By ADRIAN GIBSON
THE Free National Movement has been stumbling and fumbling as it seeks to find its footing following the November 21 convention, where its former Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner lost her leadership bid to Dr Hubert Minnis by nearly three to one.
At convention, Dr Minnis showed himself to be an organiser and a formidable political force within the FNM. By all accounts, he was grossly underestimated.
Since last year’s convention, the FNM has been off to a stuttering start. Recently, there was an ill-advised protest on the Bank of the Bahamas issue that gained little traction and that, frankly, was poorly attended for an outfit organised by a major political party and heavily criticised as asinine, pointless and politically tone deaf, particularly when one considers the fact that Value-Added Tax (VAT) and crime were/are more pressing issues that affected all and sundry and that were – then and now – engendering much more negative opinions. It added to the oft-repeated criticism that the party seems out of touch with the concerns of the ordinary man.
Since the convention, Dr Minnis has had moments of glory and he has, in some instances, stumbled. However, I do believe that some rank and file FNMs have contributed to his shortcomings by undermining his every effort.
Admittedly, I was most disappointed a week ago to watch as the Leader of the Opposition received a merciless tongue lashing at the hands of the person who is currently, and arguably, his most formidable political adversary – Prime Minister Perry Christie. And yes, I have heard people describing the doctor’s response, or lack thereof, as a passive acceptance of Christie’s criticisms.
Some have argued that the leader took a beating that day, that he lost whatever benefit he could have gained from the BOB protest and that he allowed innuendos and reckless allegations to be hurled at the FNM without rebuke or response.
One would agree that that was a less than stellar performance; however, if many more seasoned persons within the hierarchy of the FNM had thrown their support behind the leadership team, perhaps much of the novice missteps, faux pas and gaffes could have been avoided or sidestepped.
Indeed, Dr Minnis would also have to foster an environment where such persons are embraced, though he may not trust them. Two high-ranking party loyalists told me that because Dr Minnis is not entrenching himself, he is making
the case to be “Tommy Turnquest’ed”. And yes, for some people, their commentary on Dr Minnis and his leadership stylings merely amount to rambling musings of sour grapes, but there is some merit to some of their observations, some of which has become oft-repeated on talk shows and elsewhere.
Some FNMs have written Dr Minnis off – totally! It is FNMs who are – in large part – branding and creating most of the impressions being gleaned of him, projecting him as a bumbling, weak leader rather than presenting the party itself as a strong, unified bloc ready to battle the Progressive Liberal Party (and the Democratic National Alliance) for the hearts and minds of the Bahamian people in 2017 with Dr Minnis as the frontman. Even as Minnis' detractors continue to bleat in the wilderness and cry for new leadership, there doesn’t appear to be anyone who has been identified as a possible contender, as a serious successor. If not Minnis, then who? Certainly, the FNM would find itself in a “quagmire of web!”
Even after thrashing his opponent in the leadership runoff, Dr Minnis continues to face much of the same criticisms and there continues to be an ostensible schism within the FNM.
This narrative is being used to define Dr Minnis and last week’s request for the resignation of former senator Heather Hunt is fuelling the flames of those within his party who wish to exploit that resignation as being yet another example of Dr Minnis’ poor decision-making. However, one must ask a simple question: what are their objectives?
One would argue that their objectives range from an attempt to continue to paint the FNM leader as someone who is unwilling to embrace persons with differing points of view and as being unable and incapable of working outside his comfort zone (ie embracing only those supportive of him); to stir up a sense of disaffection, perhaps to advance their interests and the candidates of their choice; and to seek to advance the pretext that he’s ill-suited to offer the leadership that his party and the country needs.
I have heard persons describe his request for Mrs Hunt’s resignation as being evidence of his lack of political acumen and generally poor decision-making, particularly due to the fact that she straddles two very important demographics that the FNM did not win in the last general election, females and young people.
Indeed, much of the hullabaloo about her resignation is a dilemma that, quite honestly, the FNM leader contributed to in that he did not seek the resignation of both Mrs Hunt and Kwasi Thompson. No doubt, he must have realised that by now.
One must note that his policy of rotating senators at the two and a half year mark was announced since he took the helm of the FNM. Then, I thought it was a progressive and reasonable policy that would – if done consistently and fairly – have allowed a number of persons to gain political exposure and, because the FNM only has four seats in the senate, to share the spotlight among outstanding persons identified by the leader as future candidates. I continue to hold that view, though that plan has seemingly not been fully realised.
Opposition senators served at the pleasure of the Leader of the Opposition, just as Cabinet ministers serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. Therefore, any person deemed the Leader of the Official Opposition can appoint and disappoint any person serving at his/her behest.
That said, though Mrs Hunt’s resignation reportedly arises as a result of Dr Minnis’ rotational scheme, his detractors contend that her removal from the senate was a result of her purported choice to support Mrs Butler-Turner in the recent leadership runoff. By all accounts, Mrs Hunt did indeed voice her support for Mrs Butler-Turner to a number of political insiders and is purported to have voted to can Dr Minnis.
Frankly, if this is indeed true, she would have demonstrated that she had no confidence in his leadership. Ordinarily, a person who lacks confidence in a leader should and would be happy that their tenure has expired so that they could move on, particularly if their choice for leader was not elected. One would argue that she should perhaps have offered her resignation immediately following the November convention, otherwise how could one justify serving under a person in whom they have lost all confidence? How does one hopscotch over the fact that Mrs Hunt essentially submitted a vote of no confidence in his leadership?
If the argument of Dr Minnis’ detractors holds true, would Ingraham, Christie or Pindling have also purged the young senator from their parliamentary team, particularly if there was only a limited number of seats?
