By Larry Smith
SO Hubert Alexander Ingraham has been forced to exit, stage left – and just as his personality cult was kicking in big time.
A few days ago, a documentary “chronicling the life, upbringing, and achievements of the prime minister” began airing on television. The film focuses on “Ingraham’s inspirational journey from humble beginnings to the highest public office in service of the people”.
We hear that the impetus for this project came from the FNM's campaign consultants, but in my view it was entirely inappropriate for a sitting prime minister. That’s the sort of propaganda thing Lynden Pindling did without batting an eye when I was a junior writer at the Bahamas News Bureau in the 1970s and 80s. It’s not the sort of thing I would have expected Hubert Ingraham to endorse in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, the film climaxed an out-of-control “Papa” campaign played out to the tune of “Simply the Best” that had to have turned off some voters. I can understand the FNM’s fixation on the papa theme. They tried to turn a derisive label into a term of support (as they had successfully done with Pindling’s earlier taunt about Ingraham being a “delivery boy”). But I think the current effort was way over the top and backfired badly when combined with “Ingraham fatigue”.
Of course, Ingraham has been down and out before – in 2002, when the entire FNM cabinet was wiped out. But this time there will be no return ¬– age and circumstance will see to that. It will be up to the FNM rump in the House of Assembly to choose a new leader from the nine, mostly new, MPs left standing. Dr Hubert Minnis and Loretta Butler Turner stand out from this reduced line-up.
In addition to doing the right thing and resigning as party leader, Ingraham also said he would not take up his North Abaco seat, throwing the FNM into an immediate leadership quandary at a point when most of the party’s second tier leaders – like Tommy Turnquest, Carl Bethel, Dion Foulkes and Zhivago Laing – have been turfed out. Presumably, their political careers are now over.
Ironically (and sadly for some), Ingraham’s retirement from public life came only one day after he asked the Bahamian people to give him a final chance to complete “the work of my lifetime”, by re-electing the FNM to a fourth non-consecutive term.
The prime minister was known to be grooming Abaconians to eventually replace him in the constituency that has elected him seven times before, but a potential successor may not have much interest in contesting a bye-election under the current circumstances. And although Hubert Minnis will likely become leader of the opposition in parliament, it is still unclear who the FNM Council will settle on as party leader.
One thing that should be understood is that the FNM is not a dead horse. After the 1997 election – when Ingraham and the FNM won 57.6 per cent of the vote with a turnout of 92 per cent – commentators were convinced that the PLP was headed straight for "the boneyard." The victory was so great that concerns were raised about the future of our two-party democracy – even The Tribune feared the FNM would be so powerful that it could “lose its balance”.
And within days of the election, Sir Lynden added to the PLP’s despair by stepping down after 32 years as party leader. That was only five years after the party had suffered its first and only major defeat in a quarter century of absolute ascendancy under Pindling’s leadership. But it was only five years before it won a stunning landslide upset in 2002.
Back then, an electorate of 145,000 gave Christie’s PLP 51.7 per cent of the vote to the FNMs 40.8 per cent, with a turnout of 89 per cent.
Only seven FNM MPs retained their seats. And to make matters worse, three FNMs who had split with the party over the leadership struggle were returned as independents, an unprecedented turn of events.
Nevertheless, Ingraham was able to lead the party to a hard-fought victory in 2007 despite unprecedented prosperity.
The complete 2012 election results were not available when this was written. They will require careful parsing over the next several days, but one factor stands out sharply at this stage. The DNA, formed just a year ago after Bran McCartney’s rift with Ingraham, drew more than 10,000 votes and effectively threw several seats to the PLP, without itself coming close to winning a single constituency.
As one insider put it, “in the 2007 election, 10 seats were decided by less than 100 votes. When you add the DNA to that mix the 2012 result is what you get”.
That may be putting it too strongly. But FNM supporters could be forgiven for considering this election as eerily reminiscent of the party’s internecine wars of the 1970s and 80s, which kept them out of power until 1992.
So the DNA’s singular achievement may have been its role in driving Hubert Ingraham into retirement. At the same time, it has forced the FNM to deal head on with its leadership succession. And we should remember that the lop-sided seat spread (28 to 10) doesn't reflect the same degree of disparity in terms of actual votes. In other words, the FNM still commands huge support throughout the country, and only a few percentage points divide the two parties.
The other consequence is that Perry Christie (who refused to bow out gracefully after his 2007 defeat) has been given a new lease on his political life, and the PLP has managed to reschedule its inevitable leadership struggle into the vague medium-term future. Still, it is very likely that Christie will be in the same boat as Ingraham once was once his term draws to a close.
Ingraham’s swan song as prime minister was a time of immense progress and much-needed infrastructural investment. But the fall-out from the Great Recession also made it a time of economic stress for average Bahamians, who expressed their discomfort by voting in sufficient numbers against the party in power.
Christie’s response at the PLP’s Clifford Park victory rally on Monday night was to remark on the “wonderful journey we've been on”, to note that “the storm is now over”, and to promise that his government would actually “perform” this time.
This election could be considered “a choice between the devil you know, and the devil you know who don't do nothing,” as one wag put it. But Ingraham's hardline style trumped Christie's lackadaisical record in the minds of many voters this time around.
If there is one conclusion we can draw from this election, it is this: “Both political parties have their good times and bad times, only they have them at different times.”
That is a quote from the American writer Will Rogers, referring to American politics.
Now let’s see what happens with BTC and BPC.