National Review

Will Minnis hold on?

Critical questions for party as former PM quiet on future plans

If Free National Movement (FNM) founding father Maurice Moore could have his way, the party would not hold a convention next month, but would do so next February, after a period of healing.

But Moore knows the party will follow through on its decision to address the leadership question much sooner.

Speaking with National Review, he said he also had advised then-Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis that calling an election this year was a bad idea.

“I told him not to go until next year. He told me, no, he was going,” said Moore, adding, “Those of us who’ve been around a long time may have good advice for them.”

He said going to convention next month “would divide us even more”.

“At the moment, you’ve got the party fragmented into three different groups: [Duane] Sands, Minnis and Michael Pintard in Freeport, and the party needs to settle down and they need to just ride it out for another couple of months and they will come back together, but the way it is now it is not the advisable thing to do.”

The FNM’s Central Council on Thursday night set the convention for November 27, specifically to decide on who will lead the party.

This comes after Minnis led the FNM to a blistering defeat after calling a snap election for September 16.

While FNM Chairman Carl Culmer told reporters after the council’s meeting a week after the election that Minnis will not offer for leader at the leadership convention, Culmer suggested on Thursday night that any party member, including Minnis, could run for leader. 

Asked whether he thinks the former prime minister should seek the party leadership once again, Moore responded, “There’s no sense in me telling him what to do because he will do what he feels like doing anyway.

“I don’t have [a] problem with him going if you are going to wait for the party to settle down and you go until the convention until February next year. You go until then and then let us see what happens with choices for leadership, but at the moment the three factions of the party will remain divided at the convention. That’s not going to help us.”

Undoubtedly, any effort by anyone to put the convention off to 2022 would be met with strong disapproval by forces in the party and would not succeed, according to several senior FNMs anxious for change.

For his part, Minnis does not seem like a man in a hurry to give up the leadership.

When asked by a Nassau Guardian reporter last week if he intends to run again for leader, he responded, “At the appropriate time, y’all will know what’s happening.”

While the answer was non-specific, it provided a clear indication that Minnis is leaving the door wide open for a leadership bid and might spend the next few weeks testing his support within the party.

When he spoke with Eyewitness News prior to the council meeting last week, Minnis also refused to say whether he would accept or reject a nomination for leadership.

The former prime minister said, “I can’t answer that.”

Trusted party sources say Minnis is attempting to win over FNMs he needs to convince to back him once again for leader so he would be well positioned to hang on, and make another bid for prime minister down the road.

A loss on the FNM convention floor would be incredibly humiliating for the once powerful and unshakeable leader. `

SLIM PICKINGS

We imagine the FNM is assessing the reasons for its humiliating loss at the polls.

The party went from having 35 seats in the 39-seat House of Assembly to winning just seven seats: Minnis in Killarney; Michael Pintard in Marco City; Iram Lewis in Central Grand Bahama; Kwasi Thompson in East Grand Bahama; newcomer Adrian White in St. Anne’s; Adrian Gibson in Long Island and Shanendon Cartwright in St. Barnabas.

In nearly all of those constituencies, the FNM lost support when compared to its impressive 2017 election results.

In Killarney, Minnis secured 51 percent of the votes. This compares to the 73 percent of the votes he won in that constituency in 2017.

While White secured 57 percent of the 3,514 votes cast in St. Anne’s, this is a considerable cut in the margin when compared to the 76 percent of votes received by the FNM’s Brent Symonette in 2017, when 4,399 people voted in the constituency; a traditional FNM stronghold.

In St. Barnabas, Cartwright secured 49 percent of the votes to the PLP’s Michael Halkitis, who received 45 percent. In 2017, Cartwright got 56 percent of all votes cast.  

Thompson, the former minister of state for finance, got 49 percent of the 4,286 votes in East Grand Bahama.

This compares to the 66 percent secured in 2017 by Peter Turnquest, the now-former deputy prime minister, who was cut out of a renomination.

Former Agriculture Minister Pintard performed just as well in Marco City as White did in St. Anne’s.

Pintard got 57 percent of the 4,131 votes cast. In 2017, he secured 64 percent.

Lewis, the former minister of youth, sports, and culture, held his seat with 48 percent of the 4,354 votes cast. This compares to the 65 percent of votes he received in 2017.

Gibson won Long Island, an FNM stronghold, with 55 percent (728) of the 1,326 votes cast. His support held firm as he won 53 percent in 2017.

Gibson likely benefited from the fact that there was no strong independent candidate vying for the seat as in 2017 when the incumbent was Loretta Butler-Turner.

Minnis is no doubt aware that there is limited competition for the leadership among the small group of FNM MPs as most of his former ministers were toppled, and it is more desirable for the party leader to have a seat in the House.

