National Review

High stakes

Prior to the September 16, 2021 general election, the names Michael Pintard, Kwasi Thompson and Iram Lewis were not frequently called, if at all, in many public and perhaps private discussions about future leadership of the Free National Movement (FNM).

It was the misguided view of Dr. Hubert Minnis that he would serve a second term. 

In fact, on more than one occasion, when questioned by reporters on his government’s failure to actualize key promises, Minnis often presumptuously responded that he had 10 years in which to fulfill them.

He made a bad gamble in calling the election eight months before he had to and lost miserably.

And when it became clear that he could be embarrassed on the convention floor if he insisted on staying on as leader after leading the party to a spectacular defeat, he eventually announced with crocodile tears that he will step aside.

The party’s leadership void must now be filled.

Names like Dr. Duane Sands and Desmond Bannister were previously called as obvious choices for leadership. Earlier on, Peter Turnquest, who had been the deputy prime minister, but who resigned a year ago after his name was called in a scandalous lawsuit, was also seen as a possible leadership contender.

And while Renward Wells, the former minister of health and Minnis’ biggest ring kisser, no doubt had leadership aspirations, he was not a crowd favorite.

Turnquest, who had chilly relations with Minnis, was cut out of a renomination months after his resignation from Cabinet.

Most of Minnis’ Cabinet was wiped out in the general election. 

Only Pintard and Lewis, who had previously held parliamentary seats, were re-elected, as was Thompson, the former senator, who was gifted the East Grand Bahama nomination after Turnquest was unceremoniously dumped by the FNM, or more accurately stated, by Minnis.

Minnis also won his seat, but by a reduced margin – going from 73 percent of the votes in 2017 to 51 percent in 2021, barely escaping the humiliation of winning less than 50 percent in his constituency.

The contenders for leadership now emerge as a result of the electoral and party systems we have. Those systems don’t always produce the most competent and inspiring options for national leadership. 

This is how Minnis emerged as leader in 2012.

That year, the FNM won nine seats. He became an option due to the makeup of the party’s parliamentary caucus.

Minnis was one of just three elected FNMs, who had been in the Cabinet – not counting Hubert Ingraham, who announced his retirement on the night of the general election.

There is no requirement in a party’s constitution that the leader has to have Cabinet experience or be a member of the House, but it is now established convention.

The leadership of Tommy Turnquest after the FNM lost the election in 2002 was a failed experiment.

Turnquest, who himself lost his seat in that election, served in the senate, an appointed body. He did not have the national platform or respect provided by being an elected member of the House.

His lackluster period as leader led to the conclusion in 2005 by influential FNMs that while he had certainly been a competent minister, and while he was a likeable individual, he did not have what it would take to lead the party to victory in 2007, and so he was replaced.

Ingraham was convinced to return, and return he did in grand fashion during the leadership election at the party’s convention in 2005.

CONTENDERS

It is critically important that those with leadership aspirations win their seats if they are to have a shot at achieving the ultimate goal. 

No doubt recognizing this, Sands brought out Ingraham, a still respected name in national circles, to endorse him ahead of the recent general election. While the endorsement carried much weight, it was not enough to overcome the very powerful and pervasive anti-Minnis sentiment that existed.

As has occurred during many election cycles, some MPs who had performed commendably on the ground in their constituencies were rejected because of their leader and voters’ disgust toward their leader.

And so, when the dust settled on the night of September 16, 2021, only Minnis, Pintard, Lewis, Thompson, Shandendon Cartwright (St. Barnabas), Adrian Gibson (Long Island) and Adrian White (St. Anne’s) had emerged victorious.

While Minnis refused to address the nation and announce his resignation after leading his party to defeat, Pintard became the automatic front-runner for leader.

In the Marco City race, his performance was noteworthy given that strong anti-FNM and anti-Minnis sentiment that had swept the country.

The former minister of agriculture and marine resources got 57 percent of the 4,131 votes cast. 

Thompson, the former minister of state for finance, got 49 percent of the 4,286 votes in East Grand Bahama.

In Central Grand Bahama, Lewis, the former minister of youth, sports, and culture, held his seat with 48 percent of the 4,354 votes cast.

The percentages obtained in individual constituencies do not matter in a race for party leader, but winning those seats again was an unwritten prerequisite for leadership contention.

