National Review

Hard choices

Closing arguments to consider as curtains fall on election campaigns

The curtains are falling on the month-long official election season.

It is now time for voters in The Bahamas to deliver their verdict.

Understandably, many have no enthusiasm about the options on the political menu.

While they are far from satisfied with the performance of Dr. Hubert Minnis and the Free National Movement (FNM) in office, they have deep misgivings about Philip Brave Davis and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which suffered a spectacular defeat at the polls four and a half years ago.

Third party options have not gained any stable footing to make them a meaningful threat to the traditional powerhouse political parties.

And so, we fully expect that tomorrow’s battle will be between the FNM, which touts the message of a better, brighter future, and the PLP, which essentially does the same with its “new day” mantra.

Perhaps owing to the timing of the election – smack in the middle of a brutal and deadly wave of COVID-19 – or to the lackluster leadership of the parties, the season has been low energy, lacking in any great intrigue or “magic” that has long been associated with election time in The Bahamas.

In many respects, the political players seem to be going through the motions as it is difficult to sense any groundswell support, which usually precedes the big vote.

An election victory appears to be a very long shot for the governing party, which hopes to break the cycle of political musical chairs we have seen since the 2002 election with voters changing government every five years.

As we opined last week, the general election – which is taking place eight months before one was constitutionally due – will likely be a referendum on Minnis.

Many Bahamians feel betrayed, ignored and disrespected by their government.

Many are turned off by the ignored calls for transparency and accountability, the blatant hypocrisy and the shameless arrogance displayed by an administration that pledged to be different, to be servants of the people, but has instead taken a dismissive and imperious approach to the handling of our affairs.

Many are struggling economically. They are worse off than they were when the FNM took the reins of power. They feel lied to because now they are paying more in taxes, and the many electoral and other pledges made by the FNM in opposition have gone unfulfilled.

They need someone to “punish” for their hurt and sense of betrayal; and so, on the one and only day when they are truly powerful, they are prepared to exercise that power to send the current administration packing.

Others, however, are genuinely fearful of trusting the PLP once again with governance, even those who are unhappy with the current lot. For them, deciding where to mark their X is a near-impossible consideration. They are left to choose the group they consider to be the lesser evil.

Many are caught in the difficult position of being pleased with a candidate, but displeased with the leadership of the candidate’s party.

Some who want to re-elect their MP do not want to re-elect their MP’s party. As such, some well-performing members of Parliament, could end up taking the belt for their party’s leader and being banished from public life altogether.

Likewise, some newcomer candidates who might have skills that would be beneficial in addressing our most difficult problems might be rejected by voters for the same reason.

Such is the case in every election.

But this election is shaping up to be the most consequential in decades.

FEAR-MONGERING

The FNM is asking voters to overlook its many unfulfilled promises, arguing that its agenda has been derailed in part by unprecedented crises that have crippled the economy and severely challenged an already difficult financial position.

The party repeatedly claims that had Philip Brave Davis and the PLP been in office, many more Bahamians would have died during the pandemic.

It also claims that the country would have fallen off the fiscal cliff due to PLP mismanagement, patronage and corruption -– this notwithstanding the fact that none of the corruption cases brought this term against former PLP parliamentarians has yet been successful.

Two cases have failed and one is left to be tried, remarkably more than four years after former Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett was arraigned.

While “they ‘gern to jail” and “where the VAT money gone?” resonated in 2017, no one has in fact gone to jail, and we have yet to be told how much money the failed prosecutions cost taxpayers.

As they seek a new mandate, Minnis and the FNM tout his leadership, pledging that better days are ahead, and he is needed to steer us into this brighter future.

“I believe that with all that we are doing and all that we are proposing,” said Minnis at an FNM drive-in rally on Saturday night, “that in a second term of the FNM we could have some of the highest growth rates in our economy since the boom of the 1990s. Those prosperous times were also under an FNM government.

“If you elect the PLP, they will stop much of the work we have started. This is because they will want to take all of these projects and give them to the PLP elites.

“It will mean workers will lose their jobs when the projects they are employed [on] get shut down by the PLP. The PLP is bad for workers and they are bad for business. A PLP win would stall our progress for years.”

But will this fear-mongering work? Can Minnis be believed?

This is the same Minnis who, ahead of the 2017 election, called the Baha Mar opening in April of that year “fake” and who upon assuming office gleefully presided over the opening of other areas of the mega resort.

It’s also the same Minnis who called increased taxation the lazy way out when the Christie administration implemented value-added tax, but who, a year after gaining power, raised VAT by 60 percent.

It’s the same Minnis who along with FNM colleagues railed against the “spy bill” in opposition, then came to office and passed the legislation anyway.

It’s also the same Minnis who blasted the former prime minister for failing to act against colleagues found to have abused their office or engaged in other questionable conduct, but who now ignores demands for transparency over dealings within his own government that appear abusive and are for sure questionable.

Not unlike the FNM’s campaign in 2017, Minnis and the FNM in 2021 are attempting to focus voters’ attention on what they insist is PLP corruption, seeking to invoke the bogeyman that helped chase Perry Christie and the PLP from office in 2017.

