“Democracy thrives when the opposition is strong, and the press is free.” — Syed Badiuzzaman
Nine months have passed since the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) took office after its landslide election victory over the Free National Movement (FNM) on September 16, 2021.
Not long after that fateful day, Dr. Hubert Minnis resigned as leader of the FNM, as he should have, consistent with the time-honored tradition of the Westminster system of government that we officially adopted 49 years ago at independence.
It has been a long-established convention that, when a party loses an election, its leader resigns to make room for another person to lead the party.
Minnis’ departure as FNM leader made way for a leadership convention to be held. On that occasion, Member of Parliament Michael Pintard victoriously emerged from a hotly contested race as the new leader of the FNM. Shortly thereafter, he was sworn in as the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the House of Assembly.
Last week, in this column, we reviewed the nine-month performance of the PLP government led by Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis.
Therefore, this week, to ensure equal time to both major political parties, we will consider this — How has the opposition performed since assuming that responsibility after failing to be returned to office on September 16, 2021?
The Minnis factor
Since losing the election, Minnis has repeatedly sought to defend his government’s decisions and policies, both inside and outside of Parliament.
That is understandable because the public should be informed why certain decisions were made on Minnis’ watch. However, it is a little late for such disclosures that were intentionally suppressed or obfuscated during his tenure.
While serving as prime minister, neither Minnis nor his government were transparent or accountable for some of their decisions.
Minnis has attempted on more than one occasion to upstage his new leader by advancing policy positions that were not formulated or agreed to by the FNM.
On more than one occasion, Pintard has had to inform Parliament and the press that Minnis does not speak for the FNM. That privilege belongs to the newly elected FNM leader.
It is obvious that Minnis is attempting to remain relevant, but it is equally evident and inestimably ironic that, paraphrasing what he, himself, imprudently announced not along after he took over the FNM leadership from his mentor, Hubert Ingraham, “the era of Minnis is over”.
Minnis seems to be hoping that the new FNM leadership will fall flat on its face, and that, like former Prime Minister Ingraham before him, he will be drafted by his party to return to save the FNM and, by extension, the country.
If that is his view, Minnis is more delusional than another prime minister before him who thought that he, alone, could lead his party to victory. We all know how that ended.
There is a far greater chance that, if the FNM believes that Pintard and company are ineffective, the party would look more quickly to Ingraham to save it than it would to Minnis.
New FNM leadership
The new FNM leaders seem to be focused on being an effective opposition to the PLP government.
Pintard and Deputy Leader Shanendon Cartwright have displayed a level of maturity that ostensibly demonstrates that they will not oppose simply for the sake of opposing.
This, so far, is a breath of fresh air because for too long, the Official Opposition seemed to believe that it had to oppose everything the government proposed. That, unfortunately, was the practice on both sides of the political divide.
Yes, the Official Opposition’s role is to oppose the proposals, policies, decisions, and actions of the government when it is appropriate to do so. But there are times when the government and opposition should seek common ground when doing so is in the national interest.
There are even times when it is appropriate for the opposition to agree with the government and vice versa. But that requires a level of political maturity that has escaped our politics as quickly as the darkness of night escapes the rising sun.
In watching the leadership of the opposition in Parliament, one gets the impression that Pintard and Cartwright both will attempt to take the high road.
That is commendable and could portend a new kind of approach to parliamentary opposition.
Two important questions arise, however: Will they be able to sustain it? And will their party allow them to avoid sinking into the gutter to gain the advantage for the sake of political expediency? Only time will tell.
The great unknowns
There remain two great unknowns in the FNM camp. The first is Dr. Duane Sands, who, from all indications, appears to have designs on the leadership of the FNM beyond his present position of chairman.
Telltale signs have already emerged that suggest that he will not be content to remain in that position for too long.
We do believe that, if there is a vacant seat due to political developments, for example in Long Island, where the member there has come under a barrage of public scrutiny for his decisions as executive chairman of the Water & Sewage Corporation, Sands would aggressively pursue that vacancy.
The other unknown is one Hubert Alexander Ingraham. While he retired from public life after the 2012 general election, there is always the possibility, however slight, that he may once again be heavily drafted by the FNM, much as he was before the 2007 general election.
Ingraham may fervently and genuinely resist such efforts to be drafted yet again. But members of his party may persuade him that the country needs him now more than ever before.
In all likelihood, Ingraham’s decision will depend on how Prime Minister Davis’ governance pans out over the next months and years.
If, perchance, Davis’ government contracts intractable inertia or encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles that result in a rapidly downward, irreversible spiral in his approval rating, and if Pintard appears too ineffective to capitalize on such developments, Ingraham may be inclined to acquiesce to the FNM’s call for its and the nation’s salvation. Again, only time will tell.
In the last nine months, the Official Opposition has been distracted from its primary objective of effectively opposing the PLP government.
The party was totally scuttled in the last election, losing more seats than PLPs imagined. Remember, before the general election, Minnis barked that he might win all the seats in Parliament. That, of course, was just another delusional flash.
Therefore, after the election, the FNM had to regain its footing, stabilize the party, console its supporters, sort out its leadership and stave off the utterances of a former leader who, though he resigned, is still doing all he can to remain relevant, always hoping for a comeback.
In the months ahead, with its housecleaning largely behind it, and with a new cast of characters at the helm of the party, the Official Opposition can now turn its attention to its primary directive.
Its task ahead will be to determine which of the nation’s most pressing problems it will undertake. And there are many. Inflation, the economy, the potential next wave of the pandemic, and the environment are but a few of the many challenges facing the current administration.
We will closely monitor this government-in-waiting, which is precisely what the Official Opposition truly represents. We will be watching how the FNM members in both Houses of Parliament oppose the government’s proposals, plans and agenda.
However, more importantly for the future of the newly reconstituted FNM, the nation is waiting to see what proposals and plans the Official Opposition will proffer to prove that it has a better vision and more practical solutions to the problems that plague us.
It is important for the FNM to realize that it will be the appeal and dynamism of strategies and plans for the future rather than parliamentary verbosity that will determine what is in store for this version of the FNM.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.