There is thus widespread expectation that Pintard, a former FNM chairman, will seek the party leadership though he has not yet given any indication of that.

Prior to the general election, his was not a name called often when there were discussions about future party leadership, but with the pickings slim, he appears an obvious choice to run.

Lewis, who was brought into the Minnis Cabinet as a minister of state, after Minnis established the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction, in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, was made a substantive minister earlier this year after Lanisha Rolle abruptly resigned as minister of youth, sports and culture.

He is not widely viewed as an attractive option for FNM leadership, although we are mindful that Minnis also was not, but became party leader in 2012 after Hubert Ingraham resigned following the party’s election defeat to the Perry Christie-led Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).

The Tribune recently reported that Lewis said if he has the support, he would possibly challenge the leadership post of the Free National Movement when it becomes available in November.

Thompson is also not viewed as a serious leadership prospect right now. In any event, we are not aware that he has such desires.

Cartwright, who has no Cabinet experience, is also not expected to seek the leadership, though many expect that one day he might eye the top post.

Notably, he was able to hold his Over-the-Hill seat by a respectable margin during a PLP wave.

Had he held onto Elizabeth, Dr. Duane Sands would undoubtedly have been a top choice for party leadership.

Last week, he said he plans on running for the leadership of the FNM, but did not say whether he will do so in November. It would surprise us if he decides to at this juncture.

HISTORY

The FNM previously experimented with a leader outside the House of Assembly. After the 2002 general election loss, Tommy Turnquest served in the Senate.

By 2005, the party decided that it could not win the next election with Turnquest and as such convinced Ingraham to return as leader. At the convention that year, the former prime minister crushed Turnquest, one of his former ministers, in the leadership race.

Turnquest pledged support to Ingraham at the convention and Ingraham went on to lead the party to victory at the polls in 2007 for a third non-consecutive term.

On the night of the May 2012 election defeat, Ingraham announced he was resigning as party leader. He also announced that he would not serve another term as North Abaco MP, although he had won his seat.

Though he was respecting Westminster convention in stepping down, some FNMs accused Ingraham of abandoning the party at a critical hour. 

That cleared the way for Minnis’ elevation as a majority of Ingraham’s former Cabinet had been wiped off the political scene.

After the North Abaco by-election loss in October 2012, Minnis infamously declared that the Ingraham era was over, turned his back to any sort of help from the former prime minister, and, according to credible party sources, did much to isolate individuals within the FNM whom he viewed as “Ingrahamites”.

In thinking long-term, Minnis could be mindful of the fact that Ingraham, who gave up the leadership to Turnquest and held his North Abaco seat after the 2002 election victory, made a comeback as prime minister, five years after his unpopularity resulted in the FNM’s rejection at the polls.

He might also be thinking of how disliked Perry Christie was in 2007, and how Christie held onto his party’s leadership and led it to victory in 2012, winning 29 seats.

But Minnis would also remember that in 1997, Sir Lynden Pindling, who had refused to read the signs that his shelf life had expired, suffered an embarrassing loss, which forced him finally into political retirement.

That was the last time any party was re-elected for a second consecutive term.

Ever since then, there has been strong evidence that voters have been acting to vote out a particular party. The act of voting in the alternative has been incidental.

That has meant that once unpopular and undesirable leaders have ended back up in office due the desire many Bahamians have had to punish the incumbent with their votes.

CONSIDERATIONS

With the country’s finances in dire straits, Minnis knows the erosion of the PLP’s goodwill might just be a given. If he is positioned as FNM leader when the next election is called, he could have a good chance at redeeming himself under those circumstances, no matter how unpopular he currently is.

But we imagine it would be incredibly difficult for the party to rebuild and sanitize its image with Minnis at the helm. His prime ministership will be recorded as a dark period in our national life, with inept, vindictive and uninspiring leadership that failed to bring Bahamians together, but rather drove divisions among the citizenry at a time when the need to be united was never more important.

Minnis as prime minister behaved often in dictator-like fashion, showed disregard for demands for accountability, disdain toward the media, and disrespect toward Bahamians who expected him to keep his word to be a servant leader.

There is nothing we see that would convince us that he would be a different kind of leader if given another opportunity to serve as prime minister.

But the next election is a long way off, and with enough support in the party, Minnis could hold on and even lead his party to another victory if the PLP fails to remain true to its stated good governance commitments and voters do once again what they have done since 2002 – change administrations.

The important question FNMs must ask themselves as they prepare for their leadership convention next month is: Can the party heal, rebrand and regain the public’s trust with Minnis at the helm?

And also, if not Minnis, then who?

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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