The Candidates Committee of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is set today to consider whether former Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe should be on the party’s ticket for the upcoming general election, given the fallout some insiders believe they might face in their efforts to convince the electorate that the party is reformed and rebranded.
Wilchcombe, who had a close, personal relationship with former Prime Minister Perry Christie, and who was one of those PLPs enthusiastic about Christie’s decision to stay on in 2017, overwhelmingly
won the approval of the West Grand Bahama branches yesterday, making it harder for the party’s leadership and the committee to reject him as a candidate.
Wichcombe reported that he received 154 of the votes; Ginger Moxey received five; Paco Deal got four; Kingsley Smith got four and Lewis Astwood received no votes.
PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis told The Nassau Guardian last night he was not surprised that Wilchcombe won strong support among the branches.
Asked how highly the wishes of the branches are considered in deciding who is nominated, Davis said, “The recommendations of the branch, the Candidates Committee will decide how much weight will be placed on it, and a number of factors will be taken into account. First of all, the candidate himself; there was an interview process by the Candidates Committee, and how impressive they were otherwise.”
In 2017, Wilchcombe lost the West Grand Bahama and Bimini seat to the Free National Movement’s Pakesia Parker-Edgecome by 263 votes.
Speaking after the runoff yesterday, the former minister said his victory with the branches speaks to “relationships in the constituency”.
Wilchcombe said, “I’ve been in the constituency; many still have confidence. Last election, I didn’t lose Grand Bahama. I lost Bimini. I lost polling division number 11 in Bimini, substantially, but I won Grand Bahama. When we left Grand Bahama on election night, I was leading. When we got to polling division number 11 in Bimini [I lost].”
Parker-Edgecombe received 359 votes in that polling division and Wilchcombe received 162 — a difference of 197 votes.
Wilchcombe said many of the voters were new residents who moved to Bimini to work at Resorts World Bimini. He said, that because he was heavily involved in resolving issues related to Baha Mar, he did not have time to meet with many of those new residents so they could get to know him.
Asked if he is confident that he will receive the nomination, Wilchcombe pointed out that Bimini branch runoffs are set for this week.
“So, I am confident if we follow the democratic process and we believe that the voice of the people speaks loudly, then yes; otherwise, what’s the purpose of all that we have been doing?” he questioned.
“We were asked after the election to be caretakers for the constituency. I was.”
He said that he has spent time in opposition working to grow the branches and build relationships.
With growing calls for Christie to step down ahead of the last general election, Wilchcombe was among those PLPs who strongly backed him for another run at the prime ministership.
Ahead of the 2017 leadership election, the then minister declared, “This is Perry Christie’s run. It’s on his watch and we are not going to cause any disequilibrium at the moment. We are going to maintain the status [quo].”
Asked whether he thinks he could be a liability to the PLP as it rebrands itself for the next election, Wilchcombe said, “The reality is that politics is about people; it’s about ideas. Ask me what my ideas are and I can talk to you about why I think I should be involved. One of the great problems we’re having in this country is that we’re not having discussions on ideas.”
He added, “We have an example, for instance, in the United States of America. Joe Biden is not a liability to the Democratic Party although he served before and then the Democrats lost.
“What he’s brought to the table are new ideas; what he’s brought is a new approach; what he’s brought are experience and knowledge and that’s fundamental as we move forward, particularly now coming out of where we have been, Hurricane Dorian and certainly COVID-19.”
Wilchcombe, who previously expressed desires to one day become leader of the party, was also asked whether he still has leadership aspirations.
He responded, “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.”
In 2019, Senator Fred Mitchell, the former Fox Hill MP, won the chairmanship against Wilchcombe.
Last night, Wilchcombe was also asked about his legacy as a minister.
Wilchcombe was the tourism minister during the infamous Fyre Festival, which failed to materialize as promised.
He was also the minister when his ministry spent $600,000 to sponsor the Caribbean Muzik Festival, which also never took place. The taxpayer dollars were never recouped.
Wilchcombe said last night, “In any government, once you are not engaged in any kind of corruption and stuff like that, I think what’s imperative for people to appreciate is that you make decisions; some will work; some will not work. You support groups and some will work and some don’t work.
“Circumstances developed. We were showing our support as we do to many groups in The Bahamas and in the world, and at the end of the day that’s all I sought to do. And I think if you look at my record you would see you had more successes than you had things that didn’t turn out the way we wanted.”
Davis, who has said he is leading a reformed and rebranded PLP, was asked about considerations given when deciding on a team with the right mix of experience and newcomers.
He said, “I think we have a fair mix of seasoned, skilled and experienced persons…”
Davis added that the youthful energy of newcomers is also driving change within the party, creating a “well-oiled partnership” with more experienced members.