Op-Ed

The Official Opposition, one year later

“Democracy thrives when the opposition is strong, and the press is free.” Syed Badiuzzaman

Nearly one year has passed since the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) took office after its landslide election victory over the Free National Movement (FNM) on September 16, 2021.

Shortly after that, 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 practice that when a party loses an election, its leader resigns to make room for another person to lead the party.

Dr. Minnis’ departure as FNM leader made way for a leadership convention. On that occasion, member of Parliament Michael Pintard victoriously emerged from a hotly contested race as the new leader of the FNM. Shortly after, he was sworn in as the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the House of Assembly.

Last week, we reviewed the performance of the PLP government, led by Prime Minister Philip Davis, since assuming office one year ago.

Therefore, this week, to ensure equal time for both major political parties, we will consider this – how has the official opposition performed since shouldering that responsibility after failing to be returned to office on September 16, 2021?

The Minnis factor

Since losing the election one year ago, Dr. Minnis has repeatedly sought to defend his government’s decisions and policies, inside and outside Parliament. That is understandable and expected. The public should have been 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 was transparent or accountable for many of their decisions.

Minnis has also attempted on more than one occasion to upstage his new leader by advancing policy positions that the FNM had not formulated or agreed to. On more than one occasion, Mr. Pintard has had to remind Parliament, the public, and the press that Dr. Minnis does not speak for the FNM. That privilege belongs to the duly elected FNM leader, the Hon. Michael Pintard.

Dr. Minnis is simply attempting to remain relevant. However, it is equally evident and immensely ironic that – paraphrasing what he impudently announced when he took over the FNM leadership from his mentor, Hubert Ingraham – “the era of Minnis is over”.

Dr. Minnis seems to be hoping that the new FNM leadership will falter and fall flat on its face. It appears that Minnis believes that, when that happens, 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 greater chance that, if the FNM believes that Mr. Pintard and company are ineffective, the party will look more quickly to Ingraham, however reluctant, to save it, than it would to Dr. Minnis.

New FNM leadership

The new FNM leaders seem to be focused on being an effective opposition to the PLP government. FNM Leader Pintard and FNM Deputy Leader Shanendon Cartwright, as a combination, 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 government’s proposals, policies, decisions, and actions when it is appropriate to do so. But there are times that the government and opposition should seek common ground, wrhen doing so is in the national interest. Sometimes, it is appropriate for the good of the people that the opposition agrees 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 opposition’s leadership in Parliament, one gets the impression that Pintard and Cartwright will attempt to take the high road. That is commendable and could portend a new approach to parliamentary opposition. Two crucial 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 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 current member there has come under a barrage of public scrutiny regarding his tenure as executive chairman of the Water & Sewerage Corporation, Dr. Duane Sands will 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 the FNM may heavily draft him, much as was done before the 2007 general election.

Mr. Ingraham may fervently and genuinely resist such efforts to be redrafted. But members of his party may persuade him that the country needs him now more than ever before.

In all likelihood, Mr. Ingraham’s decision will depend on how Prime Minister Davis’ governance pans out over the following months and years. If, perchance, Davis’ government contracts intractable inertia or encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles that result in a rapid downward, irreversible spiral in his approval rating, and if Mr. Pintard appears too ineffective to capitalize on such developments, Mr. Ingraham may be inclined to acquiesce to the FNM’s call for its and the nation’s salvation. Again, only time will tell.

Conclusion

In the year since the general election, the official opposition has been distracted from its primary objective of effectively opposing the PLP government. The party was scuttled in that last election, losing more seats than they imagined. Remember, before the general election, Minnis barked that he may win all the seats in Parliament. That, of course, was just another fleeting flash of fantasy.

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 unfortunate 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 house-cleaning primarily behind it and a new cast of characters at the party’s helm, the official opposition can now turn its attention to its primary directive. Its task will be to determine for which of the nation’s most pressing problems it will undertake to develop solutions. And there are many. Inflation, the economy, the potential next wave of the pandemic, and the environment are a few of the many challenges the current administration faces.

As Mr. Ingraham noted on the 30th anniversary of the FNM’s historical defeat of the PLP on August 19, 1992, there are several things that the FNM must do now that it is in opposition. Ingraham observed, “They have to demonstrate to the people of The Bahamas that the good governance that they remember that the FNM gave, that this is going to be returned, that they are committed, that they are devoted, that they are selecting candidates who are interested in doing good for people, etc., and they are not going to do foolishness.”

We will closely monitor this government-in-waiting, precisely what the official opposition truly represents. We will watch 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 they have a better vision and more effective solutions to the problems that plague us.

The FNM needs to realize that it will be the appeal and dynamism of its strategies and plans for the Bahamian people rather than its parliamentary verbosity that will determine what is in store for this version of the FNM the next time it goes to the polls.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Bahamas, Advisors and Chartered Accountants. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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