AS SOON as Opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis took his stand on the Nygard issue during the stem cell debate, the government planned to close him down.
They were determined that unlike the dramatic history of House disturbances by the PLP, the new FNM leader would not be allowed to gain traction to either cement his position as leader of his party or be allowed to have any illusions about becoming a future prime minister. There was no thought of his democratic right to be heard, nor having made an allegation that he had a right to present whatever evidence he might have had to support his party’s belief that the cosy relationship between Peter Nygard and the government was such that the Lyford Cay resident should not be involved in establishing a medical spa for stem cell research.
But so afraid that Dr Minnis was trying to recreate the 1969 scene of Milo Butler and Arthur Hanna being lifted from the House that when the decision came to suspend him last week for two House sittings it was determined that his physical removal — if it became necessary – would not be shown to a television audience. It was rather dramatic as the Speaker left the chamber last Wednesday, the cameras showed the Opposition side standing with their two placards in front of them. The ZNS TV screen then went blank. When programming resumed, other than the lone figure of South Abaco MP Edison Key, the Opposition chairs were empty. They remained empty again yesterday morning much to the chagrin of Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell.
But yesterday’s Fred Mitchell was not the Fred Mitchell of the eighties who denounced the PLP government for silencing the Opposition’s voice over the airwaves.
In July 1989, Mr Mitchell, in condemning ZNS and the Pindling government, told Bahamians that without The Tribune and the Guardian, the Opposition and critics like himself could not have survived.
“These newspapers,” he said at the time, “serve a vital function for our democracy, and we ought to protect their freedom to publish and be damned.”
With or without Mr Mitchell’s protection, this is exactly what The Tribune intends to do.
However, yesterday Mr Mitchell derided the FNM for failing to have the public square full of its supporters to back its cause.
“So no troops. When you come to Parliament, bring your troops,” he said. “You supposed to be bringing the crowd. But this crew had no troops. Not a single one, but I understand what this is all about.
“It’s someone making an appeal and this is all demonstrated to try and tell the unthinking FNM base that ‘I am man’. ‘I am the Prime Minister in waiting’ and ‘you will support me’.
“We know what the issue is and the issue is to try and make sure that the base knows that Ingraham (and) his era has passed,” said Mr Mitchell.
With the PLP, it was always bully tactics. Make your point with a crowd behind you — it didn’t matter that most of them did not know what they were shouting about.
The PLP always bused many of their supporters in for the crowd scenes. The crowds screamed, they yelled and when Tribune reporters asked them what they were screaming and yelling for, they gave a blank stare. Most of them did not know.
Then the reporters discovered that many were being paid to swell the crowds. Even gang members were being used. We discovered that years ago when a press room staff member advised us to have our reporters and photographers ready for a certain show of force the next day. The reason: Sir Lynden Pindling himself (at that time Mr Pindling) had shown up to one of their meetings the night before and recruited their services. Sure enough, the demonstration was pulled off the next day and The Tribune staff was there waiting for them.
On the other hand when the late Sir Kendal Isaacs was questioned as to why he did not lead a protesting FNM crowd, he said he would never assume such a responsibility. He, nor his party, he said, would lead a crowd that could get out of control and create a problem.
Today, government bemoans Bahamians’ lack of respect for authority, respect for each other and respect for the property of others. But, as we are always reminded, at its source a crashing waterfall starts as a trickling river.
We shall never forget the words of our uncle — the late Eugene Dupuch, QC — when Pindling threw the mace from the window of the House of Assembly, followed by Milo Butler with the Speaker’s hour glass. Always remember, said Uncle Eugene, a people’s emotions are not like a faucet that can be turned on and off at will.
Unfortunately, he said, politicians think only of the next election, whereas a statesman thinks of the next generation. This country, he said, has too many politicians, but few statesmen.
It is because this generation was forgotten by the politicians that society is now facing so many disruptive problems.
Mr Mitchell can well ask: Where are the troops?