National Review

Where does the FNM go from here?

Now that Bahamian voters have resoundingly rejected Dr. Hubert Minnis and the Free National Movement (FNM) at the polls, bringing to a crashing and humiliating end their bid for a new mandate, the FNM is left bruised, bloodied, and questioning what direction it must now take on its path to one day being made whole again.

We have for months in this space made our observations about the arrogance of those in power, their refusal to be transparent and accountable, and the danger to his personal brand and that of the FNM’s image caused by Minnis’ role as “competent authority” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minnis and his Cabinet became disconnected from the people and exercised a stubborn refusal to listen and engage stakeholders and to respect Bahamians as their bosses, and not treat them as their servants.

The prime minister was often rude and condescending to the media, not respecting the role of the Fourth Estate in a democracy.

He did not make enough of an effort to unite The Bahamas after his party’s historic win in 2017, instead remaining haughty and boastful of their 35-seat margin, and repeatedly declaring it will be 39 seats next time.

When backbenchers disagreed with government actions and policies and expressed those views publicly, he ignored them as opposed to making them feel respected and valued members of the team.

He showed anti-democratic tendencies, stating in early 2020, as an example, that the boundaries will not be changed, and dissolved the House of Assembly before the Constituencies Commission could present its report to Parliament.

And so, the beating they got at the polls last week was inevitable, and deserving.

Voters had simply had enough.

If Minnis and his former ministers were surprised by the people’s verdict, then they were even more delusional than we thought ahead of last week’s election.

For many months, the FNM spent significant sums of money flooding Cable television with advertisements attempting to portray Minnis as a caring, compassionate and competent leader who was making life better for Bahamians, and saving lives.

But on the ground, Bahamians in large numbers were feeling anything but cared for and respected by their government.

They thus used their power in the ballot boxes to send a strong message to the Minnis administration, and to future administrations: That they will not tolerate abusive governance; that they are not the servants, but the ones who demand that their government be accountable to them in the management of their affairs.

In a cowardly move, and in one final act of disrespect, the outgoing prime minister, who had spent weeks fear-mongering with regards to his opponents, opted not to go before the cameras and speak directly to the Bahamian people, but instead hid behind an FNM statement on election night.

Minnis announced that he will lead the Free National Movement into the House as the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and sought again to defend his record after failing to be convincing in that regard in the days and weeks leading up to the election.

Minnis won Killarney with 51 percent of the votes, down from 73 percent in 2017.

The only other seats the FNM secured in the 39-seat legislature were St. Anne’s, St. Barnabas, Marco City, Central Grand Bahama, East Grand Bahama and Long Island.

For months before calling the election, and in the weeks after, Minnis and his ministers behaved as if a second term was a given, with Minnis promising to spend the next term focusing on empowering the poor and youth.

But on September 16, it was lights out for the torch, an ignominious defeat for the Free National Movement.

OPTIONS

With Minnis now stripped of the absolute leader powers he wielded for so many months, and with his hopes of breaking the cycle of one-term governments being dashed, the focus is now on the way forward for the FNM, whose last time in opposition was fraught with turmoil and was embarrassingly chaotic.

Minnis failed to hold the confidence of the party’s parliamentary caucus, who in December 2016 unseated him as opposition leader after advising the governor general that they no longer had confidence in him.

Of course, Minnis, who had already gained a strong footing in the Free National Movement, enjoying widespread support as party leader, easily led the FNM to a win in 2017, despite his many blunders and inglorious episodes as opposition leader.

With a super majority, Minnis and those who formed the government seemed to think the victory was about the people’s love for them when in fact the vote was principally a rejection of Perry Christie, the former prime minister, whose political end many Bahamians could not wait to participate in.

Likewise, the recent election became a referendum on Minnis.

He and the FNM should not be surprised by that. For many months, they spent the time promoting one man, speaking to his “stellar” leadership and propping him up as a visionary leader who is the most capable person to lead us through our most difficult crises.

Now that that tale has come to an end, the FNM will have to decide whether it can truly heal and regain the public’s confidence with Minnis at the helm.

Speaking to National Review yesterday, former FNM Chairman Darron Cash said for the FNM, it is a period of introspection.

“Yes, there may be a sense of recrimination, [that] somebody’s head needs to roll, somebody needs to be blamed, but that would be unwise to believe that Dr. Minnis ought to have his head knocked off because there’s a real need for introspection; and it ought to be reasoned, deliberate, thoughtful and the like.”

