By ADRIAN GIBSON
THE Free National Movement is at war. Perhaps, most disappointingly for those long-time party supporters, the party is at war with itself.
The FNM is a party in crisis. That is unfortunate considering the challenges the Bahamas faces. What it also means is that the Opposition, hindered by its infighting, is not the most viable force that it can be. There are clearly too many chiefs and hardly any Indians. There are certainly too many wannabe leaders and, to use a Bahamian term, “backbiters.”
The FNM is not a team; there’s a lot of you, me and I’s. People watching the showdown in the FNM hardly feel like there is an “us” culture. There are some within the party who are divisive, infatuated with themselves and preoccupied with their own egos, rapt by jealousy, envy and intoxicated by power.
In some quarters in the FNM, there is a gross lack of respect for leader Dr Hubert Minnis. I continue to hold the view that Dr Minnis’ detractors within the FNM were out to “get” him from day one; some of them never supported him, others actively plotted his demise and still others basked, gossiped and grinned at his novice missteps, faux pas and gaffes that could have been avoided or sidestepped if they sought to assist him and if Dr Minnis himself was more engaging of these individuals.
Yes, some of the blame also befalls the good doctor but he is not supposed to be in the vineyard by himself. One wonders where are all those senior FNMs who snipe at him from the comfort of their homes or via their laptops, tablets and phones on Facebook and elsewhere. The only way for the FNM to win is for the party to unite.
In 2007, the party ran on the mantra that “it’s a matter of trust”. However, today there are some in the FNM who clearly have no trust in the leadership of that party. What’s more, the leadership appears to have been thrust into a position where they must feel insecure not knowing if they can trust the people around them.
There is no time for a false narrative. The FNM must keep it real. The issues that the FNM lays at Dr Minnis’ feet are much bigger than him. He is merely the figurehead. The party must look within. That is the only way that there will be any resolution to the “quagmire of web” the party now faces. The FNM has always been a party of deep fissures and factions.
The factions, once united by Hubert Ingraham, have all retreated into their various corners of the party. We have seen a return to the degenerative, unproductive infighting that has infamously characterised the FNM during an era that pre-existed Ingraham’s ascension to the leadership and that reappeared, during the leadership of Tommy Turnquest prior to Mr Ingraham’s much-celebrated 2005 return to the helm of the party.
I knew that trouble was brewing and threatening the stability of the FNM when I was reliably informed of at least two meetings last week. One was held at the offices of the Leader of the Opposition last Tuesday and, from what I was told, the meeting was heated and loud, to put it mildly. Peter Turnquest was purportedly not at this meeting.
There was another meeting held between Dr Minnis and the parliamentary caucus at the house of Tommy Turnquest. I am reliably informed that Mr Ingraham was initially in attendance and that he placed the call, on behalf of the parliamentary caucus, to Dr Minnis and summoned the doctor to appear at once. Dr Minnis did just that and then the former Prime Minister departed.
By all accounts, both meetings were attempts on the part of the FNM’s MPs to express their discontent and that it was during these meetings when certain MPs threatened to present a letter of no confidence in Minnis’ parliamentary leadership to the Governor General. At the end of the day, this is merely about optics since this would only remove Dr Minnis as leader in the House and he would remain as leader of the FNM.
So close to the general election, this is a precarious path to take. 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.
I read Darren Cash’s Facebook statement. Notwithstanding his unusual display of candour (which I’ll await to see if he walks back in a few days), one high-level FNM source told me that it’s generally felt that Mr Cash has long been shooting scud missiles from the shadows. My source also purports that Mr Cash is livid that he is unlikely to receive the FNM’s nomination in Carmichael, a seat that he contested at the 2012 general election and felt would automatically be handed to him. I too would be angered at the likelihood of losing the nomination for such a sweet seat as Carmichael, one that the FNM should win considering the dismal performance of current PLP MP Dr Daniel Johnson.
Will Mr Cash remain in the FNM or will he explore his options with another political entity?
We should analyse and discuss certain comments that Mr Cash has made. However, he also sounds bitter. He, too, is to be blamed for the jaded, third-rate performance of the FNM in opposition. He is the immediate past chairman, having served since the death of Charles Maynard in 2012. He, too failed, to rally the FNM’s base and to organise effectively the constituency associations and superintend the general administration of the party. In a runoff between himself and former Blue Hills MP Dion Foulkes, Mr Cash won the chairmanship with the explicit backing of Dr Minnis. When he withdrew his backing and supported Peter Turnquest in the race for the deputy leadership of the party, Mr Cash suffered a pummelling at the November 2014 convention. Out of a possible 400-plus voting delegates, Darren Cash attained 19 votes (one of which was no doubt his own).
Mr Cash’s argument is that Dr Minnis does not hold the overwhelming confidence of the parliamentary caucus. He has called for a poll to be conducted of each MP to see where they stand on Dr Minnis’ leadership. However, Mr Cash must also realise that, when put to a poll, the FNM’s electoral apparatus resoundedly rejected him in his bid to be deputy leader, which could be interpreted as an expression of disapproval of his tenure as chairman.
