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The Battle For Bamboo

by KHALILA NICOLLS khalilanicolls@gmail.com IT IS hard to believe 10 months have passed since I put pen to paper to discuss the political future of Branville McCartney, member of parliament for Bamboo Town. When he resigned from the Free National Movement last March, it was unclear if narcissism had simply got the better of him or whether based on sound political strategy Mr McCartney was setting in motion the greatest political upset in modern Bahamian history. Amidst all the speculation, one thing seemed certain, Mr McCartney had no intention of getting out of front-line politics and every intention to one day be Prime Minister of the Bahamas. Now, with just a few months left before the yet-to-be-called general election, Mr McCartney has staked his bets and played his hand. He scoffed at the critics and defied the naysayers, launching the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), now primed to contest 38 of 38 seats in the upcoming general election. Already, the green machine is making history, for in the history of third parties, the DNA is the first to present a full slate of candidates. Theoretically, Mr McCartney can declare irrelevant one of the most popular anti-third party arguments: that it is futile to vote for a third party because it has no chance of forming a majority government. Theoretically, Mr McCartney could fulfill his dream in the next general election, but he surely should not bet his last dollar on it. In actuality, Mr McCartney's Bamboo Town seat is still not safe, despite the DNA's defiantly strong showing so far. So what stands in Mr McCartney's way? A Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) determined to unseat the FNM, and an incumbent FNM determined to hold on to the reigns of power. And just to muddy the waters, a dogged Craig Butler, independent candidate, who will not let 16 months of campaigning in the former Kennedy constituency go to waste. Into the ring, the PLP has thrown Renward Wells, former leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP), and for the FNM, Cassius Stuart, former leader of the Bahamas Democratic Party (BDM). From all angles, Bamboo Town is shaping up to be an interesting match. The PLP has the global anti-incumbent momentum working in its favour. The FNM has its historical relationship with the constituency, and the DNA has five years of service from its only sitting member of parliament. Mr Butler, let us say, has youthful exuberance. The FNM is not backing down, not even a little. Party chairman Carl Bethel reiterated just yesterday, "Bamboo Town is an FNM seat". "It was won by the FNM in 2007 and it will be again in 2012. It has always essentially been an FNM seat and it still is an FNM seat. We are working to regain the confidence of the voters in Bamboo Town. They trusted us by electing Branville McCartney and he betrayed their trust," said Mr Bethel. The Bamboo Town Constituency Association of the FNM will no doubt back up Mr Bethel. After all they professed their "considerable personal and collective disappointment" over Mr McCartney's resignation in a generic public statement last year. But I called the FNM headquarters yesterday, trying to reach the association chairman and no one in the party office could give me a name or a number for anyone on the association. It made me wonder just how organised the FNM's Bamboo Town operation is. Despite Mr Bethel's show of confidence, I believe Bamboo Town is not the FNM's to take. It is more likely the PLP's to lose. For sure, it will be a bloody fight. Renward Wells believes Bamboo Town and Mount Moriah, will be the two seats that mean the difference between 27 seats and 34 to 35 seats for the PLP. Once Bamboo falls, he said, "seat after seat in that southern corridor will fall". According to Mr Wells, the FNM will be lucky to take home even one New Providence seat. Time will tell. When Mr McCartney ran in 2007, he was a fresh new face on the campaign trail with a big name behind him. Party leader Hubert Ingraham sent Mr McCartney to Bamboo Town with one instruction: Win it. Mr McCartney said he assembled his own campaign team and he did as he was told. With largely the same team at his side, Mr McCartney is now running on the DNA's change mantra with his reputation of five years to bolster his stand. "I have been there for the last five years. I have represented the constituents well. I think my record will speak for itself," said Mr McCartney. I hope so. Many would say a five-year record is simply not enough to change the voting record of Bahamians committed historically to the FNM or PLP. Even for those disaffected voters, they are more likely to stay at home than commit political treason. Some observers say, unless a voter feels personally offended by the party or the party's candidate of choice, they will likely toe the line. Over the next few months, the FNM and the PLP will no doubt be securing their base - collectively representing upwards to 80 per cent of the constituency, historically speaking. Mr Wells said his first order of business has been to get all of the PLPs registered. It has been some 15 years since the PLP fielded a candidate in Bamboo Town. "I want people to know I am there and I am running on the PLP ticket," said Mr Wells. Next, he plans to go after the independents and let them know "the PLP has plans on day one to carry the country forward". Seems pretty practical, albeit textbook: secure your base and then collect the independents. The problem for Mr McCartney is a matter of his base. Who is it? Mr McCartney must believe his five years of service has rendered the FNM's base null and void. That emerging out of the voters who ushered him into the house on the first occasion is Bran's base. On the basis of wishful thinking alone, that would be true. And even if Mr McCartney is able to split the FNM vote, on what basis will he contend with the PLP apparatus? In terms of message, the PLP is selling the same pot of 'change soup', and as tainted as its operation may be, it too will benefit from the global anti-incumbent momentum. There is one major crack in the PLP apparatus, however, and it works in Mr McCartney's favour. In fact, the FNM has the same structural problem. Questions will undoubtedly emerge about party credentials for Mr Wells and Mr Stuart. One could almost say, neither the FNM nor the PLP actually have a candidate in the race. Mr Stuart has said publically that his decision to join the FNM was motivated in part by his acceptance of the fact that the only way to get to the House of Assembly is on an FNM or PLP party ticket. Ideologically, that says very little for his FNM credentials. Furthermore, that reasoning speaks little to any altruistic intent. In the end, that might not matter much. Already Mr Wells has admitted that Mr Stuart is a "good campaigner". "He knows how to make do with very little. Being on the FNM ticket, whose money can't done, Cassius is going to be formidable. "He is quick on the draw in terms of being able to express himself. He has been through two general elections and one by-election, at least. He knows what he wants to do and how to do it," said Mr Wells. He does believe however that the campaign will be about the people of Bamboo Town and not the personalities vying for office. "My position has always been it cannot be about a man. It has to be about a message; it cannot be about personalities. It has to be about principles. It cannot be about idols. It must be about ideas," said Mr Wells. I am not so sure any of the candidates, except perhaps Craig Butler, can live up to that ideal. With very shallow ideological roots in the PLP and FNM, Mr Wells and Mr Stuart will have to milk all they can in the charisma department. That might just even the playing-field for Mr McCartney. I think Mr McCartney should be praying that Mr Well's general election inexperience, and the FNM's late start gets the better of them. One thing is for sure - in 10 months time, it will be very interesting to see where Branville McCartney is. Will he defy the odds again, or will he be confronted with the bitter taste of defeat? * Pan-African writer and cultural critic Khalila Nicolls is a practising journalist in the Bahamas.

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