The governing Free National Movement’s (FNM) 2021 campaign slogan admonishes us to think about our future.
What Saturday’s appearance of the FNM’s former leader in Elizabeth clearly says, is the man who is the architect of the FNM’s 1992 victory at the polls, and who lead its transformative “government in the sunshine”, is looking ahead to his party’s future – signaling to FNMs that they ought to do the same.
Former Prime Minister and former FNM Leader Hubert Ingraham is a deliberate and strategic political figure with a keen sense of timing, and one who holds no penchant for precipitousness.
A decision to appear with Sands ahead of the start of voting on Thursday, sporting a custom made “Elizabeth Strong” shirt bearing his own name together with that of Sands, betrays any idea of an impromptu showing by Ingraham, who brought Sands into front line politics during the FNM’s 2007 term.
In a free and fair election, no outcome is guaranteed, but even a political neophyte understands that the governing party is largely unpopular with voters at this time.
It is perhaps the worst kept secret in Bahamian politics that FNMs – many who bemoan the current state of the party – have been quietly deliberating the best strategies to lift the organization out of the rankling morass in which it finds itself.
It is our view that Ingraham – made a virtual outsider by the man he put on an easy path to Parliament in 2007 – is seeking to contribute in the way he best can, to his party having what he considers a good option with which to rebuild after the general election.
Whatever the outcome at the polls on September 16, Sands’ ability to stand as such an option hinges on his re-election to Parliament, which Ingraham’s public endorsement is intended to encourage.
As important as what Ingraham said to reporters in Elizabeth on Saturday, is what he did not say, and would have undoubtedly said if the affirmative to their questions regarding the party’s current leadership, was his considered view.
When questioned about whether he endorses the leadership of FNM leader and Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Ingraham said resolutely, “I am here today to support Dr. Duane Sands. I am here for no other purpose than to support Dr. Duane Sands. I am here to support Dr. Duane Sands as the re-elected member for Elizabeth.”
Regarding Sands’ untimely departure from the Minnis Cabinet this term, Ingraham augured, “He’s had a similar experience as I have, you know. I used to be a minister before. I got fired. I got elected to the House and I became prime minister.
“Hopefully he can have the same experience.”
In an interview with Perspective last year, Sands outlined the political intrigue involving Minnis that led to his resignation from Cabinet, following controversy over the import of much-needed COVID test swabs on a flight approved by Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
Ingraham’s not-so-subliminal message was a shot over the bow to Minnis, reminding voters that fortunes change, tables do turn, and what is meant for one’s undoing in politics has the potential to have the opposite effect.
THE ALL-IMPORTANT ENDORSEMENT
In politics, the right endorsement can turn the tide in one’s electoral bid, and no sensible candidate would shun an endorsement from a figure who enjoys widespread public affection, and respect across the political divide.
If Ingraham believes Minnis’ stewardship does not merit a second term, it would be bad form for him to say so, and unrealistic to expect him to do so.
By choosing not to respond to the question of his endorsement of Minnis’ leadership, Ingraham has in fact already answered the question.
His silence is a clarion blown so as to avoid making any overt statements that would harm his party, not to mention his endorsement of Sands.
While an endorsement of Minnis cannot be fished from Ingraham’s lake of affirmations, former Prime Minister and former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Perry Christie has publicly endorsed PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis on numerous occasions, and has called on PLPs to rally around Davis to return their party to power.
It is well known in political circles that there have been tensions between Davis and Christie over the years, but a key difference between the current leaders of both major parties is that Davis has never publicly disparaged his party’s former leader.
Davis has also not been publicly accused of trying to purge the PLP of Christie supporters.
Wisely recognizing that to do so would create a level of division and animus detrimental to his position and his party’s chances at the polls, Davis ensured – at minimum for public consumption – that Christie had a conspicuous place in the party’s efforts to regain power.
It is a posture of acumen and maturity that Minnis failed to demonstrate this term.
By behaving as though he was seeking to rewrite the history of the FNM to place himself at the apex to the exclusion of all whose unquestioning loyalty he could not secure, Minnis became for his party a perpetual divider rather than its chief unifier.
Some Minnis supporters are probably less than happy with Ingraham’s appearance in Elizabeth, and in fabled fox and the grapes fashion, might even argue that their former leader’s political existence is irrelevant.
To attack their former leader or Sands over a perceived slight to Minnis would be counterproductive to the party’s overall efforts, however, keeping in mind the African proverb, “Houses built close together burn together”, which in this context means you cannot hurt one team member without hurting the entire team.
Ingraham’s existence was certainly not deemed irrelevant just over four short years ago, when the FNM inarguably benefitted from his rally appearances ahead of the 2017 general election.
Those appearances fired up the party’s base wherein many FNMs had been debating whether to vote at all, and could have the same effect with voters in Elizabeth this month.
At that time, Ingraham endorsed Minnis’ bid to become the country’s next prime minister, and encouraged Bahamians to vote FNM in pursuit of that bid, no doubt hoping his party would perform to the standard of which the Bahamian people had become accustomed.
These are declarations Ingraham now appears unprepared to make.
