Former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Perry Christie has set a precedent in 2017 that was heretofore unknown in Bahamian politics: He lost his Centerville seat as a sitting prime minister to the then Free National Movement’s (FNM) Reece Chipman.
Christie, who had held on to Centreville for nearly four decades, lost narrowly by a mere four votes, 1,905 to 1,909. Undoubtedly, the results in Centreville were the most shocking development to come out of that election.
To be sure, other major political party leaders had lost their seats: Former FNM Leader Tommy Turnquest in 2002 to the PLP’s Keod Smith in Mount Moriah and Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield in St. Agnes in 1972 to the PLP’s B.C. Braynen, I think. Wallace-Whitfield won St. Agnes in 1967 and 1968.
Nineteen-seventy-two would be the FNM’s first election. The next time Wallace-Whitfield would win a seat in the House of Assembly would be in 1987, in Marco City, I think it was.
Whatever the case may be, Wallace-Whitfield’s defeat in 1972 as FNM leader was not at all shocking, by any stretch of the imagination, as the FNM was barely two years old.
Just five years removed from majority rule, then Premier Lynden Pindling was invincible to his political rivals, as tens of thousands of Black Bahamians treated him like a rock star. Sir Cecil and the newly formed FNM were treading on dangerous soil by openly challenging Pindling.
In order to appreciate the magnitude of Christie’s loss in Centreville, one must bear in mind that the former PLP leader had always enjoyed wide margins of victories in that area.
For instance, Christie defeated the FNM’s Sonny Russell by a count of 2,536 to 938 in 2002 — a 1,598 margin of victory. That was the year when he first led the PLP to victory.
In 2007, when the PLP lost to the FNM, Christie gained 2,316 votes to the FNM Ella Lewis’ 1,383 votes.
In another impressive performance in 2012, which would be his last win in Centreville, Christie gained 2,950 votes to Lewis’ 1,601. His margin of victory was by 1,349 votes.
With such lopsided results in Centreville, no one saw his political fall at the polls in 2017 coming.
Sir Lynden, as PLP leader and former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, as FNM leader, both managed to hold on to their respective constituencies, despite their parties losing at the polls.
Even though the PLP would lose in 1992 and 1997 with Pindling, he would still win South Andros — an area he represented for 30 years.
As for Ingraham, he would win North Abaco in 2002, gaining 1,713 votes to the PLP Fritz Bootle’s 1,317. The FNM lost in 2002.
In 2007, with Ingraham back at the helm of the FNM, he would win North Abaco, gaining 1,855 to Bootle’s 1,387.
Both Pindling and Ingraham bowed out of frontline politics on their own terms. Christie, on the other hand, was removed from the House of Assembly by the majority of the voters in Centreville.
The 2007 general election would be current Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ first as a contestant, winning Killarney by a vote count of 2,065 to the PLP incumbent Neville Wisdom’s 1,774.
In the 2012 general election, Ingraham won North Abaco, for the final time, with a vote count of 2,235 to the PLP’s Renardo Curry’s 1,856.
As several North Abaco polling stations’ results were read on ZNS, I was beginning to think Ingraham would lose his seat. But that didn’t happen.
Winning by just 379 votes was not impressive, in my opinion, when one considers the wide margin of victory Christie gained in that same election contest.
In all things considered, though, a win is a win.
Also in 2012, Minnis would be one of nine FNMs elected to the House of Assembly, winning Killarney with 2,434 votes to the PLP Jerome Gomez’s 1,642 votes, cementing him as a political force to reckon with in that area.
This perception of Minnis would be reinforced in 2017, as he gained a staggering 4,186 votes to the PLP’s Reneika Knowles’ 1,092 votes.
Minnis outgained his main political rival by 3,094 votes.
In light of the foregoing political history, the question diehard FNMs must now ask themselves is this: With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ruining an already fragile economy, coupled with the devastating passage of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, how safe is Minnis in Killarney?
For many diehard FNMs, just the thought of Minnis losing is sacrilegious. But in light of what had happened to Christie four years ago, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.
With Christie’s stunning loss in Centerville in 2017, I honestly don’t think the FNM can take Killarney for granted.
Minnis’ popularity seems to have taken a steep nosedive since September 2019.
Granted, the decision to raise VAT from 7.5 percent to 12 percent in 2018 had hurt the FNM. But I think the party could’ve weathered the VAT storm, so to speak.
The issue the FNM is faced with, unfortunately, is a global pandemic which has brought First World jurisdictions to their knees, with the economies of small developing countries spiralling out of control.
The constant lockdowns in 2020, due to the high rate of COVID-19 infections, in addition to the historic shutdown of the tourism industry, rendering jobless tens of thousands of Bahamians, have both presented to the FNM insurmountable challenges — the likes of which no other government has ever had to contend with.
Divine providence has snakebitten this FNM administration, leaving it dangerously vulnerable to a beleaguered Bahamian electorate looking for anyone or anything to vent their frustrations on. And Minnis seems to be their political scapegoat.
Of the 20 constituencies in New Providence, the only safe seats I can realistically envisage the FNM retaining are St. Barnabas with Shanendon Cartwright, St. Anne’s with newcomer Adrian White, Free Town with Dionisio D’Aguilar and Carmichael with Desmond Bannister.
Do I honestly believe Minnis could lose Killarney? The answer to that question is yes.
In light of the historically unprecedented situation the country finds itself in, Minnis losing is quite possible.
— Kevin Evans