By ADRIAN GIBSON
Friday night’s vote at the Free National Movement’s (FNM) convention will likely be a watershed moment in the party’s history.
The convention, which began yesterday, concludes tomorrow with a contest for all party posts.
There is a seismic crack within the FNM. There is a deep frost between FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis and Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner.
Though the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has abysmally squandered another chance in power, the FNM has had to contend with strife within its parliamentary team. Given that, the PLP - with all its money, machinery and structure - must be conceitedly thinking that next year’s general election is all wrapped up.
On Friday, one can expect lots of horse trading, political ship jumping and double crossing. In the wake of Hubert Ingraham’s announcement this week, there are many who have assessed the political temperature within the FNM and have been secretly negotiating with the Minnis camp or outright bandwagon hopping. As is typical in these situations, there are many who want to be affiliated with a winner and who, for self-serving reasons, view Minnis as a prospective future Prime Minister who could “do lil something for them”.
If Minnis wins tomorrow, he would have been given a new mandate by the delegates of his party. He would be further empowered and his influence within the party would be far-reaching, all while riding a new wave of political excitement. The same applies to Butler-Turner if she is successful in her candidacy.
But her candidacy can now only be compared to a candle in the wind. Given the impending election, Butler-Turner’s road to becoming FNM leader is now much steeper than it was in 2014.
Stacks of cash have been spent on this convention. The party itself raised $350,000 but each of the tandems vying for the leadership of the FNM have themselves spent thousands on their individual campaigns. The Butler-Turner/Duane Sands campaign has been accused of having a geyser of special interest dollars, being cast as the preferred choice of the elite whilst Dr Minnis has projected himself as the poor boy from Over-the-Hill who, by sheer will, made something of himself.
This electoral part of this convention can be viewed as a referendum on Minnis’ leadership over the last four years. Since people can nominate up to Friday, there are others within the FNM - if they so strongly object to the doctor’s leadership stylings - who could step forward and offer themselves for the top post.
Butler-Turner’s rhetoric this week and in weeks past was over-the-top, impertinent and seemingly deepens the gap between Minnis and her and their supporters. In so doing, she has caused a deepening of public sympathy for Minnis and politically greased her own skids. Butler-Turner failed to capitalise in her role as the underdog, instead adopting a scorched earth policy whilst Minnis remained quiet and never openly and/or directly responded. He remained rhetorically cautious.
I take no issue with her cataloguing Minnis’ list of political blunders but the cheap shots and the tone and tenor of her vigorous public pronouncements would not engender public confidence in Minnis if he emerges as leader. Frankly, the PLP could - by using Butler-Turner’s own words over various appearances on talk shows and campaign advertisements - craft several effective attack ads during the next general election. She has certainly left a gold mine of soundbites, quotes and put downs. It has been a crass public relations display.
There is clearly a disparity in perspectives within the FNM.
Despite speculation that some delegates are disillusioned with Minnis and that his support within the FNM has diminished, I do not believe that much has changed in the minds of the delegates in the nearly 20 months since Butler-Turner’s crushing three-to-one defeat at the FNM’s one-day convention in November, 2014. I am even less convinced that, given her attacks and utterances on various media platforms in recent weeks, the delegates will have faith in her capacity to resolve divisions within the FNM and marshal its forces.
On November 21, 2014, on conceding defeat that night, Butler-Turner said in a statement: “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.”
So, where did it go wrong and why didn’t Mrs Butler-Turner - in her words and deeds - exemplify the full support she pledged? Frankly, she withdrew from the political spotlight and was not the force she was in the House of Assembly prior to that convention. By her own accounts, she was learning and transforming for what today is her second bite at the cherry.
In 2014, she also pledged to “continue to vigorously lend my voice and support as a member of the FNM’s parliamentary team and to offer my party and the Bahamian people ideas for a better Bahamas”. Her voice was not as vigorous as before and it was clear to many that she had withdrawn herself.