To find answers to the question of why this is so, Bahamians might look to soured relations between both men, but would find even more substantive answers when they consider what the FNM has become this term, versus what it worked hard to accomplish during its three non-consecutive terms in office.
NOT THE FNM WE USED TO KNOW
Two years ago on August 19, our article “You’ve changed” took a critical look at what has left many FNM supporters disillusioned, hurt, and politically disoriented.
Examples of contributing factors are numerous, and boil down to a performance this term that has fallen far short of the FNM standard, with lifelong party faithfuls decrying that this is not the FNM they used to know.
The FNM came to power in 1992 as the “government in the sunshine”, but now the FNM is the government of a four-year-long eclipse, casting the darkness of secrecy where Bahamians were accustomed to seeing the light.
Whether it has been in stonewalling Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee; failing to table most of the heads of agreements signed this term; failing to cause agencies to submit audited accounts as required by law; or failing to provide the auditor general with beneficial ownership information for public contracts, the Minnis administration has overseen a period of secrecy never before seen under an FNM government.
The FNM opened the airwaves and ushered in a culture of public expression without fear of victimization, but it now has a leader who is averse to questions and the media who poses them.
Whereas previous FNM ministers were required to be responsive to media inquiries, most ministers in the Minnis Cabinet follow his lead by being evasive, obtuse and frustratingly difficult with the press.
Minnis is openly hostile to being called to account for his stewardship, and in a dangerous low point, recently resorted to using his seat in Parliament to threaten a Bahamian professional who offered viewpoints about public procurement this term.
So unimaginable is the prime minister’s refusal to submit himself to public scrutiny, that media houses have not been invited on the FNM’s 2021 campaign trail – a decision that even a leader only loosely acquainted with transparent leadership and a clean bid for re-election, would not conceive of taking.
FNMs had become accustomed to having confidence in what their leader declared to them and the nation, and now must grapple with supporting leadership whose word many Bahamians do not trust.
The FNM of the past prided itself on competence and diligence in office, but today’s FNM has stumbled from one gargantuan unforced error to another, overseeing an unfocused and slothful approach to its legislative agenda that greatly contributed to most of its promises going unfulfilled, regardless of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.
Transparency and accountability are two time-tested weapons against corruption.
Previous FNM administrations took an unequivocal stance against corruption and self-dealing, and where allegations or the appearance of the same occurred, the response by leadership would typically be swift and decisive.
With controversies over the award of contracts by the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) and the Ministry of Works in recent weeks – buttressed by compelling evidence of potential malfeasance – Minnis’ response has been no direct response at all.
Minnis’ silence and inaction in the face of controversy over contracts today is the same silence and inaction he condemned Christie for, characterizing the same as leadership’s embrace of corruption.
It is no wonder that the FNM parliamentarians at the center of current controversies – WSC chairman Adrian Gibson, and Works Minister Desmond Bannister – have settled on an “I will not respond; blame the PLP” stance with the public.
With this stance both men are following the leader, but this has not been the FNM’s way.
How disconcerting it must be for founders of the FNM and for those whose work put the party on a firm footing, to hear Bahamians now say without fear of contradiction that “the FNM and PLP are the same”.
Such a circumstance in their mind, is no doubt akin to watching all you have worked for over the years slip away.
Minnis’ silence in the face of questionable awards of government contracts lends strong credence to contemporary equivalences, making it difficult for FNMs to mount a strong argument against those who hold the view of both parties being two sides of the same coin.
It must be remembered that Bahamians below the age of 40 – the largest segment of the population – do not know the FNM of the 1990s, and are understandably making judgements about the party based on the FNM they currently see.
Taken off their square by their party’s performance this term, FNMs are now resorting to saying of reports of impropriety, “well, the PLP did it too”, as opposed to being able to say with confidence as they used to, “we are different, distinctly different”.
Within this term, four Cabinet ministers resigned, three House members left the party including the speaker of the House, a fourth party member is now running as an independent, and party members and supporters complain of being treated so poorly this term, that those who have never voted anything other than FNM plan to either stay home on election day, or give their vote to another party.
Some FNMs might be genuinely confused as to why their former leader made a public appearance only for Sands and not at the party’s rallies.
When questioned on whether he would be making a rally appearance, Ingraham said, “I don’t expect to be speaking from any stages. I don’t expect to be asked. I have not been asked to speak.”
He cited COVID risks in the ongoing deadly third wave as the reason he is “not likely to say yes” if asked to speak, though notably, he braved at least some risk to publicly endorse Sands.
Perhaps Ingraham – who is fully vaccinated – deemed his brief public appearance Saturday a risk worth taking to endorse a candidate he feels can one day help the party he dedicated much of his life to, return to a course worthy of the organization, and of the Bahamian people.
Based on the former FNM leader’s record in office, it is fair to assume that beyond any issues that might exist between him and Minnis, his principal desire would be to see his party do right by the Bahamian people, as opposed to merely wanting to see his party in power regardless of how it performs for the people.
“Humbled” by Ingraham’s endorsement, Sands said, “If you remember while he was the Minister of Housing, [Elizabeth] was his pet project, and so we are looking at the past, we are now looking at the present, and hopefully this is still the future of Elizabeth.”
Not long from now, the people will decide.