It was Wednesday, May 10, 2017 when the Free National Movement (FNM), led by Dr. Hubert Minnis, was returned to power in an undeniably decisive victory. The party won thirty five of thirty nine (89.7 percent) of the seats in parliament. Even the then sitting prime minister, Perry Christie, was unseated.
The Minnis administration’s mandate was huge, and so were the expectations attached to it. Of a five-year term, the FNM is now at the midway point, if it goes the full duration. Having been involved in government for two separate terms and entered the midpoints of those terms, there are three things that I know to be true.
First, at the midway point, there is a sober reflection on what the party has achieved in the first half of its term; a kind of midpoint reckoning. The FNM will do that to be sure; each member of parliament, each Cabinet minister and the party will reflect deeply on their performance. There will be mini caucuses, domino table debates and council meeting conclaves all assessing where the party is at this point in the game. They will look at and discuss the state of the economy; the state of the society as measured by its sense of ease and safety; and the state of the party, as measured by the contentment of the faithful. The prime minister and ministers will come under intense evaluation, as will members of parliament. I can tell you that it is not a pleasant time for governing politicians, especially if life in the country is not rosy; and it is not now.
Prior to Hurricane Dorian, the economy had made gains but was moving along only at a modest pace. Crime, especially in terms of murder, was down but still an issue subliminally on the minds of citizens. Generally, government leaders and the government were challenged in terms of favorability. In the aftermath of Dorian, things seem more difficult. Reflections at this time are likely to be testy with enormous pressure about what can be achieved going forward to secure a victory.
Second, at the midway point, the future is approached with enormous anxiety. The fact is, the stakes get higher now, as the next election begins to loom. Every achievement means more possibility of victory and every failure swell as a reason for defeat. At this point in the game, doing the hard things become difficult because their costs are often high and their gains long in coming. Remember the New Providence Road Improvement Project? It was too close to election and it cost votes for sure. The benefits have come but the Ingraham administration is long gone having suffered defeat. After the midway point, politicians, focused on re-election, tend to look for low hanging fruit with limited cost to political capital. They tend to see everything, even governance as all politics now.
Third, at the midway point, it’s all about politics. On a good day, Bahamians are super political. Large swaths of our population view life in this country in terms of party politics. Immigration, jobs, investments, church, media and so much more are seen in terms whether they help or hurt the party in power’s election prospects. It does not matter the arena you go in politics is rife.
Well, at the midway point, this becomes more intense and a tool for negotiating demands. Business people, unions, church groupings and voters all begin to feel a new leverage with politicians anxious to stay in power or get into power. So, quid pro quos, of the explicit and implicit kind, become the order of the day. Governing politicians have two-and-a-half years of this to look forward to and it begins at this point. Almost two hundred thousand souls will gain a new sense of power over those who may have felt they had power over them for the last two years or more. It is a humbling reality.
In all of this, the governing group tends to be the focal point. But be sure, the opposition is keenly aware of the season. It will elevate its activity in the face of the midway mark. It knows that things and times have changed, and popularity is the governing party’s asset but the opposition’s liability. As such, it must focus on ensuring that the government has as little popularity as possible, and so will accentuate every move worthy of criticism. It will have the media to help it too, not because the media is supportive of the opposition but because government missteps tend to have a higher entertainment value than its achievements. We human beings have a great appetite for the exposed failure of others. That is why so much of our news is bad news. This appetite makes the dwindling term of a seated government a tool of great propaganda, if that government is not performing well. If it is performing well, then they have two more years to try to stay the course.
What has the Minnis administration done so far in its term? This is a subject for another article. Stay tuned.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.