“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” — Pericles
With little more than a year to go before the next general election is supposed to be held in The Bahamas, the two major political parties have dramatically accelerated their activities, prompting some to speculate that we could have an early election.
Last week, in part one of this four-part series, we reviewed the consequences of general elections in The Bahamas during the Pindling- and Ingraham-led administrations.
This week, we would like to consider this – what were the consequences of the 2002 and 2012 elections that returned the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) to government for two non-consecutive terms under the leadership of the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie?
Pindling’s departure from politics
Shortly after Sir Lynden Pindling exited frontline politics in 1997, having served 25 consecutive years as the last pre-independence premier and then the first prime minister of an independent Bahamas, Perry Christie succeeded Sir Lynden as the PLP leader. Christie’s leadership journey began with a very consequential election.
In the early hours of April 4, 1997, Christie emerged as the party leader on the second ballot of a special-called, one night-long PLP convention to elect Sir Lynden’s successor.
That was a hotly contested leadership battle. After the first ballot, Dr. Bernard Nottage, Christie, and yours truly (each of whom was elected to Parliament on March 14, 1997) had secured 181, 178, and 110 votes, respectively.
The PLP constitution requires that its leader secure a majority of the voting delegates. None of the candidates satisfied that requirement, therefore, a second ballot had to be cast.
In a dramatic twist of political intrigue, this author mobilized his convention supporters to cast their lot with Christie on the second ballot, securing him a resoundingly decisive victory and election as the new PLP leader. After four decades of Pindling’s leadership, Christie would lead the PLP for the next 20 years until he was defeated in the 2017 general election.
Christie’s election as PLP leader is a glaring example of the impactful consequences of elections. Many speculate what The Bahamas would look like today if the Leadership Convention had gone in a different direction in the early hours of April 4, 1997. We will never know.
We do know that, during the period 1997 to 2002, Christie projected an image of a new PLP, introducing new faces and personalities to frontline politics.
Christie’s first five years – 1997 to 2002
Christie realized that he did not have much time to build a viable winning political machine.
To some, his task was daunting, not just because he only had six elected members of Parliament compared to 34 FNM MPs when he “ascended the throne”.
He also had to reconcile with divergent elements in the PLP who had bitterly opposed his leadership at that historical Leadership Convention.
Christie appreciated that he had to quickly stamp his unique brand on the party that he inherited. This was especially critical in the context of the continued presence and influence of his mentor, Sir Lynden, who was still in Parliament and remained a potent and influential force in the PLP.
Christie’s first test of leadership came in September 1997 in the South Andros bye-election, two months after Sir Lynden resigned his seat in the constituency he represented in Parliament since 1967. Although he fought a valiant campaign on behalf of the PLP and its standard-bearer in that bye-election, Christie was unsuccessful in his inaugural political challenge.
After that defeat, Christie worked tirelessly to build a party that could successfully carry his first general election campaign as leader of the PLP in 2002.
This time, he was victorious.
On May 2, 2002, a Christie-led PLP won 29 of the 40 House of Assembly seats.
Like his chief political adversary had been in 1992, just a few years after he became the leader of the FNM, Christie, shortly after assuming the leadership of the PLP, was triumphant, becoming the country’s third prime minister in an independent Bahamas. Many consequences resulted from Christie’s 2002 election victory.
The second five years – 2002 to 2007
As prime minister from 2002 to 2007, Christie fought off several challenges, both personal and political.
While he articulated a new vision for The Bahamas in his Urban Renewal Programme and his anchor projects on every major Family Island, Christie also successfully negotiated numerous agreements, most notably the rebuilding of the straw market, which had been destroyed several years earlier.
He also encouraged the multi-billion-dollar Baha Mar plan to transform Cable Beach into a tourism mecca that would rival Atlantis, the multi-million-dollar redevelopment of Lynden Pindling International Airport, and the Ginn touristic development in West End, Grand Bahama, to name a few. He also presided over a rapidly expanding economy, at that time, the most enormous explosion of foreign direct investment in recent Bahamian history.
For all the potentially successful “drawing board developments” that he initiated, the prime minister’s biggest shortcoming was his inability to translate such successes into the empowerment of Bahamians in the local economy, especially those with ability.
Bahamians felt that they were being left behind, excluded, and even marginalized amidst all these developments.
In addition, Prime Minister Christie did not effectively and quickly deal with one scandal after another instigated by members of his own Cabinet and political party, most notably the Anna Nicole Smith fiasco.
