By ADRIAN GIBSON
At the rate that the Free National Movement (FNM) is going, it is on the fast track to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 2017. The political chicanery on display within the FNM has reinforced the perception that the road to governance and victory at the polls next year is getting steeper.
The hackneyed expression ‘come to Jesus moment’ aptly describes what the FNM needs. On the face of it, the FNM appears to be in disarray: some would say that it is hamstrung by the infighting, that it is hapless, hopeless and acting like a second string junior varsity political team.
It is clear that well-respected figures with gravitas and balance must meet in a closed room and sort out their differences. There has to be surgical incision of the political rot in the FNM. Decisions must be made about who will be dismissed, cut-off, put into the background and neutered in order for the party to move forward. No doubt, the founding fathers of the FNM and those longstanding supporters must be of the view that the party is bigger than any one person.
The friendly fire has been so damaging and deadly to the leadership and the FNM as a whole that one wonders if the problems plaguing it can be remedied. Given that, the FNM may not win the next election. Frankly, as it stands, the FNM may not deserve to win the next general election.
As the party stumbles in the dark, the latest heartburn for the anti-Minnis bloc is the comments of Lanisha Rolle. Senator Rolle, an attorney-at-law and purportedly a pastor, has been an avid defender of FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis. She is entitled to defend and support whoever she pleases.
However, I thought that her comments last week were uncouth, uncalled for and poorly delivered. That said, I agree with the essence of what she said. Her urging party insiders and persons on the frontline such as Long Island MP and former Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner, Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn, former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson and other Minnis detractors to respect the democratic process was fair comment.
It is clear that since the convention of November 21, 2014 - where Dr Minnis trounced Mrs Butler-Turner by nearly three to one - there has been a faction within the FNM that has refused to lend their support to him. That faction has persistently undermined the leader, made remarks to the press that could be considered as disrespectful and insincere and has consistently demonstrated - in the public domain - disdain for Minnis and his style of leadership and a lack of support for his leadership.
At the end of voting at the 2014 convention, Mrs Butler-Turner in a statement said: “I pledge to them my support as we work together to mount an effective Opposition and prepare to defeat the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) at the next general election ... The contest for the leadership is over, having demonstrated once again the solid democratic principles upon which our movement was founded and nurtured. Our shared task now is unity. As the Official Opposition the FNM has an essential constitutional role to play and a challenge to prepare for the responsibility of governing. I pledge my full support in these efforts in a spirit of unity and collegiality.”
Though that statement was released, the contest for leadership appears to be far from over and there is hardly any spirit of unity and collegiality within the FNM. The Opposition has also been far from effective and the party is hardly prepared to defeat the PLP. The FNM has not recovered, healed and moved on since the November 21 convention. The FNM remains in a weakened state. It is a party that is punch drunk.
Other than the recent comments on National Health Insurance by certain figures, when was the last time that one has heard a prominent FNM speak substantively on an issue as opposed to the infighting, appointment of candidates, etc? When was the last time a substantial contribution given in dialogue about good governance?
Where are the position papers of the FNM, espousing alternatives and the party’s position? 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. 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.
Don’t get me wrong, Dr Minnis is not without fault. He has fumbled on a number of occasions. He has made some questionable decisions. He is not the best orator. He is not the most charismatic and dynamic. He is overly cautious and doesn’t appear to be the quickest thinker on his feet. However, Dr Minnis has demonstrated that he is a political strategist and he was overwhelmingly re-elected to his post. One must credit him with holding the Opposition together in the face of insurmountable odds. Dr Minnis has seemingly also not kowtowed to special interest groups, purportedly seeking to rebrand the FNM to be seen as more embracing of the poor and lower class.
That said, the FNM ought to be the sum of all its parts. So, wherever Dr Minnis or Loretta Butler-Turner is deficient, others should be able to pick up the slack.
One of Dr Minnis’ biggest issues is that he appears to surround himself with obsequious sycophants. No good leader should want to be surrounded by bootlickers, butt kissers and persons who will not tell the truth in order to save themselves or secure a position.
The doctor is not the sole reason why the FNM is in disarray. There are senior FNMs who appear intent on seeing the party implode rather than rally behind the leadership. Before the last general election, members of the PLP had many issues with Prime Minister Perry Christie. However, following the 2009 convention and as the election drew nigh, the party rallied around Mr Christie and won the government.
They have rendered a wretched performance as government but the point is that their will to defeat the FNM superseded any internal issues with Mr Christie. There are PLPs who currently grumble in closed quarters about Mr Christie’s incompetent leadership but it is never the out-and-out public washing of laundry that we see from the FNM.
If Dr Minnis is to remain at the helm of the FNM, he has to project himself as a consultative leader to increase the chances of buy-in, but it cannot be expected that he should usher in a dispensation where he leads by committee. 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. 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.