While Pintard was a minister in Minnis’ Cabinet, it was an open secret that the two did not enjoy warm relations.

Pintard is a former chairman of the FNM and a former senator.

In 2016, he resigned both positions amid a scandal involving Peter Nygard and Louis Bacon, two wealthy Lyford Cay residents who had had an epic and infamous feud.

Pintard, a consultant for Callenders & Co., was caught in the middle of that debacle. He had reportedly been aware of a plot to kill several members of Save the Bays (a group financed by Bacon) had met with men alleged to be gang members, but did not report the matter to the police.

His resignation was not an admission of any guilt, he said at the time.

With the 2017 election of the FNM, the scandal faded from the headlines. 

Minnis selected him to be minister of youth, sports and culture, and later the agriculture minister – roles he performed at an acceptable standard. He was a competent minister who seemed to understand his portfolio and had a grasp for matters therein.

Thompson and Lewis were, on the other hand, light weights in Cabinet.

After Hurricane Dorian when Minnis created the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction, Lewis was made a minister of state with Minnis holding overall responsibility for that ministry.

Lewis did not make much of an impact; the Minnis administration left office with low marks for its response to the hurricane, including poor management of reconstruction efforts.

Like Thompson, his political antecedents are far from impressive.

He was not a standout as minister. It would be a major upset then if Lewis wins the FNM leadership race.

STRATEGY

Though Thompson told FNM delegates over the weekend he is no one’s puppet, he is seen as the anti-Pintard horse in the leadership race.

After Peter Turnquest’s resignation from Cabinet last year, Minnis assumed the minister of finance portfolio and appointed Thompson minister of state for finance.

The appointment did not inspire confidence in the national arena that the Ministry of Finance had competent leadership amidst a dire fiscal and economic crisis. During his months-long tenure, Thompson did nothing to disabuse anyone of that view.

Interestingly, he has been endorsed by two prominent and well-respected FNMs — FNM founding father Maurice Moore and the widow of former FNM Leader Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Naomi Lady Wallace-Whitfield.

Both are tremendously influential in FNM circles.

Those who pay close attention to politics in The Bahamas know that Thompson is well liked by Minnis. The feeling appears to be mutual.

Trusted FNM sources tell us the Hubert Minnis factor is at play in the upcoming leadership election, and that Minnis is trying to influence the outcome, a key reason Thompson is in the race.

Having Kwasi Thompson as leader of the FNM would allow him to warm the seat and keep Minnis’ influence in the party front and center.

There is an expectation that the “real” race for FNM leader will be in another two or three years when the country gets closer to another general election.

We expect at that time that even FNMs with leadership aspirations who do not hold seats in the House of Assembly would be inclined to run.

Duane Sands’ decision to run for chairman of the FNM when that race becomes open in February could be a bid to remain politically relevant over the next couple of years.

After losing in September, Minnis had reportedly tested the temperature of the FNM council as he tried to hold on as leader. We are told by respected FNM sources that there was no enthusiasm for that to happen.

More than a month after the general election, he finally confirmed that he will not seek the leadership.

If Minnis is still interested in the seat of power in another couple years, having Thompson in the FNM leadership chair might be his best chance at making a return.

While Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) are still enjoying the post-election honeymoon, notwithstanding the near insurmountable challenges they face, they are likely to see their popularity wane as they get further into their term.

If there becomes a pervasive anti-Davis or anti-PLP mood, as we saw in the 2012-2017 term under Perry Christie, and in the 2017-2021 term under Minnis, the FNM and its leader would likely become the default choice.

Ingraham left office in 2002 an unpopular leader and was back three years later as FNM leader; he easily returned in 2007 as prime minister.

Likewise, Christie and the PLP were voted out in 2007, with Christie a disliked politician, but in 2012 they cruised back into office.

We do not know what is in Minnis’ mind, but we would not be surprised if these facts are not tossed about as he considers his own future in politics.

We do not think he thinks that he is done politically.

For him now, it might be about strategy, how to maneuver, how to keep Pintard out, and how to secure the best path to a return to leadership of the FNM, and to the prime ministership to repair his legacy.

A three-man race could split the vote on November 27.

But will Minnis’ horse emerge victorious?

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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