By MARK HUMES
Bahamian society is getting ripped off, right, left and centre by this unfocused Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government, and, growing more brazen with each day, they have no problem throwing it in our faces.
The concepts of transparency, accountability and inclusion are lost on them and there is no indication that will change their stripes - and they do not have to. But we have to change ours. Two referendums are clear indications that Bahamians are setting the stage for a big change of stripes come 2017. Because for them, very much like it was in during the PLP’s 2002-2007 term in office, this election is going to come down to a matter of trust.
Now unless, by some chance, the Free National Movement (FNM) is banking on the party being the automatic default winner of the next general election, the organisation, to secure the government, has a short time to prove that it is very different from the PLP in every way, but, particularly, in its commitment to fixing the dysfunction and psychosis within government.
Over the past few years, and in particular the last year, many have watched the infighting among FNM members - infighting that has pitted friend against friend, driven wedges between some and put several long-time friendships at risk in the most distasteful ways. And much of it, some have said, has been over the seeming deterioration in transparency, accountability and inclusion in operational and governing processes. Some - inside and out of the party - lack faith that these qualities of operation will not carry over into their party’s national governance style, making the party no different from the PLP.
The roads to the national convention next month and the election scheduled for next year, without a doubt, will provide prospective leadership candidates and the FNM organisation the textbook opportunity to demonstrate their difference from the PLP in their commitment to transparency, accountability and inclusion. I see the FNM’s current state of affairs as providing the perfect vehicle for this; for the organisation and those running for leader and deputy to demonstrate that we and they are the right ones to lead the nation. The right ones to trust over the PLP.
Above all, the nation needs this assurance, and we have to show them, as a party, that we have a plan and the maturity to unify the party - pre- and post-convention - sufficiently enough to win for the people in 2017. Do this and then we demonstrate in the best possible way that we can - despite our differences and the odds - unite our nation for the same purpose, to win for country. Our decisions and actions must speak; then they will trust us; trust us, and then they will choose us, above the others, and will join us willingly.
As an organisation and government, if one of our hallmark agenda items will be the deepening of democracy, we can be careful to manage this process leading to and after the convention to reflect our forward thinking ideas on this concept. We have the national platform first to lead on this issue and have others try to follow and keep up.
Perhaps the FNM convention could give consideration to amending the party’s constitution to establish a leadership voting system that is more nationally participatory in nature - one that gives weight to and binds delegates at the constituency level to casts votes for candidates in a leadership race, as determined by the majority of FNMs registered to vote in the particular constituency.
Many of the public are wishing to be more involved in the electoral selection and decision-making process at the local level, and are precluded. The FNM’s willingness to tackle reform in our own party processes would signal our willingness to also revise the level of public participation in the national process. Through a reformation of our plan, we can demonstrate a strong commitment to further open up and bring more people into what should be a holistically democratic process.
Going into and coming out of convention, the FNM’s governance agenda should speak to and/or serve and command respect as a models for national governance reform as well. We must communicate our version of a progressively “revisioned” governance agenda that serves as a serious foundation for building a progressive agenda for national development - an agenda that people, without a doubt, can trust to be different the PLP’s.
In addition to reforming the leadership race process, perhaps the organisation can also consider making constitutional amendments to include:
1 - Fixed campaign nomination legislation and primary dates
2 - A series of nationally televised leadership and candidates debates
3 - Fixed dates for party conventions
4 - Term limits on party leaders
5 - A recall system for underperforming members of Parliament; and
6 - Campaign finance legislation that makes it mandatory to disclose campaign contributions and contributors during a leadership race
In whatever form, if not these, there has to be a commitment on the part of the organisation and those in the leadership race to consider, leading up to and at the upcoming convention, constitutional reform that would speak to modernising party governance policies similar to or consistent with the leaders’ and party’s vision for much needed national governance reform - reform that should take some of the chaos and confusion out of our political processes and makes the process seem less rigged, less underhanded and less deceitful; reform that creates the appearance of a level the playing field across the board; reform that shows that every voice matters and every votes counts.
The two terrible terms that the Bahamian people endured under the PLP and Perry Christie has deepened most people’s suspicion of government. People feel powerless and excluded from the process of governance by chaos and confusion. They want to have greater say in a process that should be more simple and less confusing and chaotic. A deeper democracy says that they have a right. So if people are feeling powerless, excluded and suspicious because of the chaos and confusion that starts at our election processes, our convention must show innovation in bringing stability and openness to these processes, since the PLP has failed to do so.
At the end of the day, again, this election is going to come down to a matter of trust.
The right leaders in this FNM race are standing on fertile enough ground to show how different they and the FNM’s governance agenda are from the PLP and move to seize on it, particularly in encouraging good governance through constitutional reform.
I would like to see the FNM use our current situation, as well as the roads to the convention and the 2017 election, as opportunities to begin having people experience the ingenuity of FNMs across the board; to have them experience our progressive transformative governance ideas at the local party level, as a complement to them hearing about our plans for improving the national government, freedom of information, solving crime, improving education, creating industry, building opportunities, improving the economy, and balancing the budget.
To create trust and a fresh start, we must use our convention to show that we can make better decisions in solving problems, that we are not afraid of a challenge, and that we are the party with the ideas that can inspire change, growth and innovation.
How we govern ourselves, along with the internal governance systems we put in place by the end of convention, must demonstrate that, as a first step, the FNM is committed to a fresh start - after its convention - for its membership, supporters and a frustrated Bahamian populace.
• Mark Humes is a professor at The College of The Bahamas and former Democratic National Alliance candidate for Fort Charlotte. He is also president of the Union of Tertiary Educators of The Bahamas. Mr Humes joined the Free National Movement earlier this year.