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The Minnis era is over

There can be no honeymoon for PLP 

Now that the campaign dust has settled, the bright lights of virtual and drive-in rallies dimmed, and a winner has emerged, there is understandable euphoria on the part of supporters of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).

After a resounding rejection at the polls under the leadership of Perry Christie in 2017, the PLP is again assuming the mantle of governance.

Voters rejected the scare tactics employed by the outgoing Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who called an election at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, eight months before one was constitutionally due.

Minnis, who appeared increasingly desperate and unstable in his position over the last few weeks, warned voters that Davis would lead The Bahamas back to a dark past, and the PLP would erode economic gains.

Meanwhile, one of his ministers, Elsworth Johnson, repeatedly told rally-goers that a number of PLP candidates were accused child molesters.

The signs of desperation were all there.

The widespread angst toward Minnis was evident. His administration had long lost favor with the Bahamian people.

Davis becomes the fifth prime minister of an independent Bahamas as voters, many of them angry over and disillusioned by the Minnis administration’s management of the people’s business, have decided to do what they have done for the past nearly two decades: change government.

The Free National Movement (FNM) is now left with determining how best to pick up the pieces, settle into opposition and decide on the leadership question.

This defeat falls squarely at the feet of Minnis, whose disregard and disrespect for the Bahamian people in many instances, and whose heavy-handed and arrogant approach to governance had long sealed his fate and that of his party.

Minnis rose to the prime ministership, not because he had been widely viewed by the electorate as competent, inspirational or visionary, but because the people had had enough of Christie, who had missed all the cues that his political stock had plummeted and it was time to exit the political stage with some grace and dignity.

In the term in office that just ended, many voters who had supported Minnis and the FNM in 2017, felt duped that they had bought into a fraudulent campaign.

Many of what was promised was not delivered – electoral reform pledges like a fixed election date, a term limit for prime minister and a recall system for MPs never materialized; neither did local government for New Providence, any meaningful rejuvenation of Over-the-Hill or lower taxes.

The Minnis administration’s poor handling of Hurricane Dorian relief efforts and its lack of compassion for the survivors and the indignity in which it handled the remains of the dead, hurt the government considerably.

The competent authority’s dictatorship-like reign during the pandemic, his lack of any regard for health professionals and the uneven application of protocols dealt a further blow.

As the PLP’s 2017 loss was due to a strong disgust for and rejection of Christie, the FNM’s 2021 loss is largely attributed to many Bahamians being unable to stomach the thought of another five years, or even four years, of Hubert Minnis.

Now we can move on from the Minnis era. It is over.

Many are today feeling a sense of relief, even if they do not fully buy into the PLP’s “new day” pledge.

In the weeks leading up to yesterday’s vote, we kept hearing people say “I don’t know who I am voting for; but I know who I ‘ain’t voting for”.

That is usually bad news for the governing party, as it has proven to be.

HEADACHE OF GOVERNING 

The PLP’s victory comes during unprecedented times. There can be no honeymoon.

Far from a jubilant occasion, it will now take on the near-daunting task of governing under conditions that are more challenging than what was faced during any other period in decades.

Yes, the PLP has a plan, but Bahamians ought not be fooled into thinking they will soon begin to see and feel a new day.

When they formally take over the management of the public purse, Davis and his Cabinet, in particular his minister of finance, will have to confront the realities that the coffers are empty.

Davis entered a sweetheart deal with the unions a few weeks ago, which blew up in his face, but the umbrella unions and their affiliates will come knocking at his door.

They will be expecting movement on their labor issues, many of which require expenditure on the government’s behalf.

With a $1.3 billion deficit, a national debt that has exceeded $10 billion and an economy that is barely above flatline, governing will likely be more difficult than Davis, his deputy, Chester Cooper, and the other PLPs who sought power and won it could ever have imagined.

The economy shrank by 14 percent in 2020 and is expected to grow only by 2.5 percent this year.

Davis and his team will have the trappings of office, but they will more significantly have the headache of governing at a time such as this.

They have offered a plan to address COVID-19 when we are experiencing a deadly wave of cases.

Just yesterday, the Ministry of Health reported 13 more COVID-19 deaths, which took place between September 4 and September 8.

This brings to 482 the total confirmed deaths. One hundred and four other people died with COVID, but not because of it. Twenty-nine deaths remain under investigation.

The PLP promises free testing, improved contact tracing and beefed up healthcare capacity, but all of that is easier to put on paper and say than to actually make happen.

As Minnis and his administration did, Davis and his administration will likely bank on increased vaccinations to help address the problem, particularly as it relates to a collapsing healthcare system.

But we would not be surprised if the new prime minister is forced to put in place restrictions aimed at bringing the COVID crisis under control and easing the back-breaking burdens being faced by our healthcare system.

Healthcare workers are tired and stressed. They are crying out for relief. But it will not be easy to build manpower in the health system, and improving infrastructure will also be a difficult task.

While many people have returned to work with the reopening of tourism, joblessness remains widespread. Many people are hurting. 

The daily struggle to survive will not magically go away in the next few weeks and months due to a PLP win.

Davis, his administration, and Cooper will have a lot of heavy lifting to do.

They must temper the expectations many Bahamians have now that the PLP has promised a new day and has once again secured the trust of the Bahamian people.

It is not likely that so many hurting people will be patient or willing to make the sacrifices that will be needed to stabilize our fiscal affairs. We are so deep in the hole that any party that emerged victorious was bound to face a mountain of challenges.

Davis has said he and the PLP have innovative plans to grow the economy and address a burgeoning debt.

The paramount concern for the majority of voters was economic recovery, according to data from Bahamian research and polling company, Intel Cay.

If ever ready on day one was critical, it is now.

The PLP must be ready on day one. 

Bahamians are not likely to have an appetite for hearing “things are much worse than we could have imagined” or the “cupboard is bare”.

They are looking for their new government to deliver on the solutions the PLP claims it has.

We congratulate the new prime minister and his party in pulling off this win.

We wish them well as their success would be the success of our country and all Bahamians.

We will give them the time they need and deserve to settle in, get their bearings and get to work; but we, like many other Bahamians, will be watching and waiting to see if their big talks will materialize into meaningful actions.

Voters have delivered their verdict. They are taking their chances with Brave Davis and the PLP.

Whether Davis’ new day is the start of many good days to come remains to be seen.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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