What does leadership succession planning look like for young party supporters as the election looms? Ava Turnquest canvasses opinions . . .
During the evening session of the House of Assembly last week, Prime Minister Perry Christie declared that the upcoming general elections are “not in the near future”.
The nation’s leader was responding to jeers from the Opposition, during debate on the Freedom of Information Bill, that promised disclosures would not be given before Parliament was dissolved.
As mandated by the Constitution, the next election must take place within the next three months - on or before May 7. While Mr Christie’s admission last week could be interpreted flatly as a reassurance that he will not call a snap election before Easter, perhaps it can also illuminate the generational disconnect over the concept of time in politics.
For some, and most certainly the average citizen, three months could well be considered within the realm of “near future”. Although the semantics are arguable, there are unmistakable parallels to succession planning in mainstream political parties.
What does the “near future” look like for young party supporters in the trenches this election cycle? Particularly within the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), where incumbent Bain and Grants Town MP Dr Bernard Nottage, 73, is slated to face off against 21-year-old Free National Movement (FNM) candidate Travis Robinson.
To be clear, age is not an accomplishment. But at what point does it become more attractive than tested experience? In a reflective critique of the current social climate, architect Patrick Rahming takes a stab at the generational maw that threatens to swallow up any chance at transformative national progress.
In a piece entitled “492”, he concludes: “We dropped the ball, those of us over 70. We have lied to our children about almost every aspect of their development and raised them to be spoilt and entitled. Talk shows demonstrate this, with hours on end of complaints about everyone in authority and precious few attempts at crafting solutions to the nation’s real problems or taking responsibility for solving them.”
Mr Rahming continues: “Their unproductive behaviour makes noise, but does little to move the country forward. They blame us for the inertia, saying we should get out of the way. The problem is, they are less prepared to run a country than we were, because our parents did a better job of preparing us to take responsibility than we have.
“I am ashamed of my generation.”
Mr Rahming’s missive leaves a lot to be digested by both sides of the age gap, but with younger voters the largest demographic, the crisis of succession planning seems to be the most salient.
Engaging commenters to his article, Mr Rahming furthers: “What makes it generational is not age. It is the fact that, 50 years ago, those on the scene were responsible for defining certain things for those to come. Instead of defining independence as a responsibility, we defined it as ‘freedom to do whatever we pleased’.
“Instead of defining education as the preparation of all citizens for productive participation in our society, we defined it as the preparation for further education and the separation between the ‘academic’ and the ‘technical’. Instead of trying to understand how our economy works, we simply rode the success of the former regime.
“Instead of reinforcing and supporting the social agents that made us an exceptionally resilient people, we replaced them with political ‘programs’.”
He continued: “Those things happened at a particular time, and have made a great contribution to the way the current generation sees the world. That is why they are constantly seeking someone else to ‘lead’ them to what should be the responsibility of citizenship.”
Perhaps the political organisation that suffers most under the stereotype of youth suppression, and a chokehold on upward mobility, is the PLP.
On the sidelines of the party’s first national convention in eight years, Southern Shores branch delegate D’Angelo Whymms argued that the decades-long gap between party supporters and party leaders was about more than just hollow upward mobility, but a true test of personal integrity.
Mr Whymms, 30, said: “I have been involved in the party for a long time and though some people get frustrated, impatient, I think that is where a lot of people fall by the wayside because they’re power hungry as opposed to being in it for the people, which is what I think people should be in it for.
“The individuals involved with the PLP, the ministers, the governing party, they are all in it for the party. The ability to speak to and sit down with them and hear the plans and platforms, the persons that are around them [leaders] are young so if they surround themselves with young individuals the ideas cannot be anything but innovative and modern.
“It’s just timing,” he said. “Persons have to understand that. I think that the PLP is poised to win and, if they lose, it’s all their fault. There’s no way that they can lose with the political climate the way it is right now.
“I think individuality plays a huge role. When you know who you are as a person, what the naysayers have to say is of no consequence to you. When you know where you’re going and you know what your aspirations are and how you’re going to get there, you have to remember that a part of that process is patience. If you aren’t [patient] you will find yourself making moves that are not going to be in your best interest, and if you just waited a little longer maybe you would be in a better position.
