In recent weeks, developments related to the governing Free National Movement have made the FNM appear unstable and chaotic, but it was the announcement by Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes in Parliament on Monday that he is no longer seeking a nomination from the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) that attracted interest.
While what he said in the House of Assembly was interesting enough, it’s what he said outside the chamber that was most telling about his relationship with the leadership of the PLP and events that led to his decision.
A visibly emotional Forbes — who is into his third consecutive term as an MP — said in the House that he was taking his “last political breath”.
“My name would never arise again in political cycles,” he said. “My work is done, politically.”
Afterwards, Forbes, speaking with reporters, indicated that he was undermined on the ground in his constituency by his own party and that the leadership failed to provide him the kind of support he needed, and failed to express any confidence in him and his political future.
“…Every other house you go to the questions are being asked, ‘Are you running? How many more persons are the PLP going to put on the ground against you? When is this issue going to be cleared up?’” he said.
Forbes said he was giving it his best with meager resources, but the questions kept coming up in his constituency.
We do not know whether PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis had been aware that such an announcement was coming, but he claimed yesterday that Forbes’ nomination was “never in doubt”.
In a statement on Monday, PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell said, “We are saddened by the statement today that Picewell Forbes MP will not offer for the House of Assembly again. We had hoped to see him serve in Cabinet one day.”
It was an odd statement given Forbes’ public revelation that the party leadership had not given him the support he needed.
Last November, after Monique Pindling, daughter of former Prime Minister the late Sir Lynden Pindling, who represented South Andros between 1967 and 1997, expressed an interest in that nomination, Davis said something egregious would have to happen to prevent incumbent parliamentarians from being renominated.
Yesterday, Monique Pindling said on the Guardian Radio show “The Revolution” with Juan McCartney that after seeking the nomination, she was told by the party’s leadership that the PLP does not want a Pindling on the ticket.
Following Davis’ comment last November, there had been an expectation that Forbes would still hold on to the nomination, though we had heard his nomination was in trouble.
Forbes was first elected to the House in 2007 as the PLP’s candidate for Central and South Andros. He was successful once again in the 2012 election and served as the Bahamas high commissioner to CARICOM.
He was one of only three PLP incumbents who withstood the red wave that washed the PLP out of office in 2017. Political newcomer Chester Cooper was also elected on the PLP’s ticket and became the party’s deputy leader.
Immediately after the victory, Forbes let it be known that he remained a proud PLP and did not take kindly to calls for the PLP to offer an apology to the Bahamian people for its mismanagement of our affairs while in office between 2012 and 2017.
In July 2017, Forbes said the PLP had nothing to repent for and wouldn’t “stoop down” in the face of an election defeat.
Forbes was responding to a statement from Cooper, who had urged party members to make a “sincere and humble apology and repentance” to supporters and the country.
“I know there is a time and a place to say certain things. This whole thing about repent and redeem yourself is nonsense,” said Forbes, when he appeared on the Peace 107 FM talk show “Hard Copy” with Steve McKinney.
“The PLP is a party of legacy and history, man. We have made some mistakes.
“We have not gotten everything right, but to tell the oldest established party in this country amidst all its fallibility, ‘You have to now stoop down, repent, reengineer, rebrand’. No man, the people made a decision.”
Over the last three plus years, Forbes, Davis, Cooper and Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin, often in the face of jeers from the side opposite, did their best to defend the PLP’s record in the House of Assembly, and worked to prepare the party to mount another battle against the FNM whenever an election is called.
Forbes, “a senior man” in Parliament, and a broadcaster by profession, is leader of opposition business in the House, but he has never been regarded as a political heavy weight.
His most embarrassing political moment on the national stage occurred in 2009 when he made a premature and inaccurate declaration at a PLP convention, forcing then Senior Justice Anita Allen to order a retrial in the high profile case of former PLP Senator Pleasant Bridgewater, who had been accused of attempted extortion.
Since 2007, Forbes has faced the peculiar challenge of representing an expansive Family Island constituency with critical needs and scarce resources.
In his statement in Parliament on Monday, he spoke of those challenges and having to use personal resources where he could to help constituents meet their basic needs and pay their bills.
We imagine that with the economic hardships created by the pandemic, the difficulties of representing that area have been even greater.
Forbes did not win the seat with even half of the votes. He won with 46 percent of the votes (849 votes).
The FNM’s Zendal Forbes secured 720 votes (39 percent).
If Forbes had become unpopular on the ground in his constituency, it is easy to see why. He is an opposition MP representing an area with substantial needs that preceded the pandemic, and he started in a position where he had the support of less than half of voters.
Still, Forbes, who managed to hold onto his seat when big political names were wiped from the political landscape in 2017, deserved to be treated by the party’s leadership with respect.
If indeed it was Davis’ view that Forbes as an incumbent should have first crack at the nomination, he ought to have expressed that confidence on the ground.
If Davis and other decision makers in the party determined that Forbes was not wanted by a good number of constituents and was no longer the person most likely to win that seat on the PLP’s ticket, then the PLP leader ought to have dealt with this matter in a decent fashion, allowing Forbes to bow out with some dignity.
To leave a loyal PLP like Forbes dangling in the wind without any certainty either way was unfortunate and disrespectful.
Reports that Forbes was in trouble on the ground might have some validity. We have not heard of any strong support expressed for him, or disapproval of his decision, emanating from South Andros.
On a more important level, this matter ultimately speaks to leadership and might signal to us how Davis as prime minister would deal with critical issues involving members of the party’s caucus, and his Cabinet.
As they continue to work on the PLP’s brand with an election nearing, Davis and other influential players in the party should be careful that the organization is not seen to be chaotic and unstable, as the FNM appears to be.
The leader should learn a lesson from allowing the Forbes matter to get to this embarrassing point.
It is clear from all that is apparent that he could have handled it much better.