For these and other well-documented reasons, Bahamians refused to give Christie and his cohorts a second chance, ironically something he had become famous for doing.
The years 2007 to 2012
After losing the government in 2007, if he had followed the Westminster tradition, Christie should have resigned as PLP Leader. But he did not – a fatal personality flaw that would later haunt him and the PLP.
Christie proved in the 2010 Elizabeth bye-election that he had not completely lost his winning touch. His successful campaign in that bye-election is often characterized as a pyrrhic victory, as razor-thin as it was.
However, Christie proved that, despite the behemoth endeavors to throw the entire machinery of the FNM government against the PLP, the kind of politics practiced by the PLP under his direction still resonated with the voters. Christie’s PLP prevailed in that campaign.
Christie realized that if he was going to succeed and, once again, wrest the government from the FNM, he must persuade the electorate that he had learned from the mistakes of his first term as prime minister. He had to prove that he had taken the required corrective measures in his party and was even better prepared to assume the reins of power and lead The Bahamas and Bahamians to a better place.
Christie’s second, non-consecutive term – 2012 to 2017
Once again, fortune smiled on Mr. Christie in the general election of May 2012, giving the PLP a resounding victory with 29 of 38 seats in Parliament.
Despite its landslide victory, the PLP seemed destined for a chaotic tenure. Its first and perhaps most monumental mistake from which it never recovered was the failed gaming referendum held in January 2013 to legalize domestic gaming operations.
Prime Minister Christie completely bungled this exercise, first by calling the referendum solely to get the electorate’s approval. He could have easily legalized domestic gaming by tabling Gaming Regulations in the House of Assembly.
To add insult to injury, Christie, prime minister and minister of finance, announced that he “had no horse in the race”.
Even if he refused to do so as prime minister, as minister of finance, he should have justified a preference based on enormously persistent losses of gaming tax revenue. Unfortunately, he lacked the courage and confidence of his conviction to do so.
The referendum failed miserably.
The most catastrophic nail that sealed Christie’s political coffin, a blunder from which he never recovered, was his decision to completely ignore the resoundingly negative referendum results and pass legislation that legalized domestic gaming anyway.
Notwithstanding this early failure, the PLP government professed its pursuit of big ideas.
It attempted to launch universal healthcare for all Bahamians, which got nowhere during his term in office. However, Christie demonstrated his government’s resolve to introduce value-added taxes at a rate of 7.5 percent.
Christie’s government also worked unceasingly to resuscitate the stalled Baha Mar project, paving the way for its eventual opening.
The PLP government also launched important initiatives: feeding ourselves by significantly reducing the nation’s food import bill through the development of BAMSI and the long-term benefits that will inure to the country by establishing the University of The Bahamas.
On the other hand, there were abortive attempts to reduce crime, the fear of crime, and the intractable unemployment levels, especially among young Bahamians.
The government was plagued by persistent paralysis in reviving the Grand Bahama and Family Island economies and downgrades by international rating agencies.
Finally, there was a perception of deep-seated and entrenched corruption of officials who arrogantly manifested an unbridled sense of entitlement.
As Christie’s second, non-consecutive term as prime minister entered its final days, it was clear to many that he and some of his ministers had lost their way, that they had lost the public trust, and that the PLP would soundly lose in the election that was fast approaching.
Christie, who promised early in the 2012 campaign to serve only half his second term as prime minister and hand over the reins to another, not only reneged on that promise but sought to victimize and retaliate against those who sought to hold him to his commitment.
His catastrophic personality flaw of believing he was the indispensable leader and his insatiable intoxication with power did not bring about a good ending – for him or his party.
On May 10, 2017, in a landslide defeat by the Free National Movement (FNM), the PLP won only four of 39 parliamentary seats.
That historic FNM win also resulted in the historical unseating of Perry Christie by four votes from his Centreville seat, a constituency which he had represented for 40 consecutive years.
The great irony is that Christie left the PLP parliamentary caucus in a more diminished capacity than he met it. His was a failed leadership with devastating consequences.
There is no question that elections in The Bahamas have had enormous, far-reaching consequences, both for the electorate, the elected, and the defeated; consequences that reverberate for generations in ways both positive and negative.
Next week, we will review the significant consequences of the election of 2017 that returned the FNM to the government, this time with a new face as the fourth prime minister in an independent Bahamas.
• 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@example.com.