In the post-Minnis era, the Free National Movement (FNM), as expected, is having a torturous climb, but even that is putting it mildly.
The main opposition party does not appear to be climbing at all as it slumps on, grasping for relevance, but failing to make inroads of any consequence on the national political landscape.
This is due to three factors.
The first is we are still in recovery from Dr. Hubert Minnis, whose governance style, overall bad management of our affairs and ill temper traumatized and displeased Bahamians and left the FNM’s brand in tatters.
The next factor, which we touched on in this column last week, is that while the Davis administration to date has not had any groundbreaking accomplishments, Prime Minister Philip Davis and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) have managed to stay clear of scandal and controversies that could have a seismic impact on the political climate and deplete from the party’s goodwill bank.
Poor performance in government and a shift in the mood of the electorate against those in office tend to have a direct benefit for the opposition.
This is why, notwithstanding his mediocre showing as opposition leader which led to a vote of no confidence in him by the party’s parliamentary caucus in 2016, a few months later, Minnis led the FNM to a major victory at the polls.
That victory came because the country was in an anti-Christie mood in 2017 and needed to see Perry Christie gone from office.
While voter turnout was just 65 percent in the 2021 election, it was the strong anti-Minnis sentiment that led to a Davis prime ministership.
These are early days yet, but Pintard is not now benefiting from the gift of poor governance and Davis remains likeable, or at the very least, not disliked by the masses.
The third factor that makes opposition a hard trek for the FNM is that FNM Leader Michael Pintard is not a dynamic or inspirational leader. He trades as a skilled orator, but he is not always an effective communicator. He overwhelms listeners with too many words to attempt to communicate what should be straight-forward thoughts.
Pintard is not a compelling leader and struggles to articulate and attract people to a vision.
If he had leadership aspirations prior to the FNM’s trouncing last September, we were not aware of them.
After the vote in 2021, the FNM, as in 2012, was left with very few options for leader. In 2012, Minnis became the accidental leader. Nearly a decade later, Pintard became one as well.
To be clear, Pintard’s lackluster performance to date does not mean that he should be discarded or left for dead in the political dustheap.
Again, Minnis was far from inspirational, and his leadership competencies were in question yet he became leader of the country.
Many Bahamians also did not view Davis as inspirational, and did not buy into the PLP’s “new day” message. Of all the people who were registered to vote, only 34 percent of them voted for the PLP. Again, many did not show up to vote, likely a result of widespread voter apathy and fears associated with COVID-19, which was raging at the time of the September 16, 2021 general election.
Not since 1997 has the Bahamian electorate re-elected a party to govern. Bahamian voters are known for voting their leaders out of office because they have been displeased by their performance.
But we know Pintard and the FNM do not want to sit on their hands hoping that Davis and the PLP will eventually so turn the Bahamian people off that another FNM victory is all but guaranteed.
The challenge faced by Pintard, Deputy Leader Shandendon Cartwright and the rest of the Free National Movement, is fulfilling their important roles as members of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition while burdened by the weight of the rejected record of the Minnis administration.
As the official opposition, the FNM is charged with holding the government accountable and pressing the government to make sound decisions in the interest of the Bahamian people.
In any given week, the FNM releases press statements questioning government’s policies and calling for action in relation to various matters.
The FNM, not unlike official opposition parties before it, risks being viewed as hypocritical as it calls out the government on matters the FNM also failed to effectively address while in government.
More and more, Pintard as opposition leader is getting a reputation as being a panderer, much like Minnis was in opposition and in government.
Minnis still holds the gold medal in this area, but Pintard seems to be trying to play catch-up in a seemingly desperate attempt for relevance and political points.
We imagine that it cannot be easy being in his position as the still evident anti-Minnis sentiment makes the FNM a tough sell.
But sometimes it appears the new FNM leader and some in the leadership team are throwing anything against the wall, hoping something sticks.