The loss of the government is not just Minnis’ failure, Cash said.

“It’s the Cabinet’s failure, but it’s not just the Cabinet’s failure; it’s the executive committee’s failure; it’s not just the executive committee’s failure, it’s the Central Council’s failure that they all permitted a deterioration to take place that worked to the detriment of the party,” he said.

Cash said a national political party should never be surprised when it loses the government because all of the mechanisms of the party ought to have at all times been funneling information about the government’s performance and perceptions about the government.

“Everyone ought to do some introspection about what we failed to do,” he said.

There are forces within the FNM who do not believe the FNM could heal and be an impactful opposition with Minnis as leader of the party or of the opposition.

The party’s Central Council will decide tonight whether to support Minnis serving as opposition leader.

Some wish to see him gone right away. They do not want to see him select opposition senators.

But the issue the party would face is who would best lead it in Parliament, if not Minnis. 

If one were to look at the other six seats won, Michael Pintard of Marco City, for many people would be the obvious choice, not that his name had frequently come up in many people’s discussions about future FNM leadership prior to the election.

But with just six seats other than Killarney, the options are slim.

While the PLP’s tidal wave washed most of the Minnis Cabinet out of office, Pintard, himself a former FNM chairman, had an impressive showing. 

We observed in our election results analysis on Monday that his performance in the Grand Bahama constituency of Marco City was just as impressive as Adrian White’s performance in the FNM’s traditional stronghold of St. Anne’s in New Providence.

The now former agriculture and marine resources minister received 57 percent of the votes, outperforming any of the other six FNMs who won their seats.

In 2017, Pintard received 64 percent of the votes.

Iram Lewis in Central Grand Bahama, also a former minister in Minnis’ Cabinet, is not viewed as a future leadership prospect.

While Kwasi Thompson in East Grand Bahama is also not widely viewed as a leadership prospect, others however contend that he ought not be written off and could, down the road, play a role in the FNM’s leadership.

Shanendon Cartwright, who remarkably held his inner-city seat in a PLP wave, although with a reduced margin from 2017, is viewed by many as leadership material, although some FNMs believe his lack of any Cabinet experience positions him best as a deputy leader prospect, and a possible leader at some point in the future.

While Adrian Gibson unsurprisingly held the Long Island seat, with his support at 55 percent, his refusal to directly address claims surrounding the questionable award of Water and Sewerage contracts significantly damaged his personal brand in the national arena.

Any leadership aspirations he might have, or might have had, were made that more unrealistic. 

Regarding options for party leadership in a convention, while it is ideal for the party’s leader to have a seat in the House of Assembly, this is not mandatory.

Tommy Turnquest previously led the party while serving in the Senate. His bid for the prime ministership was cut short when Hubert Ingraham returned from retirement to lead the party in 2005 and won a victory in 2007.

CARRY THE WATER

Members of the FNM’s parliamentary caucus have the constitutional authority to determine who they want to lead them in Parliament.

Cash believes it is wise for Minnis to serve as opposition leader for a spell.

“Even before that, we ought to know clearly from him what he intends to do, from him,” the former chairman said.

“Does he propose to stay in the (party’s) leadership indefinitely or is he really thinking that it’s time to move on and let there be a changing of the guard? He ought to speak up and be clear about his intentions so that there aren’t a million different secret sessions going on and him wondering at all times who’s got the daggers out for him. 

“He ought to be clear and if he is clear then the party would be clear as to what it needs to do.”

Cash believes Minnis ought to be willing and prepared to stand in Parliament, face the music, and defend himself and his government.

“That ought not be the duty of the new leader,” he opined.

“He ought to carry some of that water himself.”

Cash says the FNM should consider clearly any move to try to force Minnis into political retirement.

He reminded that when former Prime Minister the late Sir Lynden Pindling resigned his seat after the PLP’s defeat in 1997, the governing FNM won South Andros with Ronald Bosfield.

Similarly, after former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham resigned after the FNM lost the 2012 election, the governing PLP won North Abaco with Renardo Curry.

“What do we expect will happen if Dr. Minnis resigns his seat?” Cash asked.

“And do we expect that he is actually going to sit in Parliament as a backbencher? No. Let him sit as leader of the opposition and defend the performance of his Cabinet, the performance of his government.”

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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