There is a popular adage about what happens the higher a monkey climbs.
The decision of the governing party to launch an early campaign season though Prime Minister and Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis has not indicated an intent to hold an early general election, has exposed him and his political organization in ways that so far are doing his camp more harm than good.
The art of politics is in both timing and execution.
Bahamians are intensely political and like their politics as they like their native fruit – ripe, in season and not cut before its time.
Force-ripening the campaign season is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of already discontented Bahamians, who last week rewarded the government for its forwardness with an embarrassing turnout at its community rally held in the western zone of New Providence, which includes Minnis’ constituency of Killarney.
Though rally sizes do not win elections, they sway the perception of impressionable voters, are an indication of voter interest and support and give clues into the galvanizing capacity of a party’s machinery.
Bahamians on the Facebook live feed coverage of the FNM’s community rally went into full attack mode, chiding the party for its poor turnout and slamming the administration with a litany of complaints and insults.
By contrast, the large turnout captured by the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) weeks prior surprised some observers who perhaps were overestimating the extent to which the level of public disaffection realized during the last Christie administration exists at near the same level today.
In typical campaign banter fashion, upset FNM supporters charged that the PLP had likely bussed in most of their crowd, but if that was the case, it would actually indicate that the opposition party is organized enough to ensure that it uses the most effective means necessary to get the kind of turnout of supporters it desires.
Either way, Bahamians who love a good contest wasted no time in comparing the turnout of supporters and drawing their own conclusions therefrom about who is “finish” and who is not.
These kinds of contests on the battlefield of public perception matter in political warfare, and the governing party took another preemptive strike on the field when it chose to announce a community rally for the hurricane disaster zone of Grand Bahama that was scheduled for this evening, but was cancelled amidst public heat and backlash from residents who angrily let it be known that now was not the time for such an event.
That the government considered throwing a political party for itself in the heart of flood-ravaged downtown Freeport, steps away from residents in damaged homes on an island where scores are still without electricity and jobs and where full city water potability has not yet been restored, was astounding enough.
That it thought it appropriate to ask residents of the East Grand Bahama constituency — ground zero of the death and destruction on the island — to attend a rally to watch the government pat itself on the back, even while many remain homeless and as loved ones of 22 missing storm victims and the island’s 11 confirmed deaths wrestle with the enormity of their grief, was a stunning testament to inhumanity on the part of the governing party.
What this ill-advised move did was expose a side of the governing party which sent a message to Grand Bahamians that even their death and homelessness is not worthy of respect, and their process of grief is not worthy of reverence.
We understand that Marco City MP Michael Pintard was a voice in party meetings that openly opposed the holding of the planned event.
The government seemed to believe that today’s scheduled signing of a heads of agreement for the sale of the Grand Lucayan properties was reason enough to ignore all the realities on the ground that will remain unchanged immediately after that signing, and hold an event to praise itself for the achievement.
But storm victims on Grand Bahama are in no mood for politics and are only interested in getting their families, lives and livelihoods back together after Hurricane Dorian’s onslaught that changed the day-to-day realities of each and every resident regardless of their level of loss.
The governing party climbed the tree of political precipitousness on Grand Bahama, and it exposed the leadership and the organization as being callous, uncaring and tone deaf to the cries and conditions of those still fighting to survive and recover on the island.
It is easy to dismiss the banter from campaign podiums as merely the stuff of electioneering, but this is an unwise posture to take, as statements made by political leaders expose who they are and what their disposition is with respect to good and democratic governance.
When Minnis declared that he wanted his party to win all 39 seats in the next general election, observers likely brushed it off as nonsense talk, but it revealed in that moment the kind of scenario the prime minister might be desirous of having — one where he is not challenged and is not held accountable for his actions and that of any administration he leads.
The role of the opposition is essential in a democracy because the bedrock of democracy is the encompassing of opposing views, and in the context of the legislature, is critical in scrutinizing the work of the government and to play the role as the alternative government.