As desperation sets in, the FNM is also seeking to demonize the current PLP leader and the party’s candidates. In San Salvador on Friday night, FNM Minister Elsworth Johnson bizarrely and irresponsibly declared that “a number of” PLP candidates are accused of child molestation.

Minnis, meanwhile, again insisted that Davis would return The Bahamas to its “dark past” of the 80s drug years and destroy the future of generations of Bahamians to come.

“Bahamas, you have a clear choice in this election,” Minnis said. “On our side, you have a party that cares about your future. You have a party that has invested in projects for you to benefit from. On their side, is a party that is known for corruption and scandal. If you elect them, they will do the same thing they did before.

“The FNM will grow the economy. The FNM will help to create more Bahamian business owners and the FNM will help to create more jobs.”

The PLP is so “scandal-plagued and corrupt” that it has to keep presenting itself as “new”, Minnis contends, but it is the same old corrupt PLP, he insists.

The strategy Minnis is now using – the same one that sealed him and the FNM a historic win in 2017 – is misplaced against the backdrop of broken trust on the part of the current administration.

We will know soon enough just how eroded the FNM’s goodwill among voters truly is, but it is for sure substantially depleted.

PROMISES, PROMISES, PROMISES

For their part, Davis and the PLP promise to deliver us from what they characterize as bad governance and seek to project the party as reformed and refocused.

Admittedly, the PLP still struggles with the baggage of the Christie administration, which had a contemptuous and chaotic time in office after both the 2002 and 2012 wins.

Though he was deputy prime minister in the last term, Davis presents himself now as his own man with his own leadership brand.

Those who make excuses for his shortcomings in the last term contend that his hands were tied under Christie, that he could not fully blossom as the number two guy, and that he would be a different kind of prime minister, one who has no tolerance for bad behavior and corrupt dealings.

While the FNM under Minnis faces a steep incline in its bid for a second term, Davis, we believe, remains a tough sell.

Minnis and the FNM know this as well and are hoping that enough voters find Davis unpalatable and reject the PLP at the polls.

Davis could benefit though from the traditional action Bahamians take in voting out parties, as opposed to voting them in.

This is why in 2017 voters empowered a prime minister ill-equipped for high office.

Though the stars might align for Davis and the PLP tomorrow, we do not see a strong, visionary or inspirational leader taking the helm. But we would for sure be open to being proven wrong.

As he eyes the prime ministership, Davis, a noted queen’s counsel with a gentle disposition, has avoided any malicious or personal attacks on the prime minister.

But he too is using the corruption narrative, charging that the FNM has been “delivering deals to FNM insiders”.

Acknowledging our most immediate national concern, the PLP leader pledges “a coordinated plan of attack for COVID”.

Highlighting our severe fiscal crisis, Davis has pledged, “We’re going to stabilize the country’s finances – but NOT on the backs of the poor.”

Addressing Hurricane Dorian survivors directly, he said on Saturday, “We’re going to find out what happened to the money and we’re going to make sure it gets spent on you.”

Minnis, meanwhile, has warned that if the PLP is elected, storm victims would never see Dorian relief funds.

As Minnis did in 2017, and continues to do now, Davis talks big.

“I have a very clear-eyed view of how serious our challenges are,” the PLP leader said.

“But a smart and strategic government can dig the country out of the hole, and at the same time, make progress on our priorities.”

Speaking in Grand Bahama on Saturday, Davis pledges that island’s challenges will get “urgent” attention.

“A new hospital, a new airport, this time built on higher ground to avoid the regular flooding, new jobs in new industries,” he declared.

But we all know the devil is in the details.

It is hard to know who or what to believe. Politicians often say what they need to win power. This is why so many voters are cynical and why internal polling by both major political parties showed such large numbers of undecided voters in recent weeks.

One Facebook user summed it up well on Monday: Only the politicians’ future is determined on Thursday. Not yours.

As we observed just last week, whichever administration we have come Friday, our fiscal realities are what they are – dire. 

At the end of the 2020/2021 fiscal year, there was a budget deficit of $1.3 billion. The Minnis administration said this was the result of “the significant but necessary financial cost of economic mitigation efforts due to the pandemic”.

Eyeing another term, the Minnis administration touts its “Accelerate Bahamas Recovery Plan” which includes job creation; small business development; healthcare improvements and vaccines; tourism development; public and private sector development; digitization and innovation and fiscal responsibility.

The PLP pledges to “rescue the economy and foster an unprecedented level of growth while managing the national debt and ensuring that the people and infrastructural needs are simultaneously met”.

It contends that “economic diversification, digitization and innovation will be key to returning The Bahamas to a path of exponential growth and progress”.

These pledges all sound good, but we all know there is no magic bullet for the crises we face; there is no financial space for any administration to deliver big in the near to medium term.

No matter who emerges victorious tomorrow, no matter who rises from the sea of troubles in which our nation is sinking, there is no doubting that we are all on the same boat.

We are left now to decide on the best captain to steer us through.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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