National Review

Minnis readies the troops

Ringing of election bell believed to be imminent 

Free National Movement (FNM) insiders close to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and to those running the party’s re-election campaign have no expectation that the current Parliament will actually meet on September 22, the date it was adjourned to, and the troops are being readied for an election sooner rather than later.

Of course, only one man knoweth the day.

It is he and he alone who will determine when voters head to the polls once again. This, notwithstanding the fact that while in opposition Minnis had repeatedly promised that if elected he would cause there to be a fixed election date. 

And while there remain just under 10 months before an election has to be called, there are growing signs that Minnis will soon ring the proverbial bell and let us all know when the election will be held.

We understand that the prime minister in recent days has been giving the troops their marching orders, signaling to them to make ready. 

Minnis’ recent call for qualified individuals not yet on the voters register to register in the soonest time possible was the clearest sign to the electorate that he is getting ready to announce an election date.

In FNM circles, there is widespread expectation that an election will be called in August and Parliament will soon be dissolved. Again, this is based on the signals Minnis has been sending.

Some within his party believe Minnis will call an election for August 19, the 29th anniversary of the FNM’s historic 1992 win under Hubert Ingraham, but that would surprise us.

That is Ingraham’s date and Minnis has done all in his power to separate himself from Ingraham and Ingraham’s legacy.

It would also be unwise for Minnis to gamble with marring that date, which is historically significant and special to the party. Of course, he might be so blinded or arrogant that the strong possibility of an election loss is not apparent to him.

According to those insiders in both parties, internal polling is showing the FNM is unpopular among Bahamians (no surprises there), but that there is a great number of undecided voters who will likely determine the outcome of the next election.

This is also not surprising. Given the undesirability of both Minnis and Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis, many voters are unenthused and uninspired.

The two leadership options are the most uninspiring leaders on the tickets of the two major political parties in an independent Bahamas.

This is contributing to the depression and malaise we are currently seeing among Bahamians.

Davis, who is lackluster and who has been unable to shed his Christie administration political baggage, is Minnis’ best hope for re-election, even if the chances are slim.

The FNM leader in opposition in 2017, was also a hugely unattractive option, but Bahamians’ widespread disgust for Perry Christie was much stronger than their lack of motivation in selecting Minnis.

Minnis’ anti-corruption message and his electoral reform pledges – which have gone unfulfilled – did provide many voters with cause for optimism. That optimism quickly faded though.

Minnis and the FNM rapidly depleted the goodwill with which they came to office. 

While blaming their lack of ability to improve our fiscal affairs on the former administration, they were also confronted by unprecedented crises – Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are varying views among the public on what grades they deserve for the handling of those disasters, but while Minnis has used these crises to explain to us just how bad things are, he has not been successful in using them to inspire the country to higher heights.

Speaking with National Review yesterday without any expectation of attribution, one prominent FNM member said, “We always say that every election is consequential, but this is going to be a very consequential election given that the country was in ICU for the last year and a half.

“Do people believe the present administration deserves a pass because of that? Do they feel that in spite of that that the government could have made things easier?”

These are very legitimate questions.

Only Election Day will tell us whether the electorate’s disappointment in Minnis will be powerful enough for voters to accept Davis and the PLP. We know traditionally that elections in recent cycles have proven to be more a vote against the incumbent than a vote in favor of those trying to win an election.

Opposition parties tend to benefit when there are so many undecided voters.

 The Davis factor

In selecting its candidates, we think the PLP generally understood the need to keep old scandal-ridden PLPs off the ticket. But the problem the PLP faces is that Davis himself has been unable to separate his personal political brand from the smeared image of the Christie administration.

When many voters see him, they still fear that those who abused office and who fed like hogs at the trough are circling as they wait to return to dip into the nation’s cookie jar.

Many fear that Davis would not be able to keep that crew away.

Some PLP insiders are actually worried that while the PLP has not nominated certain undesirable former members of the Christie administration, these individuals are still intimately involved in the campaign, which is not a good sign when considering how Davis is likely to run a government and who he is likely to surround himself with.

Apart from these perceptions, Davis’ inability to excite voters and his poor communication skills make him a highly unattractive candidate for the prime ministership.

As one political observer highlighted, “Brave does not fill the room. There is nothing inspiring about him.”

Again, those drawbacks might not be enough to sink his and the PLP’s chances at the polls.

Polling is showing he might cost the PLP some seats, but the party is still ahead, according to PLP insiders.

