In December 2011, Andrew Holness was a 39-year-old rookie prime minister of Jamaica on the job just over a month, when he made the disastrous decision to call an election 12 months early.
Holness had been given the job when Bruce Golding unexpectedly resigned, rolling the wicket to install Holness as his successor.
The wily Portia Simpson-Miller outwitted the greenhorn PM with the oldest political rope-a-dope trick in the book. She goaded him into an early election that she then won decisively.
The “Holness Hustle” is regarded as teachable political subterfuge. Holness stubbornly ignored the advice of his party’s elders, including the late Edward Seaga, who begged him to wait until summer 2012 when the dour mood of the country would improve as Jamaica’s athletes dominated the Olympics in London.
Had he waited, he would have basked in the glory of Usain Bolt’s three gold medals, going to the polls when Jamaicans were on cloud nine.
There is speculation now that Hubert Minnis may be pondering an early run at the polls. History cautions him to keep his cards close to his chest and run out the clock.
The choice of when to call an election is perhaps the single most important decision a prime minister makes.
Prime ministers wait until their parliamentary time is up or for when economic conditions and their personal or the party’s popularity lean toward a sure win, before they go to the polls.
An early election now could send a signal that Minnis doesn’t expect the economy to get better any time soon or that his heretofore successful management of the COVID pandemic will somehow backfire.
Calling an election to pre-empt bad economic news may indicate that the PM has something to hide. The PLP assumes that his May budget will have crippling austerity measures and new taxes to pile on already weary, broke voters.
One can see how it is convenient for the PLP to peddle this gunk. We are in a fix, much like the rest of the world. Minnis didn’t cause the pandemic, nor did he stop the tourists coming; but it falls on his government to steer us out of these twin evils.
The PM knows that voters are not stupid. They don’t expect miracles. But they do want to know that their pain is understood and that their government has a plan to make things better.
Minnis has a plethora of good news that point to why he should go the distance. No matter how much the PLP protests, Minnis’ COVID strategy is working.
Our rate of infection has slowed. Deaths from COVID are down and he has been able to slowly open up the economy. In stark contrast, our Caribbean cousins in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Jamaica have had to implement new, harsher curfews due to rising infection rates.
We can curse the competent authority until we are tired, but his bitter medicine has saved lives and there is no greater responsibility that a prime minister can have.
Minnis’ run of good news continues. We can all reasonably expect to be vaccinated by summer.
Now, Minnis needs to roll out his strategy to get tourists back and the economy firing on all cylinders.
Austerity is not the answer when the tourists return. The government needs to spend money to stimulate the economy mostly through the kind of infrastructure projects that Minnis has deftly been rolling out around the Family Islands.
Brave Davis ought to know that our economy is nowhere near disaster. With no tourists around, our food bill, our imported energy bill and the billions that leak out of our economy by individual Bahamians shopping in Miami, were all down in 2020, music to the Central Bank governor.
Love him or loathe him, Peter Turnquest did us a favor when he lined up funding from the IMF, the IDB and private sources last year to give us the cushion to service our foreign loans this year.
Minnis must now turn his full attention to the Ministry of Tourism because it is clear that they need new thinking. Why, for instance, are we spending money on television ads in the US at a time when their government is discouraging foreign travel?
Minnis let Davis get under his skin last summer when he allowed Bahamians to go to Miami for short visits. Taking advice from Brave proved wrong then and it will be disastrous now.
Election talk could all be a head fake that Minnis is running on Davis to swing him and the PLP, a big distraction that will have them depleting resources and dreaming of an early election.
Hope is a powerful stimulant to run on and the tide is turning in Minnis’ favor.
Jab vaccines into 300,000 Bahamian arms and get a million tourists here by next May, and Minnis will have a clearer path to re-election than he does today.
Time longer than rope, Prime Minister. Just ask Andrew Holness.
— The Graduate