The reality is that when Minnis wins - as I believe he will - Butler-Turner and others could decide to jump the political fence and form a breakaway grouping. However, though Fort Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins was among the six MPs who were signatories to a recent letter that sharply criticised Minnis’ leadership, I doubt that he would be inclined to follow Butler-Turner and so, even with a breakaway grouping, she would be unable to form a political unit that would become the Official Opposition.
Minnis is not without fault. He is not a silver-tongued orator and, yes, he has shortcomings. However, he has been in the trenches for the past four years. He has demonstrated humility and poise and, despite all the criticism and negativity thrown his way, has marched full steam ahead, committing himself to the task and determining that he would focus on winning supporters. During his tenure, he has been methodical, wisely travelling from island to island. I respect that. Minnis’ strength is that he has been underestimated, though he has demonstrated time and time again that he is politically savvy and a strategist.
In my opinion, Minnis has toiled in the political vineyard and he deserves the opportunity to lead the FNM into a general election. It is comparable to a farmer who plants peas and corn only for someone else to pop up, on the cusp of a harvest, and reap that which they have not planted nor cared for. If Minnis takes the FNM into the general election and loses, then one could expect that he - like Mr Ingraham and other honourable adherents to the Westminster system - would resign.
I have read his platform. Whilst one can question how a programme or policy would take shape, he is offering an optimistic vision for the future, one of broad prosperity and a shift in the status quo.
This week, former Prime Minister Ingraham demonstrated that he is in a political sphere that no other living local politician - current or former - has attained. His pronouncements caused a stir, generated buzz on every media format and conjured feelings of nostalgia across the archipelago. Unfortunately, folks like my father, who is perhaps the biggest Ingraham fan in The Bahamas, was left disappointed and heartbroken (he actually retreated in silent but noticeable depression) by his decision not to return and his letter to the chairman that instructed that any attempt to nominate him ought not to be recognised as he would decline.
By contrast, the PLP undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief.
Mr Ingraham is a looming figure, the so-called ghost at the feast.
The fact is that Ingraham has renewed interest in the Free National Movement. He excited a base that was weary of the infighting and instability. Ingraham’s mystique - built around his refusal to seek out and indefatigably grab the spotlight and media attention, his strong leadership style and reputation as a straight shooter - has caused the public and the media to crave his input. He continues to be the Bahamas’ most beloved political figure.
If the FNM wants to win the next general election, just like the PLP prominently features the late Sir Lynden Pindling, Mr Ingraham must be showcased as the party’s nuclear weapon.
I have said before that our nation must rightly honour him whilst he walks among us. Honour him! He is the country’s best Prime Minister thus far and yet no real initiative has been taken to honour his many contributions to our national life. Shame!
On Friday, barring an unlikely withdrawal by Mrs Butler-Turner, her campaign for leadership will flame out. After Friday, the FNM’s leadership should not continue to be an unresolved drama within the party’s hierarchy, with people continuing to refuse to either accept process or engaging in friendly fire on the eve of one of the most important general elections in Bahamian history.
The debate has to be shifted back to the specifics of the FNM’s vision for this country. The leaking of FNM party emails, the woeful outpourings of inharmoniousness, the lack of civility and the personalised tirades on media platforms would have to stop.
In Opposition, MPs are given an opportunity to establish themselves by crafting and advancing private member’s Bills, showcasing their ability to debate supported by research and an understanding of the issues and hold the governing party accountable. No FNM MP would pass with flying colours. However, there have been certain MPs who, in my opinion, have been ineffectual timeservers.
All of the current FNM MPs should not be blindly re-nominated. Unfortunately, during the last election, the FNMs then best and brightest were given unwinnable or marginal seats whilst some of the current MPs were given traditionally FNM-leaning seats and were elected when firebrands like Dion Foulkes, Michael Pintard, Zhivargo Laing, Carl Bethel, Howard Johnson and others all lost their seats. Their losses weakened the parliamentary caucus. As it stands, the FNMs bench is uninspiring and weak and I would impress upon whoever emerges as leader to recognise that and make the decisions that must be made in the interest of the party’s future.
This week, Mr Ingraham revealed that late last year he staved off the first threat from five FNM MPs to have Dr Minnis removed as leader through a petition to Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling.