Most recently, the FNM, which in opposition was restrained from carrying out its shantytown demolition policy due to a court injunction, railed against the Davis administration for failing to tear down shantytowns.
The party then promoted the narrative that the Davis administration had demolished domes in Abaco, making vulnerable Bahamians homeless, while “lacking the courage” to do anything about illegal housing developments, especially the ones in Abaco, New Providence, North Andros and Eleuthera.
What the FNM did not say is that the same court injunction that tied the hands of the Minnis administration in relation to shantytowns, also to a great extent ties the hands of the existing administration.
In 2019, Dion Foulkes, the Cabinet minister who chaired the Minnis administration’s Shantytowns Action Task Force, told reporters, “… As you know, the injunction stopped our work so we are awaiting the final decision of the Supreme Court before we can move forward. But we are ready to go. Whenever that injunction is lifted, we’re ready to move.”
On Monday, before the FNM’s release on shantytowns, Minister of Works Alfred Sears said he was awaiting an opinion from the government’s attorneys on what action the government can and cannot take given the existing injunction.
The FNM no doubt knows the shantytown issue, which ties into the illegal immigration issue, angers the Bahamian people, but playing on those emotions is a clear act of desperation.
After leaving office last year without the Bahamian people being able to access information under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the FNM also recently blasted the Davis administration for “foot dragging” in fully implementing that law.
The FNM claimed, “The Davis administration simply has no interest in allowing Bahamians to see into its affairs …”
There is merit to this criticism, though it’s hard to accept those criticisms from those who one year ago sat in the chair. The appeal of Minnis and the FNM in 2017 was that transparency and accountability would be the watch words.
On the issue of citizenship, Pintard said recently, the FNM cannot yet say whether it supports effecting citizenship changes via legislation, though the Minnis administration had announced a plan to do so, but left office without introducing such a bill.
A big-ticket promise made by the PLP was to sell the Grand Lucayan resort in Freeport.
It is one of the many problems the PLP inherited from the Minnis administration’s bad decision making.
In 2018, the government purchased the resort from Hutchison Whampoa for $65 million – when it had only been valued at $40 million, according to Michael Scott, KC, who had been intimately involved in the matter.
The Minnis administration saddled the Bahamian taxpayers with the Grand Lucayan and poured untold millions into keeping a portion of it operational. It was a bad decision with bad results.
The FNM in opposition now questions the delays in getting the property sold.
There are multiple other issues that we find difficult to hear the opposition opine on, though we again acknowledge that as the official opposition, the FNM has a right to question government actions.
We say, again, it is far too soon to write off Pintard as leader of the FNM.
Davis in opposition made a number of blunders and proved hypocritical in many of the public statements he made, as did Minnis before him. Both men still became prime minister.
As he eyes that post, Pintard’s challenges are significant. He needs to convince both his party and the general public of his leadership qualities.
But today’s FNM suffers from weak leadership.
It is a throwback to the early 2000s when Tommy Turnquest struggled to resonate. Ultimately, FNMs decided they were not willing to take a chance with him leading them into the 2007 general election. They brought Hubert Ingraham back.
He led them to victory.
That is not an option right now, however.
The public does not want Minnis, and Ingraham has transitioned comfortably into his role as senior statesman.
As Pintard tries to present the FNM as formidable, he faces internal threats to his leadership, including distractions from the Minnis faction, which refuses to back his leadership.
As such, the FNM is not now a well-oiled machine, it does not seem united, and its leadership does not appear to be attracting much new support externally.
This does not mean it is time to panic and unseat the current leader, though that is a decision FNMs alone can make.
We are only one year into this term. But we predict the climb will continue to be arduous for the Pintard-led FNM.
One of our colleagues said it best: “The biggest problem with the FNM is the spotlight is still on them and their disastrous term in office. Until they can take the spotlight off of them and shift the scrutiny to the Davis administration, they will not be successful.”
We could not agree more.