When politicking backfires

Bitter lessons are being taught about inserting politics where it does not belong

All governments use varying degrees of politicking to claim credit for positive and popular situations in the country.

The integrity of a government and its leadership ultimately determine how far it will go in trying to claim credit for key developments.

What the Minnis administration is now having to swallow are both its words and a bitter pill in claiming the COVID-19 situation as its shining achievement.

We found it more than ironic that the Free National Movement’s (FNM) Chairman Carl Culmer accused the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) last week of politicizing the pandemic.

Surely, the FNM’s chairman has not forgotten that for months until the government was forced by public statements of medical experts to admit to the existence of the third wave, FNM leader and Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis consistently pushed the narrative that cases in the second wave were down because of his leadership.

In fact, while COVID-19 cases and deaths this year were increasing, and healthcare workers were pleading with government to both sit with them, and address personnel shortages and reduced hospital capacity, the band played on for the governing party that was busy praising itself on the ground as the pandemic situation was falling apart.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been fluid to say the least, and Minnis is among many world leaders that have sought to use the pandemic for political advantage.

But let us remember that uncontrolled outbreaks of infectious diseases have causes, though if we ask the current administration, that unqualified cause is always the Bahamian people.

Even the administration’s attorney general has acknowledged on the floor of the Senate that the decision by the competent authority to remove testing requirements for some travelers last year, was a “mistake” – one that history now records as being the trigger to the country’s devastating second wave that caused the loss of well over 100 lives, and significant damage to the domestic economy.

Now, almost one year later, and after testing rules for some travelers have once again been removed, the country is in a third wave that has the potential to prove deadlier than the second wave.

And what makes the present situation more dangerous is that hospital capacity both in terms of beds and personnel is markedly lower than existed in the second wave, and against the backdrop of a limited supply of vaccines in the country, highly transmissible variants are sweeping the world and causing exponential spread.

For months health professionals were sounding the alarm and calling on government to adequately respond to the third wave, but politics came ahead of the people’s best interests.

It is obvious that the prime minister intended to use his version of his COVID-19 performance as a key platform in what appeared to be his plan for an early election.

But now there is no longer anything upon which to brag in that regard, because the country is in a healthcare crisis whose contributing factors such as reduced bed space and nurse and doctor shortages, the administration was aware of at all material times.

For the first time in the pandemic, someone other than the competent authority announced restrictions, and the proverbial royal taster was Health Minister Renward Wells.

One is left to question whether Minnis was of the view that if voters got upset at the announcement of new restrictions, Wells would catch the bullets instead of him.

But of course, Bahamians know all too well that only the competent authority can issue emergency orders, so if that was the ruse, it was ill-conceived at best.

General elections are not due for another 10 months, yet Minnis started the drums of war that have led to sustained door-to-door campaigning and campaign events.

Now the competent authority has ordered that campaigners must be fully vaccinated.

Most campaigners are not fully vaccinated, which is not difficult to recognize since the overwhelming majority of adults in the country are not vaccinated, keeping in mind also that not everyone who is fully vaccinated in The Bahamas is a Bahamian.

Now, while that order might seem to impact all parties in the same ways based on this statistical reality, the obvious imbalance is that based on evidence throughout this campaign season, enforcement of this order on the governing party is not likely to happen.

Unlike all other parties contesting the next general election, the government can cause officers of the police force to enforce this order on their opponents, thereby giving government an unfair advantage in an electioneering atmosphere that is deplorable in any event, given the country’s COVID situation.

Having now lost his primary campaign plank before what may have been an early election, the prime minister has been in no hurry to approach the mic on this issue, with his office announcing a plan to address the nation on Wednesday, where most expected an address yesterday.

The reality is that COVID-19 has caused death and plunged scores of Bahamian households into financial insecurity and ruin, with many struggling to make ends meet, feed themselves and their families, and find a ray of hope in a period of darkness that seems unending.

To stand atop their ruin and declare oneself a leader worthy of praise, though the battle is not over and the soldiers are weary and falling at the front lines, was a bad political decision, and the third wave is now teaching the governing party a bitter lesson about inserting politics where it does not belong.

Folly and consequences

Last week, the PLP’s chairman Fred Mitchell issued a statement condemning what he termed the FNM’s “abusive ads on Cable Bahamas about the PLP leader”.

Calling on the Utilities, Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) to cause the ads to be removed, Mitchell further asserted, “We are concerned that the FNM has conflated its temporary occupation of government which gives the FNM Government the majority shares in Aliv, an affiliate company of Cable Bahamas, to force the playing of the ad on the Rev communications network.

“We are satisfied that the professionals in Rev (Cable 12), if left alone, would have properly advised the owners that what is being played is certainly not up to the standards of broadcast journalism.”

In an interim order issued following a formal complaint by lawyers representing Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis, URCA ordered that Cable Bahamas Limited “immediately cease and desist” from the broadcasting of the ads until an investigation is conducted into Davis’ allegation of defamation.

The FNM has not publicly spoken to the matter, and while it is unusual to see the leader of a political party take the course of action followed by Davis during a campaign season, the same sets a precedent.

It also ironically demonstrates the importance of legislatively preserving the independence of entities such as URCA, an agency created through an act of Parliament during the FNM’s 2007 term.

All parties and candidates contesting the next general election ought to be mindful of their messaging, and given the PLP leader’s course of action, his party ought to ensure that it conforms to the same decent standard of electioneering it is demanding of the FNM.

Meantime, FNM supporters descended to astoundingly inappropriate depths, when they took to the Hermitage in Cat Island, to pose for a political photo and video.

One supporter is pictured sitting straddling the cross atop the Hermitage’s steeple.

The action, made widely known through what became a viral photograph, generated a response from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau, which stated, “The Archdiocese has made access to the Hermitage, an important religious site for Roman Catholics in The Bahamas and beyond, freely available to the public.

“However, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau is a non-partisan religious organization and does not authorize the use of its property for partisan political purposes.”

The diocese stressed that all such usage should cease with immediate effect.

That the governing party’s supporters would think it sensible and proper to utilize a revered religious site for such a purpose is beyond comprehension.

Notably, the prime minister is a Roman Catholic, but regardless of his religious persuasion, such an action by members and supporters of his party ought to, at minimum, have resulted in a swift public apology to the dioceses, and to the country’s Roman Catholic community.

Though the relevant FNM supporters in Cat Island ought to be held responsible for their own decisions as adults, we are also left to consider that such bold and reckless disregard for propriety in politics, is not behavior in a vacuum.

There was a time when no one would expect such public display of disrespect and gaucherie to be attached to the FNM.

Nevertheless, it was yet another unseemly example of what happens when politicking backfires.

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