The failure of the PLP to present a more attractive slate of candidates is likely a reflection of Davis’ unattractiveness as a leader. When looking at the lineup of PLP candidates, it is difficult to imagine who would form a Davis Cabinet.  

It appears Minnis is ready to take his chances, encouraged by FNM internal polling showing Davis as a challenged and unfavorable leader.

The FNM has thus far been running a campaign based on the leadership question.

It is what all the political advertising we see every two to three minutes on cable TV is all about – seeking to portray Minnis as a capable leader whose skills have led us through one of the most difficult periods in the history of the modern Bahamas.

The FNM projects Minnis’ leadership qualities fully aware of the concerns many voters have about a Davis leadership.

In recent weeks, the prime minister has also been touting the restart of tourism, the high occupancy levels at local hotels and cruise ships homeporting as evidence that The Bahamas is bouncing back. 

Baha Mar and Atlantis both have full resorts and the Pointe is scheduled to open its Margaritaville hotel in downtown Nassau later this month.

These are all positive developments on the economic horizon, but the national economy is far from recovered.

Some FNM candidates believe the prime minister should wait longer for the “bounce back” to take hold and to trickle down in order to improve the FNM’s re-election chances.

It’s still about the economy, but there are other factors the prime minister is no doubt considering.

Other considerations

As we read the tea leaves, we would be surprised if Minnis wishes to sit through more months of a chaotic Parliament with disgruntled backbenchers making provocative and dissenting statements.

With nothing to lose, those who are watching the curtains fall on their political careers would likely do all they can to further embarrass and damage the Minnis administration in the House.

The Parliament is also being presided over by an out-of-control speaker who, in his desperate bid for political relevance, is lashing the current administration at every turn.

Halson Moultrie is a creature of the Minnis administration’s own making. He was clearly unfit for the high office of speaker, yet received a vote of confidence from the FNM parliamentary caucus in 2018.

While the prime minister and the attorney general have repeatedly claimed they were bringing certain bills to Parliament before the end of the term – The Medicinal Cannabis Bill, the Medical Emergencies Bill and The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, among them – it is clear to us that the legislative agenda has been abandoned.

There is no focus on legislation. It is all about campaigning right now.

Candidates have been told to stay on the ground and work their constituencies with the aim of bringing every voter over to the FNM.

We do not expect any boundary changes. 

Moultrie, who heads the Constituencies Commission, has tried to warn that any decision to call an election without the commission reporting would trigger a constitutional crisis, but that is utter nonsense.

The prime minister is under no obligation to wait for the commission to report before calling an election.

Under the constitution, it is only required to report once every five years. Given that the last commission report is dated February 2017, the prime minister is free to call the election before February 2022 without Parliament receiving a report from the commission.

Early last year, Minnis declared there will be no changes to the boundaries. We believe that is still his position.

The PLP has named its full slate of 39 candidates.

The FNM has still not named Killarney, although that’s a given. The PLP counts Killarney in the FNM column, we understand. That surprises no one given Minnis’ stronghold in the area.

The FNM also has not named candidates in Carmichael, although that, too, is a given, and Pineridge, where its current MP Rev. Frederick McAlpine, who was elected as an FNM, intends now to run as an independent.

The expectation is that Director of Labour John Pinder will get the nomination for Fox Hill.

While no candidate has been announced for Pineridge, we understand that a prospective candidate for the FNM has been working the ground. 

While Minnis recently referred to McAlpine as “Pine-past”, McAlpine will likely split the vote, which could spell trouble for the FNM.

Messing up the FNM’s victory would probably please McAlpine even if he does not win.

“He talking about me as Pine-past, he might be the prime minister past,” McAlpine said yesterday.

“In The Bahamas, we don’t vote you in. I agree that people are not excited about the PLP, but they are far more angry with the FNM and would prefer to vote the FNM out and somebody else collects the spoils.

“Those who are attached to the leadership that the Bahamian people are annoyed with are likely to fall with that leadership regardless of how good they might have done within their constituency. It doesn’t matter if you built a skyscraper in your constituency, if they mad with your leader, they mad with you.”

We saw this play out in 2017 when well-performing PLP MPs were swept out in the wave.

Whether we should expect a wave after the bell rings this time around is open for debate.

What appears certain is that Minnis is ready to seek a new mandate.

It will be interesting to see whether he will be able to catch lighting in a bottle.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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