The race is on 

Now that Marco City MP Michael Pintard has formally announced he will run for leader at the Free National Movement’s (FNM) convention on November 27, all three FNM Grand Bahama MPs are in the race.

In addition to Pintard, Central Grand Bahama MP Iram Lewis and East Grand Bahama MP Kwasi Thompson are seeking to replace former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis as leader of the now opposition party.

The leadership options are far from impressive, but there is a consensus that the party can’t get worse than Minnis.

The former prime minister took a gamble in calling an election eight months before one was constitutionally due and lost big.

In 2017, the FNM won 35 of the 39 seats in the House of Assembly, but lost three of its members along the way, with Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller, Centreville MP Reece Chipman and Nassau Village MP Halson Moultrie all leaving the party in the last term.

And while he did not leave the FNM, Pineridge MP Rev. Frederick McAlpine was many times a fiercer critic of the Minnis administration than the then opposition.

Only Miller, who joined the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), was re-elected on September 16. 

Only two of Minnis’ former Cabinet ministers who had held seats in the last term were voted back in: Lewis and Pintard. Thompson had previously served as a senator.

In the days and weeks after the recent election, Minnis had been coy about whether he would seek to hold onto the party’s leadership, with many FNMs reporting that he had been making calls, soliciting support to stay on as leader.

His recent announcement that he will not seek to do so, reportedly came after it became clear that he would have serious trouble winning the leadership election.

Interestingly, that statement from Minnis came just hours after former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham told reporters that there was no chance that Minnis will emerge leader after the election later this month.

After the party elects a new leader, it is expected that that person will become the leader of the official opposition, further isolating the once-powerful competent authority who had repeatedly declared that the Bahamian people will deliver for him another term in which he could fulfill the many promises he made prior to the 2017 general election.

With the defeat of Minnis and the FNM on September 16, the Minnis era came to an end.

Minnis had largely been viewed as a divisive leader, isolating those in his party and in his Cabinet who did not pledge unwavering loyalty to him.

It is an open secret that he was not a Pintard fan, though he tolerated the former FNM chairman in his Cabinet. 

Minnis did little to foster unity among all factions of the FNM and was not a unifier on the national stage either.

The uneven application of policies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a few significant policy missteps, and the arrogant refusal to consistently demonstrate the science driving the decisions made, became fatal for the Minnis administration and for its leader.

As his ministers rallied around him, even while some quietly admitted Minnis was a tough sell, the FNM leader led his party to a humiliating loss.

The party is now left to pick up the pieces and seek to position itself as a viable force once again.

It will do this without Minnis having a stronghold as he once had. He became leader by accident of history, rising to the top spot simply because the FNM had few options for leader after Hubert Ingraham went into retirement following the 2017 loss. 

It faces a similar scenario today as the party’s options in Parliament are limited.

While Thompson is seen by many to be Minnis’ horse in the race, Pintard is widely viewed as the front runner. Many want a serious alternative to Minnis, and someone who is a unifier, not a Minnis surrogate.

Many FNMs accept that the leader must have a seat in the House if he or she is to have any real impact, and a strong and respected voice in the national arena.

There will undoubtedly be other FNM leadership races later in the term, at which time others, including those who do not have a seat in the House, might enter the race.

For now, the Grand Bahama men are preparing to battle it out on the convention floor. 

It will be interesting to see whether the victor is able to get a strong grip on the party and become a formidable leader, who is finally able to unify the FNM and refocus it on its core values and founding principles.

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