By the same token, Mrs Butler-Turner must call off the political hacks, members of her team and her excited supporters who are urging her to challenge for the leadership. She has the capacity to stop much of the drama within the FNM by simply sitting with Minnis and, further, by telling those who support her to cease and desist with any efforts to undermine the party’s leadership. When one sees the letters inundating the newspapers from both camps, it is clear that both the Butler-Turner and Minnis backers are likely behind such letters, particularly in the last week from persons who express their lack of support for Dr Minnis.
I must admit my disappointment with the recent selection of candidates. I can hardly recall ever agreeing with PLP chairman Bradley Roberts but in this instance I share the view that many of the candidates who were recently announced were political carpetbaggers, perpetual losers and re-treads. I thought that, of the eight candidates put forward, the selection was not truly representative of the FNM’s depth.
When Heather Hunt was asked to resign from the senate, I was of the view that her tenure was mediocre and forgettable. I said the same about the tenure of Kwasi Thompson. At the time, I said that the FNM’s new senator must be a strong personality, a female and one who is likely not a political re-tread. What I should have also said then was that the senator must be one who is well-researched, well-spoken, thoughtful and considerate.
Lanisha Rolle has had a dismal week and so whilst I do not wish to pile on the misery, the senator has demonstrated herself to have neither substance nor discipline nor political smarts. Her outburst could have been a bit more controlled.
I have no issue with her elevation to the upper chamber. Frankly, in order for our country to progress, young persons must be elevated and take on leadership. Sir Lynden Pindling became Prime Minister at 37 and former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham attained that office at 42. They were both trusted by the Bahamian people regardless of their age. So, when I hear Frank Watson, who is supposed to be an elder statesman in the FNM, say that Mrs Rolle “had no right to it” and exclaims that “she has not earned it” and asserts that her appointment was one of Dr Minnis’ tragic mistakes because she has “no political experience, no party experience and no sense”, I see a sense of entitlement.
Mr Watson crossed the line and I was surprised by his undiplomatic and crude language. He clearly got into his feelings and berated a young newcomer in public. He went beyond the pale. I can hardly recall any PLP senior politician behaving in such a manner. Unacceptable!
Surely Mr Watson ought to know that Opposition senators serve 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, Mrs Rolle also crossed the line by belligerently attacking her fellow parliamentarians. The FNM appears to be doing all the work for the PLP.
The content of Mrs Rolle’s tirade on Shenique Miller’s talk show was riddled with factual errors. There was clearly a lack of recognition of the inappropriateness of one FNM parliamentarian publicly deriding other FNM parliamentarians, particularly those whose very election made it possible for her to be a senator. The paradox of her intervention (when she called the talk show) is that she was committing the same political crime for which she was seeking to chastise others for committing against Minnis. I listened to Rolle’s comments and the intensity of her commentary and the passion with which she delivered it could have been best used elsewhere.
I must also fact check the senator. In her rant, she stated that the PLP borrowed $6 billion. They didn’t. She stated that the FNM has 492 delegates. It doesn’t. She said that the government is seeking to borrow $53m. They are seeking to borrow $33m. She said that the government collected $700m in VAT monies. Again, she is wrong. I urge the senator to read. Pick up a newspaper.
When persons such as Frank Watson and Richard Lightbourn berate Dr Minnis to the press or in the public sphere, it appears to be, as Rolle suggested, for self-serving reasons. Why not deal with matters in-house?
I have heard that the party should be rid of Minnis. However, what I haven’t heard is the suggestion of a viable alternative that the public and delegates within the party can overwhelmingly support.
I do have a bone to pick with the FNM candidate for South Beach, Howard Johnson. I find it interesting that he has such incredible leverage over the party to dictate his own selection for the South Beach seat whilst seemingly having little or no ability to salvage the seat in Central and South Eleuthera. If one has all this power and is able to tell the leader that it’s their way or the highway, are they bringing something extra to the table that has not yet been disclosed?
The tone, the language and the audacity of Mr Johnson to tell Dr Minnis that its either South Beach or nothing at all, thereby forcing the leader to perhaps burn his political capital with the Woman’s Association, is stunning. Mr Johnson lost in South Eleuthera by 66 votes. If he had remained in the seat and worked it over five years, he could have closed the margin. What’s more, he would have had five graduating classes with likely voters in 2017 and, even more, current MP Damian Gomez has performed abysmally in that capacity.
If anyone believes that the PLP will re-nominate current MP Cleola Hamilton in South Beach, then they are talking fool. Mrs Hamilton will be dispatched in favour of a stronger candidate with the promise of a cushy job and perhaps a senate appointment if the PLP recaptures the government.
Mr Johnson’s letter to Dr Minnis was an ultimatum. An ultimatum is a statement that defines inflexible and limited options with a promise of consequences arising therefrom. Put simply, my way or no way.
Considering the state of affairs in the Bahamas, the FNM needs to get its act together. Will Mr Ingraham return to lead the FNM to victory at the polls? Will a convention see the return of the former Prime Minister? Or will Dr Minnis remain?
The PLP has gotten away with much. The FNM has failed to keep pressure on the governing PLP. The governing party acts as if the FNM doesn’t exist. They neither fear nor respect the Opposition - and that is an indictment of the entire Opposition.