At its convention this week, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) intends to amend its constitution to make the organization more democratic and to reshape its image in this post-Christie era.
But at the same time, its current leadership wants to run unopposed — a throwback to the attitude that shaped the party under the failed leadership of Perry Christie, who was buried in the political ashes in May 2017.
Many people still remember the disturbing chants of “one leader!” on nomination day in January 2017 when former Attorney General Alfred Sears challenged Christie for leader.
With Obie Wilchcombe, the former West End and Bimini MP, expected to enter the chairmanship race, the current chairman, Fred Mitchell, has sent the message that this would not be welcomed.
“No one expected, indeed, the party faithful were promised a unified convention and now it appears from various voice notes and video clips that there is a propaganda campaign which is going on which is distracting us from the central job, or has the potential to do so, because it appears there is going to be some contest,” said Mitchell in a voice note.
“Let me say this about the chairman of the party since this is the position they all seem to be targeting, I guess. The chairman of the party has to get along with the leader of the party, can’t be interested in getting the leader of the party’s job or working on behalf of someone else to get that job.
“The constitution of the party says that the chairman is responsible for the public image of the party. He’s the spokesman for the party in and out of government. So you can’t have somebody who is after the man’s job, aspiring to that office of chairman. That’s important to remember.”
A “unified convention” would mean that no one challenges for those leadership positions — an incredibly undemocratic approach that sends the wrong message about today’s PLP and is contradictory to the leader’s commitment to shaping a more democratic party than the one that had been smothered by Christie’s insatiable appetite for power.
It is an open secret that Davis does not wish to see a party with Wilchcombe as chairman. Those close to him say he would have a difficult time working with Wilchcombe. He would feel that Wilchcombe is working against him.
They report that Davis has thus strongly discouraged any challenge for chairmanship — and the leadership team period.
Davis, Mitchell and Wilchcombe are all former members of the Christie Cabinet. They will all have a difficult time seeking to project the party as the “new PLP” that can be trusted.
Wilchcombe for sure does not represent the future of a party seeking to reform itself. But which one of them can say that they do?
The so-called reformed PLP is sending the wrong message in discouraging a challenge to any of the leadership positions.
The message that should be sent is that all positions are open to challenge. Let the best man, or woman, win.
Challenges to the various positions do not mean the party cannot emerge united at the end of the convention.
Appearing undemocratic, however, is just one of the PLP’s issues.
On a broader level, it is still struggling to portray itself as a dynamic and progressive force that can be trusted by the electorate once again.
A researcher hired by the PLP to examine the reasons for its devastating election loss in May 2017 found that the perception of the PLP as corrupt was the single greatest element that impacted the party.
“This underscores the point that the PLP was its own opponent,” noted Maureen Webber, the Jamaican social development practitioner, who completed the report.
“The second element which had significant impact was the negative perception of the party leader.”
There was a sense that the PLP hurt itself more than the Free National Movement (FNM), the report said.
The party under Christie lost support and trust and lacked an effective strategy.
Christie is long gone off the political stage, having lost his seat in Parliament in humiliating fashion.
Davis is a likable leader with a reputation of being a good organizer. He is, however, an uninspiring national leader who struggles to sanitize the party’s image as he continues the work of winning back the PLP’s base.
Davis leads a small parliamentary team — there are only four members in the House of Assembly. The PLP believes it is benefitting from reduced enthusiasm toward the governing party, but there is no sense it is gaining a political edge.
It is of course trying to convince us otherwise.
Mitchell claimed on Sunday, “Our polls reveal that we are now ahead of the FNM.”
But he said the polls also reveal that there are too many for whom the jury is still out.
No one we know expects any successful challenge to Davis in the lead up to the next general election.
Elections are often about voting out administrations, but he, Mitchell, Wilchcombe and the others will have a challenge distancing themselves from the abusive actions of the Christie administration.
While there is widespread disenchantment toward the Minnis administration, there does not appear to be a tide turning toward the “new” PLP.
When Davis, Mitchell and colleagues challenge the current administration on transparency matters, for instance, they trigger memories of their lack of transparency on so many matters, including decisions related to the expenditure of tax dollars, the gambling referendum, an oil spill at the RUBIS gas station on Robinson Road and so many other matters.
Most of all, the PLP still has a hard time getting around the corruption perception.
When some Bahamians think about going back to the PLP, they think about going back to a party that is corrupt.
While there are still several fraud related matters before the courts — two involving former PLP Ministers (Shane Gibson and Kenred Dorsette) and another involving former Urban Renewal boss Michelle Reckley —no PLP member has been found guilty of corruption.
Still, the party continues to fight that perception. No doubt, ahead of the next election, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and the FNM will continue to talk about “PLP corruption”, which could do further damage to the PLP.
While Davis, Mitchell, Wilchcombe and other colleagues were not connected to any corruption, they will face an uphill battle in reversing that deep-rooted perception.
As a part of changing the narrative, the PLP will place the spotlight on the Minnis administration and its failures in office when the party meets in convention.
While it seems that the PLP has done some work to rebuild its branches and win back its base, it ought not delude itself into thinking the masses are again ready to trust the PLP government again.