By Larry Smith
Now that all the analyzing is over, we thought it would be useful to revisit the immediate aftermath of the 2007 general election, when the current roles were reversed, but the rhetoric was the same. There was one big difference between this election and the previous one. In 2007, a lack of timely official information caused great anxiety amongst Bahamians of all political persuasions. This commentary was written several days after the 2007 vote.
PRIME Minister Hubert Ingraham and his new cabinet are finalising their first-year legislative agenda for presentation in the Speech from the Throne at the official opening of parliament on May 23.
"We are reviewing the many deals and contracts that the former government rushed to conclusion in their final days and weeks in office."
Ingraham said at an FNM victory rally in Freeport May 9. "We will ensure that in each case the interests of The Bahamas are protected - whether it be in the sale of BTC; the sale of the Royal Oasis here in Grand Bahama; the deal to keep the Isle of Capri Casino at Lucaya operational; or the sale of Crown Land in Mayaguana or elsewhere."
Former prime minister Perry Christie was sworn in as leader of the opposition on May 8 and promised a vigorous PLP parliamentary campaign to force an early general election. Bahamian governments are elected for a five-year term, but the prime minister can call an election at any time.
"Ingraham must now live with the reality that he is the first ever prime minister of a government elected with a minority of the popular vote," Christie said in his first public statement since Thursday night. The FNM received just under 50 per cent of the vote while the PLP together with several Independent candidates won just over 50 per cent.
Christie called charges of electoral abuse by the PLP merely a diversionary tactic by the FNM. But according to the new prime minister, "some things happened during the course of the election that may result in consequences. If offences were committed then I would expect the law enforcement authorities to do their job".
Although the PLP said it would contest the results of some close races in the election court, Ingraham dashed speculation that the FNM would do the same: "Election is over...we have no intention of going to election court to determine the validity of any of our seats or anybody else's seat."
Ingraham named 14 cabinet ministers, including three ministers of state. Thirteen ministries were created (including the Office of the Prime Minister), four less than in the outgoing PLP government. Ingraham holds the key finance portfolio.
Referring to the PLPs criticism of Symonette as a wealthy white Bahamian, Ingraham said the country must "transcend historic prejudices" and listed a series of obligations that cabinet ministers should fulfil - selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, honesty and leadership by example. He also said the condition of the justice system was "unacceptable" and vowed to "improve responsive and accountable government across the board".
On May 5, he told a huge victory rally that there had been more political interference in last week's general election than at any time in recent history, and hinted at legal consequences for members of the former government accused of vote buying and intimidation.
"Let history record that (former prime minister) Perry Christie is no democrat," Ingraham declared. "The FNM won the election - period. And we will defend our victory against any and all. If the need arises we will come back to you for a bigger majority.
"Too many members of the former government have no respect for the law, they disrespect our democratic institutions, they believe they have a divine right to govern this country and they are consumed by an insatiable greed for power and self-aggrandisement."
Ingraham said the PLP was so confident they had bought the election that some cabinet ministers failed to vacate their offices on time: "Christie knew by 8pm on Wednesday that the PLP had lost. But he did not concede until after 10.30pm, and even after he conceded the PLP still told their supporters they had won the election all day Thursday."
In a major disclosure, the new prime minister said he would review last week's "secret sale" by the PLP of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company: "There is no circumstance under which BTC could be sold on credit, and what you are going to do after you get it must be clearly stated - you must have the money, the means and the technology to do it, otherwise no deal. And I say that for the benefit of all those who believe they got a deal."
The PLP government had made a preliminary agreement to sell 49 per cent of BTC to Bluewater Ventures, an investment vehicle headed by former British cable TV operator John Gregg, for $260 million. The quid pro quo for the buyers was a five- to seven-year monopoly on cellular services, with part of the purchase price paid over that time. BTC reportedly values itself at $333 million. The prime minister has placed BTC under his personal control.
Turning to the government's agenda, Ingraham said the FNM would expand opportunities, promote social justice, strengthen defenses against crime, deal with illegal immigration, provide access to land for Bahamians, increase Bahamian ownership of the economy, raise standards in education, protect the environment, and provide health insurance for everyone.