I thought that whilst Mrs Hunt’s letter showed disappointment, it appears that she also sought to fence in the FNM leader into a commitment to support her 2017 nomination in Marathon. She has since appeared on radio and stated that the jury is still out on whether the proposed policy to rotate senators would work. The tone of her letter and utterances via the talk shows seemingly went beyond the realm of graciously transitioning into localised politics and, for some, would invite a fair assessment of her past performance whilst serving in the senate.
Whilst I know that many Bahamian politicians feel entitled, I think that for Mrs Hunt a change in position should not be seen as a demotion in status. I have always thought of her as one who would be a formidable candidate and she demonstrated that in her 2012 race in Marathon, where she entered merely a few months prior to the election date and ran a high-profile campaign against an opponent who had been canvassing the constituency for a few years. Notably, at that time, she had only recently given birth to her third child. Of all the women who ran in 2012, she is one of three female candidates who showed really well.
There have been those who are forecasting the political doom due to the former senator’s resignation, but I think that’s really an exaggeration of the impact of her resignation.
If the average Bahamian is to be quizzed on the appointees in the upper chamber, they might be able to name the president and government ministers, but they would be clueless as to the others. The PLP’s senatorial team is also quite dismal in their output.
Truthfully, Heather Hunt was never a real force in the senate. Perhaps that was due to a lack of consistent mentorship or for other reasons, but most people would hardly remember any impressive displays of debating skills. That said, whilst the average performance of all the senators gives support for the abolishment of the senate, the relatively mediocre Mrs Hunt may have been less mediocre than many of the others.
So, does Dr Minnis appease those now calling for Kwasi Thompson’s resignation in line with his two and a half year policy or should he stand firm?
Frankly, in the interest of fair play, he should request that Mr Thompson also submit his resignation – or at least forecast a date in the coming months when he would likely resign with a view to appointing another senator. Like Mrs Hunt, Mr Thompson’s performance in the senate has been forgettable. Mr Thompson, who I find to be an affable chap, has been as quiet as a church mouse and has not capitalised upon the post he holds. Being a senator allows him an opportunity to have a national voice and use his appointment as a bully pulpit to advance his party’s causes and the causes of his former constituents in the Pineridge constituency and the wishes and concerns of the people of Grand Bahama who continue to suffer from an economic meltdown and high rates of joblessness.
In 1997, the PLP had four senators – Obie Wilchcombe, Fred Mitchell, Melanie Griffin and Pleasant Bridgewater – and they all viewed it as their time to shine, capitalising and seizing moments. Today, with the exception of Bridgewater, Wilchcombe, Mitchell and Griffin have all been elected to consecutive terms in the House of Assembly, have retained their seats even when their party was voted out and have served in Cabinet twice. Why have the FNM’s senators not sought to capitalise on their appointments in much the same way as these persons have done?
I have heard from FNMs who support Dr Minnis and who simply think that the party should be rid of him. Yes, whilst the doctor should seek to project himself as a consultative leader to increase the chances of buy-in, it cannot be expected that he should usher in a dispensation where he leads by committee. That said, the new senator must be a strong personality, a female and one who is likely not a political rethread.
Moreover, in seeking to unite the various factions within the FNM, the Opposition leader should appoint Mrs Butler-Turner as leader of opposition business in the House of Assembly (a role Neko Grant currently fills). This could disabuse many of his detractors of the notion that he is vindictive, spiteful, insecure and less than a consensus builder. It would also project him as a postmodern leader.
The FNM leadership must show that it embraces divergent views.
One has to ask a simple question – is Mrs Butler-Turner better on the outside or as a part of that party’s internal affairs in its thrust to win the next general elections? I would choose the latter.
Mrs Butler-Turner reinvigorated the FNM, she was the spark in the House of Assembly that a deflated, shattered FNM party needed after a beat down at the polls. Her style of speaking and her aggression boosted the party’s morale and anyone who seeks to deny that is simply being a stranger to the truth.
As I have said before, in unifying the party, one would suggest that the FNM rallies its base by having mini-rallies and functions where the issues are discussed and supporters and would-be supporters can come and listen – a sort of speakers’ bureau. FNMs should not only hear the chants and songs about “feeling the fire burning”, but they should also see and feel that fire in perceptible ways.
Moreover, all this talk about the PLP stealing FNM ideas if position papers are produced and released is pure foolishness. The FNM must write and publish position papers on crime, the economy and economic reform, taxation, social welfare, Family Island development, law reform and many other topics. One believes that such papers would make the FNM’s position discernible to the voting public and credit that party with offering logical alternatives instead of merely opposing the government’s initiatives.
As I have stated before, I would love to see the FNM or any other independent minded member of parliament – whether they be FNM or government backbencher – propose and advance Independent Member Bills, which would counter or add to any proposed legislation being advanced by the Executive. Win or lose, the public would be encouraged and understand that MPs are working in their interest, even if that means drafting a Bill that one knows would not pass simply because the Official Opposition or one member of the PLP’s backbench cannot muster the requisite numbers needed for its passage.
If the FNM is to win the next general election or survive its own possible implosion, all sides would call off their attack dogs – ie those surrogates on social media, various websites and callers into talk shows. It is clear that some of the attacks read on social media and on various websites are coming from within and, clearly, if FNMs attack the PLP with the same degree of passion as they attack each other, the party would be in better stead with the Bahamian public.
Whether it’s a personal issue or attempts by certain factions to hold on to power or attempts to control the party apparatus behind the scenes, key figures in the FNM must realise the damage that’s being done to the FNM brand.
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