Ultimately, the Bahamian people decide who shall hold any given seat, but it is the apparent quest for absolutism, chanting “it must be 39-0”, that should be of concern to all Bahamians.
One does not need to hold all seats in the lower house to govern the country, and a leader who espouses democratic ideals and recognizes the indispensability of the opposition in his or her country’s democracy would not wish to see its critical role and presence absent in the legislature.
The prime minister followed from that declaration to say, “The boundaries’ not changing, you gat what you gat.”
This again is another statement that smacks of desires of absolutism, because constitutionally, the prime minister does not unilaterally determine what the delimitation of constituencies will be.
Part VI of the Constitution of The Bahamas states that the Constituencies Commission — made up of the speaker of the House, a justice of the Supreme Court, two House members appointed by the governor general on advice of the prime minister and one House member so appointed on the advice of the leader of the opposition — shall review the number and boundaries of seats at intervals of not more than five years.
The commission submits to the governor general a report on whether the number of seats and the boundaries should remain the same or should undergo certain changes.
After the boundaries report is submitted, the prime minister is constitutionally mandated to table the governor general’s draft order of the report for Parliament’s approval.
Part VI, Article 70 (6) states: “If the motion for the approval of any draft order laid under this article is rejected by the House of Assembly, or is withdrawn by leave of the House, an amended draft shall be laid without undue delay by the prime minister before the House of Assembly.”
The order, once approved by Parliament, is to be submitted by the prime minister to the governor general, after which time the order comes into effect.
The Constituencies Commission has not yet been appointed.
It is important to recall that Minnis pledged to hold a referendum in furtherance of a constitutional amendment allowing for the creation of an independent boundaries commission.
That the prime minister went from pledging electoral reform by pursuing this constitutional amendment, to making declarations that give the country the impression that he and he alone is the deciding factor in what the number of seats and boundary lines will be, gives us yet another glimpse at a leader who seems to want to live in a world where his word and his word alone, is law.
Look before you leap
“We have an easy task next time,” declared the prime minister to his group of supporters at last week’s event, which is inarguably a foolhardy assertion as even in the best of scenarios, successful elections and electoral campaigns are the fruit of hard work, diligence and skill buoyed by a functioning electoral system, a well-oiled party machinery and a solid team unified around a common, attainable goal.
In the case of the 2022 electoral battle, there will be nothing easy about convincing Bahamians to give the FNM as it exists today, a second shot at governing the country.
The PLP also has no easy feat in convincing Bahamians to give its team a chance to steer the ship of state, but what it is not contending with at the moment is the kind and level of animosity and virulent dissatisfaction being demonstrated by Bahamians toward the governing party.
To believe that the task ahead is “easy” is a delusion, but more notably it is an indication that notwithstanding the cries of the Bahamian people and the troubles within his own organization, the prime minister is either choosing to ignore the obvious or is being advised by those he trusts that the emperor is indeed fully clothed.
Before launching into the deep of an early political campaign, the prime minister ought to have looked before he leapt, and considered the level of pressure an impetuous campaign launch would put on his ministers who are barely beyond the halfway mark of carrying out work under their respective areas of responsibility.
With the tremendous challenges facing the country at this time, Cabinet needs to have its eyes focused on building the country and addressing critical areas of concern — a task that becomes unavoidably complicated if not impossible once its members are signaled to switch into campaign mode.
What Grand Bahama showed the governing party ahead of its planned rally is that it has little appetite for politics at this stage, and it will not be force-fed by anyone, including the party to which it gave all its seats.
And what New Providence residents demonstrated last week is that for right now, they are not buying what the governing party is selling.
The higher the monkey climbs, the more he exposes his tail.
An early campaign amidst high voter disaffection is proving tantamount to the Minnis administration climbing a tree without sufficient cover to prevent indecent exposure.
The governing party needs to focus on governing, and let the campaign season ripen the old fashioned way.