"Let us take our country on the road to responsible, honest and accountable government in the sunshine. Let's achieve unity with a government dedicated to serving all Bahamians - black and white, rich and poor, young and old."
In what PLP commentators characterised as "venemous victimisation", Ingraham also said the FNM would reduce the number of ministries and civil servants in the country: "We have too many ministries so I got to do what I have to do...We now have the opportunity to participate in a great ritual of national renewal."
Official results from the May 2, 2007 general election gave the Free National Movement 23 seats with almost 50 per cent of the vote, and the Progressive Liberal party 18 seats with almost 47 per cent of the vote.
Nationwide, the FNM had a slim 4,000 vote majority - 68,542 compared to 64,637 for the PLP. Independents and the minority Bahamas Democratic Movement received about 3 per cent. There was a 92 per cent turnout of the 150,654 registered voters and a total of 137,573 valid ballots cast.
The FNMs Long Island and Ragged Island MP Larry Cartwright received the highest percentage of votes of any candidate - 72.49 per cent. Three MPs received just under half of the popular vote in their constituencies - Picewell Forbes in South Andros (PLP), Malcolm Adderley in Elizabeth, New Providence (PLP), and Zhivago Laing in Marco City, Grand Bahama (FNM).
In the 2002 election, the number of registered voters was 144,758 and the turnout was also just over 90 per cent. In that election the PLP won 29 seats to the FNMs seven, and four independents were elected. The PLP received almost 52 per cent of the vote (a majority of 14,000) compared to the FNMs 41 per cent. Independents captured less than 5 per cent of the vote and 2.5 per cent went to small parties.
In 1997, the FNM won almost 58 per cent of the vote, with an 18,000 plus majority. In 1992 they won 55 per cent of the vote with an 11,000 plus majority.
Ingraham said the election demonstrated that the Bahamas was "a successful, functioning parliamentary democracy with an enviable reputation for stability". But he added that flaws in the electoral process would be addressed in another venue and urged the opposition PLP to "collaborate in strengthening our democracy".
Governor-General Arthur Hanna - a former PLP deputy prime minister - said he hoped the new administration would "govern the Bahamas the way it should be governed, and remember that the most important part of government is the opposition".
Although Christie had conceded defeat in a telephone call to Ingraham at about 10.30pm on election day, there were protracted recounts the day after as strong rumours circulated that the FNMs victory would be overturned. These rumours were not put to rest until late that evening when the outgoing prime minister finally told his supporters that the FNM had indeed won.
It was not until May 4 that the Parliamentary Commissioner confirmed the unofficial results - 23 seats for the FNM and 18 for the PLP. But the details were not published until the following day (May 5). There were allegations of vote buying, floating ballots, fake ballots and other types of fraud in several constituencies.
Ingraham was sworn in as prime minister on May 4. His first official act was the swearing-in ceremony at Government House late Friday afternoon for his three top ministers - Brent Symonette, Tommy Turnquest and Claire Hepburn.
Christie easily retained his own seat, but three PLP cabinet ministers lost theirs - former attorney-general Allyson Maynard-Gibson, former youth and sports minister Neville Wisdom and former trade & industry minister Leslie Miller.
Ingraham won his North Abaco seat by a wide margin for the seventh consecutive time and former FNM party leader Tommy Turnquest, who had been unseated in the 2002 general election, was comfortably re-elected this time around.
Christie's defeat after only one term and during a time of relative economic expansion is expected to spark a leadership crisis in the PLP. Christie suffered a stroke two years ago and had been expected to arrange an early succession had he won a second term.
The two men with the best chance to replace him are former health minister Dr Bernard Nottage and former tourism minister Obie Wilchcombe. Nottage only recently returned to the PLP. He formed a third party in 2000 after losing to Christie in a bid to lead the PLP. And like Christie, he will be almost 70 by the time of the next election. Wilchcombe, however, is only 49 and has already said he would contest the leadership when Christie steps down.
Before losing unexpectedly to the PLP in 2002, Ingraham had led a Free National Movement government for two consecutive five-year terms, after defeating former PLP leader Sir Lynden Pindling in 1992.
There are no major ideological differences between the FNM and the PLP. Analysts attributed the PLP defeat to Christie's weak and indecisive leadership combined with a series of cabinet-level scandals - one involving former cover girl Anna Nicole Smith.
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