The Free National Movement (FNM) does not accept as entirely objective a post-election report completed by a US consultancy firm into the FNM’s dismal loss at the polls last year, its chairman Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday.
The report blamed the defeat on low voter turnout and the party’s failure to organize at the constituency and grassroots level, and said former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis was not entirely responsible for the loss.
“The leaked document that is circulating presents one of many views of the circumstances and reasons leading to the FNM’s loss,” Sands said.
“We, the FNM leadership team, take note of it but do not accept it as a comprehensive or entirely objective assessment of the facts or indeed as a defining map for the way forward.”
The chairman continued, “We acknowledge the challenges of the organization leading to our loss and take very seriously the shared commitment to restore the public’s trust in the FNM and to ensure readiness of the organization for the next general election.
“Daily, we are working to once again earn the privilege of the public’s support. We have accomplished much as a party but accept that there are things that could have been managed differently.
“There are persons who have been hurt by public policies or acts of omission or commission. We acknowledge that pain and have publicly apologized.
“We have also addressed these concerns candidly at our conclave and will continue to do so as we rebuild. It would be instructive to question the individual/individuals who leaked the document that, to my knowledge, had very limited circulation.”
Minnis called the general election eight months before one was constitutionally due.
The party, which won 35 of the 39 seats in the House of Assembly in 2017, won just seven seats in the most recent election.
Minnis and the FNM had promised a term limit for prime minister and a fixed election date but failed to deliver on those and other electoral reform pledges.
Many FNMs were angered that Minnis called an early election.
In November, he told members of the party he did so because difficult times were ahead for the country and the government needed a new mandate to make some “very, very difficult” decisions.
“In order to manage those headwinds that we see coming, it was essential to have a new mandate because very, very difficult decisions have to be made,” he said at the time.
The post-election report concluded that the party’s loss could have been worse had the election been called later.
“The FNM may have suffered a defeat, but much of this will reverse in the next four years if the party does the work required,” the report added.
“Long-tail campaigns don’t work in The Bahamas. Going forward, the vast majority of effort needs to be put into grassroots campaigning and save the air war and rapid response for the last 10 weeks.
“The party operation needs to solely focus on building and maintaining a long-term grassroots and constituency operation. The lack of one in 2021 hurt dearly.
“All polling and data research needs to be focused now on likelihood to vote, not just voter registration.”
Under the heading, “Should Prime Minister Minnis be blamed for this loss?”, the report stated, “not entirely”.
“Rightly or wrongly, leaders take responsibility when their party loses,” it states.
“Is it fair in this case? Not entirely.
“Having a front-row seat to this, it’s clear that the prime minister was dealt a tough hand, one that at every turn required him to try to lead a country during extraordinary challenges while also trying to defy over two decades of history in getting re-elected.
“Could key choices have been made faster? Yes. Could more decisive political action have made operations and communications flow more easily? Yes.
“But these would have come at a cost to the public service side that could have been equally as problematic.
“The facts in the light of day show that the prime minister’s numbers with the swing voters, that history had shown would decide this race, were very good.
“His numbers versus [Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip] Davis with those voters were exceptional and if they would have turned out, it would be a very different story.”
In the September election, there was a voter turnout of 65 percent, unusually low when compared to previous elections.
Of the 194,524 registered voters, only 126,496 votes were counted.
On the issue of whether the election timing hurt the party, the post-election report stated “probably”.
“But given the options, it is hard to see in hindsight that there was any better chance at any other time,” the report read.
“The fact of the matter is that calling an election in the middle of a worldwide pandemic with a very deeply concerning economic outlook on the horizon would lead most observers to conclude that the prime minister had to make the best call he could, from both a leadership and political standpoint.
“It is strongly possible that from a purely political standpoint, given the economic signs then and now, that waiting to call the election may have led to further and deeper losses.
“Coupled with the fact that the current economic crises would have required a voter mandate, it’s hard to see any time the election timing wouldn’t have been problematic.”
Internally, some FNMs believe that given that the consultants did not come out strongly and point to Minnis as a key reason for the party’s defeat — as previous post-election reports did in the case of the PLP and former Prime Minister Perry Christie — Minnis may attempt to use it to justify a possible FNM leadership bid down the road.
Unlike Christie in 2017, Minnis in 2021 won his seat in the House of Assembly, though his support diminished; he went from 73 percent of the votes in Killarney in 2017 to 51 percent in 2021.
Unlike Hubert Ingraham after he led the FNM to an election defeat in 2012, Minnis opted to take his seat in Parliament though he decided against seeking re-election at the leadership convention in November.
It came after strong forces in the party demanded that he step aside.