franklyn Wilson whether he was one of those influential members who backed the former minister for the nomination.
“My role in the matter with Wilchcombe was that there was a lot of narratives in the party as to Wilchcombe’s personal financial standing. I don’t want to say any more than that. The man is entitled to his privacy,” Sir Franklyn said.
“My role was to seek to see if I could, through relationships that may be available to me, [to] bring clarity and independent perspective on that point. I played a role in that. I acknowledge that I played a role in that. That was the extent of my involvement.”
We asked Sir Franklyn whether he thinks Wilchcombe could be damaging for the PLP as it seeks to project a new brand.
“Obviously, the fact that the matter took this long … the fact that the process dealing with Obie was so rigorous was because people accepted that Obie Wilchcombe has become a person who has a passionate base of support in the country and he has a passionate base of people who are opposed to him in the party and in the country,” he said.
“So this rigorous process [showed] dog don’t bark at parked car. Obie Wilchcombe is not a parked car … and so the rigorous process was to thoroughly examine exactly the question that you just put. I can assure you that’s why this thing was so rigorous. That’s why I was involved to deal so thoroughly with this man’s personal affairs.”
Sir Franklyn added, “I don’t know any candidate who has been more rigorously vetted than Obie Wilchcombe.”
Another senior PLP, speaking with no expectation of attribution, said it was difficult to get around the strong support Wilchcombe has among the branches.
Of the five PLPs who ran in Grand Bahama in 2017, he came closest to winning his seat, securing 47 percent of the votes. Just 263 votes separated him and the FNM’s Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe.
While Wilchcombe is set to get the blessing of the party’s National General Council, other former PLPs who had originally eyed a nomination have been persuaded to step aside.
Among them is Leslie Miller, the former Tall Pines MP, affectionately known as “the Potcake” given his affinity for the common man.
Miller said he has no doubt that he could win Tall Pines as an independent, but in the interest of his party and of his country, he is working to get Dr. Michael Darville (the party’s candidate for the area) and other PLPs elected.
He said given that his daughter, Leslia Miller-Brice, has been nominated by the PLP for Seabreeze, he did not want to get any negative feedback by pushing for a nomination.
“I had to look at the bigger picture,” Miller said. “ … It’s not about me.”
Miller, a long-time supporter of Davis, said the PLP leader made no commitments to him to get him to end his bid to re-enter frontline politics.
On the Wilchcombe matter, Miller told us, “I commend Mr. Davis for not allowing some of the crew he got around him to pressure him to do things that are stupid and idiotic. Say what you like about Obie Wilchcombe, when it comes to Grand Bahama, he’s a very popular (former) MP down there. Remember now, in all of those hurricanes, in all the difficult times, Obie spent all his time with them.”
Miller predicted, “If they don’t nominate Obie, we probably will win no seat in Grand Bahama and Mr. Davis came to that realization, probably on his own accord, not those people around him, and said, ‘I’m going to bite the bullet. I hear what this crew says, but they’re not going to dictate to me as to how I will run the situation in Grand Bahama.’”