“Waiting is not doing nothing, patience is never doing nothing. Patience is a virtue and I don’t think when we were thinking of the virtues that we thought patience was something that was going to get nothing done, we thought patience was necessary and we need patience for us to move forward and progress as a nation. We have to be patient without that we won’t get anywhere.”
What the acts of patience and waiting in good faith look or sound like, are demonstrably different across the established parties fighting for dominance at the polls.
Travis Edgecombe, 27-year-old FNM trustee, told Insight that a “true leader” knew when to throw in the towel, adding that such an endeavour required “honest” introspection on the part of the individual and the organisation.
“I believe that succession planning is extremely important in every organisation,” Mr Robinson said. “Some leaders are chosen for a season and others for an extended period of time. It is imperative that the future generation is always represented in all political parties because they are the future and we live in a world where technology is advancing by the minute. Fresh, new and innovative ideas by young millennials will help to catapult the organisation through wisdom and guidance.”
He said: “I believe there is upward mobility because in the FNM we were able to say yes to a 21, 24 and 28-year-old male candidates that believe in our leader’s vision, and our leader believes that they have something to offer, that they have a voice to be an example to their peers and that they are able to defeat and beat the aged status quo.”
Directly addressing speculation over its candidate selection, Mr Edgecombe said: “Whether persons may say our younger candidates don’t have what it takes, or other Bahamians are inspired by this bold move, it places the perception that something is changing and it has sparked a flame in young Bahamians that they have a voice and can be heard. They will no longer be ignored, stressed, depressed or oppressed but realising that their future is worth fighting for.”
In the Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) camp, 20-year-old trustee Jayce Braynen emphasised that unless succession planning was expressly constituted within an organisation, there will never be a changing of the guard. He spoke to the journey of up-and-coming statesmen that have been give a national platform with the DNA, and their openness and willingness for professional development and progressive reform.
Mr Braynen is a national trustee for the DNA, and a trustee for its youth arm, the Young Democrats.
“To me, succession planning shows political maturity,” he said. “It shows a capacity to think outside of your political influence and even life span. The truth is that life will go on after your particular time is done, and there will be political leaders that take your place to push the country forward.
“One of the ways we ensure succession planning is through term limits, something that other major parties have only recently started talking about. I joined the DNA because unlike other groups, they had the foresight to put term limits into their constitution.
Mr Braynen continued: “To me, this has already ensured mobility in my party. I expect the DNA to legislate the same should they be the next government as well. I never liked the phrase ‘wait your turn’.
Unfortunately, I have only seen it used by senior persons as an excuse for why they have not retired from politics as of yet. ‘Your turn’ is so subjective, and in a country like ours where leaders can run until the day they die as long as their party props them up, it can last a literal lifetime.
“That’s absolutely unacceptable,” he added.
“We must better facilitate the transfer of power from one generation the next. I often point out that our Prime Minister has been the leader of his organisation for 19 years, one year less than I’ve been alive. He is currently 53 years older than me. At some point, the challenges his generation faced becomes separate from the challenges mine and the one directly before me faced.
“If persons like himself cannot do the honourable thing and pass the baton peacefully from one generation to the next, we should mandate it after two terms through legislation. I loved former President Obama, but even he had a time to go as well.”
Both major party conventions have come and gone, with one party aggressively pursuing a narrative of young leaders on the frontline with seemingly little regard for tested experience, and another comfortable with labouring under the assumption that it has pigeonholed its youth core into propping up an aging executive.
There is a third party set on branding itself as a viable and energetic (young) alternative; however, too often it finds itself seduced by the cheap tricks and tactics of the very establishment it seeks to disassociate itself from.
There are a handful of independent candidates, and as we get ready to hear the election bell sound, it remains to be seen whether there will be enough time to organise a successful challenge against the two-party swing voting culture. Over the weekend, We March, self-designated non-partisan change agents began advocating (more openly) for independent candidates to endorse in the upcoming elections. With voter registration still awkwardly low despite the loud cries of a dissatisfied electorate, it will be interesting to see what develops in the “near future”.
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