If Minnis wins, those who have expressed no confidence in his leadership should offer not to seek re-nomination or, at the very least, enlighten a questioning public on how they will suddenly find the confidence to march in lockstep behind a leader that they have undermined, defied and/or dissed for four years. I expect that most, if not all, will seek to cling to their seats. I imagine that Minnis’ impending win will have a perspective-altering effect on many of those who will suddenly switch allegiances and find him politically palatable. Politics is dogmatic religion.
In 2014, Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant supported Dr Minnis. However, I’m reliably informed that between then and now, Mr Grant’s constituency association has expressed an interest in a new candidate. I am told that Mr Grant was also of the view that former FNM chairman Michael Pintard was interested in his seat, believing that Pintard or another candidate had attained Dr Minnis’ blessings. Given that, Mr Grant purportedly switched sides and now supports Mrs Butler-Turner.
Considering the widely publicised email that he wrote chastising Dr Minnis and the fact that he was one of the MPs calling for a convention, Mr Grant’s statements at the conclusion of the 2014 convention tell the story of a man who had very different sentiments.
At that time, he told The Tribune: “The people have spoken. We had an excellent turnout today and the FNMs have elected those persons they feel are capable of leading us to victory in 2017. I think (the issue of infighting) was just a perception. You would appreciate that in any office there would be a difference of opinion. The convention provided an opportunity for those differences of opinion to be aired and dealt with and the people have made their decision; they’ve spoken.”
There are some questions that must be considered going into this convention:
1 What happens to candidates ratified by Dr Minnis if, by some phenomenon, Mrs Butler-Turner wins? If Minnis has shored up the party machinery with trusted allies over the years, how would it work if Mrs Butler-Turner wins?
2 Will the FNM completely fracture after Friday night? Are we witnessing the end of the two party (major) system?
3 What will the FNM’s corporate backers do if Dr Minnis wins?
4 What will the young voters and voting blocs that Dr Minnis have cultivated do if Mrs Butler-Turner wins?
The FNM cannot become a party of preening, look-at-me individuals. The party’s fate at the polls should not be subject to the caprices of self-medicated narcissists - and that applies to both sides. The political wrecking ball must be set aside. The FNM has hardly ever been united but, in order to give the PLP a swift kick, competing sides will have to bond over a common political enemy and exercise discipline. A single leader cannot force these sides to unite. That decision also rests upon them.
The FNM cannot continue to hit the wrong chords going into the next election. The party must rebrand itself; it must immediately find the control-alt-delete buttons, reset and reboot.
Mr Ingraham has embraced a changing of the guard. The party too much reflects that change in its selection of quality, young candidates. Unlike the PLP, the FNM must truly highlight and propel a new generation of leaders and, frankly, new generation leaders are not candidates in their 50s and 60s. Anyone over 40 can hardly consider themselves as young or as a different generation (45 being on the extreme end of the so-called youth spectrum).
The Bahamas has had three Prime Ministers in 43 years of Independence whilst the United Kingdom has had nine in the same time span; Jamaica has had nine in 55 years of Independence; and the United States has had seven Presidents in 43 years.
The party must be peppered with youth, with sprinklings of experienced persons as outgoing MPs to guide newcomers and as advisers to a younger generation. For example, my friend Jamal Moss, the former longstanding President of the Torchbearers Youth Association and current FNM Vice Chairman, is a community leader who has worked in the trenches on behalf of the FNM. I think he could contribute much towards to FNM and represents that party’s future and I wholeheartedly endorse his re-election.
Just as Mr Ingraham walked away, there are others within the FNM who must do the same, accepting change and becoming statesmen whose experience and influence could greatly influence good governance, party initiatives and mentorship of new generation FNM parliamentarians.
As it stands, the FNM can only defeat itself. The governing PLP has been a disaster of apocalyptic proportions. This version of the Cabinet of the Bahamas has reached a point of irreparable fault and Prime Minister Christie seems too paralysed to solve it. The governing party has disdainfully demonstrated impenitent arrogance and hubris to the very people that they claim that they want to serve!
Hopefully, we see manifestation of the clichéd “come to Jesus moment”.
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