Last week, we explored the question of whether the Free National Movement (FNM) is demonstrating that it is deserving of a fresh mandate, notwithstanding its record of failed promises and very clear evidence that it never had any real plan to do much of what it claimed it would do.
While voters will likely make their decision based on how they feel about the FNM and what it did and did not do in office, how they feel about the alternative — Philip Brave Davis and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) — will no doubt feature prominently in whether they make the FNM the first party to be elected for a second consecutive term since 1997.
The PLP is working under the assumption that the prime minister will call an early election, Davis indicated when he spoke with us this week.
A fixed date for election is one of the promises FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis made repeatedly on the campaign trail in an effort to convince voters that he was serious about electoral reform.
In early 2019, Prime Minister Minnis declared his government was about to table legislation to introduce a term limit for prime ministers and a fixed election date.
More failed promises. More hot air.
We admit, we never took Minnis seriously in making such pledges in the first place.
So now, he and he alone will know when the next election will be held. It is something he found unacceptable when he was in opposition and Perry Christie was the one with his hand on the bell.
A threat to victory
There is no fixed election date, but the PLP is making ready.
In examining whether the opposition party has emerged or is emerging as a favorable option once again for the governance of The Bahamas, it is best to look at what led to it being crushed at the polls three and a half years ago.
We won’t rehash the whole set of circumstances that converged, leading to the unseating of the PLP and to an incumbent prime minister losing his seat in spectacular fashion, but any examination of where the party is now does require at least a brief look back.
After the 2017 election loss, the party’s leadership commissioned a post mortem to tell it what we all already knew, and that is why the PLP lost so dismally on May 10.
The researcher concluded that Christie fatigue; the failure to address “wrongdoing” of Cabinet ministers; persistent corruption perceptions; the constitutional and gaming referenda; the handling of the Rubis oil spill; “unnecessary” spending on carnival and poor response in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew were key reasons for the defeat.
Constituencies responding to an online survey indicated that the perception of the PLP as corrupt was the single greatest element that impacted the party.
The negative perception of Christie was the second element that had significant impact.
The message from the field was clear, according to that report completed by Maureen Webber, a Jamaican social development practitioner, who spent countless hours interviewing PLPs and examining the issues related to the loss.
That report recommended, among other strategies, that the PLP seek to broaden its base by attracting more youth voters; modernize how it communicates; rebuild partnerships with civil society, professional groups and the media; and begin to lead and participate in national conversations on anti-social behavior and crime.
The report also recommended that the party come up with a clear structured campaign leading into the next election.
As it fought miserably to hold on to power with a failed leader who was more interested in power than people, the PLP could not reverse the overwhelming view that it was the party of corruption.
The FNM was successful in making the election about corruption. It promised to prosecute those it said were guilty of corruption.
That appealed to voters.
On the night of a euphoric election victory, Minnis made the pledge once again. He vowed to probe how the people’s money was spent.
Before long, and in dramatic fashion, three former PLP parliamentarians were taken to court and charged with corruption-related crimes.
These were big moments in our national life, but these moments were accompanied by claims from the PLP that the government was on a witch hunt and that the cases had no merit.
Two of those cases have already been heard, the one against former PLP Senator Frank Smith and another against former Minister Shane Gibson. Both cases have fallen apart.
The case against former Minister Ken Dorsett has not yet been heard.
As part of showing it was serious in dealing with the corruption issue, the FNM administration also tabled the Integrity Commission Bill in Parliament in 2017.
This was supposed to be its comprehensive anti-corruption legislation, but three years after it was tabled, no movement has been made on the bill.
We opined last week that despite the FNM’s failure to pass anti-corruption legislation and despite having any success in proving corruption against the PLP, the Minnis administration has avoided any widely held perception that it is corrupt.
There is multiple evidence of incompetence, yes, but the corruption label still is one that is most often attached to the PLP.
This brings us back to the opposition party and whether it has been able to shake the corruption perception.
The simple answer is that it has not.
We submit that this lingering perception is the greatest threat to a PLP victory.
There has never been any serious or verifiable claim of corruption against former PLP Leader Perry Christie. Christie prided himself on the fact that he left office with his personal reputation intact.
There has been no corruption claim against the PLP’s current leader, Phil Davis, either.
In fact, there has never been any proven corruption against any member of the former administration, but we all know, as do politicians and those who advise them, that perception is the most powerful of elements in any election.
If voters perceive a party or its members to be corrupt, then that is enough to kill a party’s chances at the polls.
In the upcoming election, the PLP will play on the FNM’s failed promises, its flip flopping, its hypocrisy and the perception that it is the party of special interests.
As the FNM did in opposition, the PLP will accuse the FNM of lying.
The opposition party has adopted the phrase “no lie lasts forever”.
The FNM, meanwhile, will go back to what has sealed victory in the past. It will remind voters that “the PLP is the party of corruption” and that if you elect the PLP, hogs will be back at the trough for a five-year feeding frenzy to finish off what they started in the last term.
What must the PLP do now?
In late 2016, early 2017, when Minnis was weighed by the perception of ineptness, he was able to successfully shift the narrative when the FNM rolled out a few highly respected candidates with unblemished records in their respective fields: Sands, Lloyd, Dames, D’Aguilar all come to mind.
People started to believe that if Minnis falters due to his incompetence and lack of skills necessary to steady our ship of state, there is a sufficiently competent team that would encircle him and save us from damnation.
Like Minnis, Davis does not inspire confidence that he is capable of leading effectively in the ultimate seat of power. Neither man is visionary or motivational.
Davis, however, has an added challenge as he is unable to separate himself from the disastrous performance of an administration viewed by many Bahamians to be corrupt or to condone corruption.
Again, while Christie has no personal corruption label attached to him, the PLP’s own post-election report highlighted the perceived toleration of wrongdoing and self-dealing as a key factor in the dramatic defeat.
Davis was deputy leader when clear evidence emerged that a minister had used his position to try to enrich his family.
On Nomination Day in 2017, The Tribune, in an explosive revelation, reported how then Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald solicited business contracts for his family from then Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian.
Davis and other colleagues turned a blind eye.
When he was asked whether he believed Fitzgerald should resign as a result of his condemnable actions, Davis stood on the side of his colleague.
“He’s our candidate for Marathon and we expect him to win his seat,” the then deputy prime minister declared when approached by reporters.
Still, if he is to have any real chance at becoming prime minister, Davis must do as Minnis did in opposition.
He and the PLP must assemble a lineup of candidates with untarnished reputations, of high integrity and unquestionable character.
They must be promoted as the headliners in the next election. Others from the previous administration should take a reduced role.
Davis must also make a clear statement that those who brought shame and scandal to the last administration would have no place in his government.
Mind you, it may be hard to believe him, but he may have a shot.
The PLP understandably celebrated when the cases against Frank Smith and Shane Gibson crumbled, but the party should not be fooled into believing that the vindication of these two prominent PLPs is enough to dispel the “hands in the cookie jar” label attached to the party.
The word “corruption” is in the minds of many Bahamians still synonymous with PLP.