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.
No one should stick their heads in the sand and pretend that Dr Minnis doesn’t have issues.
Minnis has been labelled as an incompetent and numerous pundits have outlined why they feel that he is inept and incapable. In all fairness, Minnis’ supporters would be fools to dismiss them all as haters who don’t understand him. I have heard genuine sentiments expressed that Dr Minnis can do better, that he can be more reasonable in his arguments and that he could become more fluid and flexible in his rebuttals and responses. I agree.
I, too, share the view that Dr Minnis cannot lumber on while encircling himself with sycophantic supporters. There has to be a solution, not merely the engineering of a mirage of a solution.
The problems within the FNM go beyond any issues that the leadership may have. Dr Minnis is not a microphone demagogue and he has not been the powerful orator that he perhaps needs to be. He is not a rock star politician.
A high-level party insider said to me some time ago: “Dr Minnis has failed to quickly capitalise on things as they happen in the moment, thereby allowing the government to get away and regroup before he could drive the political knife in their underbelly.”
Indeed, there are those who also say that Dr Minnis is irreducibly complex, cold and inexpressive and then, on other occasions, warm and connecting. Dr Minnis has generally not connected as he should, but key FNMs have hurt Dr Minnis’ standing in the public eye.
I am one of those who have, in the past, criticised the FNM for opposing merely to oppose and not offering alternatives. I have invited the FNM to present position papers to the public.
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, healthcare, energy reform, 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.
I agree that Minnis could do more. But he is a worker and he is trying.
Yesterday, a high-ranking FNM source told me: “Loyalists to the party are left with an uncomfortable choice. We have to decide if it’s better for us to destroy the party or destroy the country by allowing Minnis to stay on with the situation being unchanged.”
I thought that that comment was unfortunate, though some would argue that it is telling of the frustration within the ranks of the party.
The source went on: “This is not about hype or video ads extolling the values of Dr Minnis. This is not about carefully orchestrated town meetings with animated, pumped up gyrations. It’s about being in touch with the aspirations, hopes and dreams of a desperate people and realising that one, like others before, have come up short and been found wanting.
“Minnis distrusts virtually everyone. He is not nimble in thought and he’s bereft of knowledge. I don’t think he is prime ministerial material. To be Prime Minister, it’s more than having a functioning heart beat and blood pumping through one’s veins. There’s a need for progressive thought and we certainly don’t see that with the current PM, his deputy or the other proposed contender for the deputy leadership,” the former FNM Parliamentarian told me.
FNMs must face reality. Part of the reason why Dr Minnis’ leadership hasn’t flourished is also due to forces within his own party. It is FNMs who have been washing their dirty laundry in public. It is FNM MPs who leak what has been discussed in various meetings to the media and the wider public. It is those FNMs, some of whom are hungry and eager for power, who are hurting the party’s chances of winning the next general election. I’m not going to excuse Dr Minnis or his shortcomings, but I’m also going to keep it real.
When FNMs disparage, dismiss and disrespect their party’s leadership, it’s time for introspection.
What FNMs are doing can only be comparable to dousing themselves in gas and giving the PLP the match. They are giving the governing party all of the ammunition it needs to shoot down their party’s hopes, desires and attempts at winning the next general election. Their dislike and, in some instances, hatred for Minnis will cause the FNM to spend another five years in the wilderness.
Today, unless the party wishes to go to convention to elect a new leader so soon after re-electing Dr Minnis last November, the forces will again have to take a page from the PLP’s playbook and unite behind Minnis – as the PLP did with Perry Christie in 2012 – with a shared goal of winning.
Regulation of drones
Last week, I wrote that drones were banned in The Bahamas. I received that information from reliable sources.
However, after publication Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis reached out and, in our subsequent conversations, he informed me that the importation of drones had restrictions applied and that anyone importing drones into The Bahamas would need to seek and attain the approval of the Minister of Transport and Aviation. I promised Mr Halkitis that I would speak to this further and I do so now.
The FNM should have a working, non-voting convention. It would give the party an opportunity to respond to the PLP, to showcase its talent, to rally its base, to highlight its proposed policies and alternatives. No doubt, when the PLP’s convention is done, the governing party will leave the convention hall a well-oiled machine. The FNM would make a grievous, irredeemable mistake not to have a convention immediately following the PLP conclave.
I have heard from FNMs who support Dr Minnis and those 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.
And, if not Dr Minnis, the question that FNMs should all ask is then who? I think Mr Ingraham has served nobly and should be allowed to enjoy his retirement. So, the question is who - Sands, Bannister, Butler-Turner, who?
I agree with Darren Cash when he says that there should be a show of hands among MPs to see who supports the leader. The leader should address this in their next parliamentary meeting. And how is it that Minnis’ deputy, Peter Turnquest, knew nothing of the reported threat to oust his leader?
FNMs need to unite. If Minnis loses the general election, then the rank and file of the FNM should seek to have him removed. At this juncture, it may well be too late for that and, frankly, it simply doesn’t make sense.