By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
BY contrast to prominent Progressive Liberal Party politicians who have continuously defended the party’s recent record, Exuma MP Chester Cooper promoted a plan for the party yesterday that includes apologising to Bahamians and acknowledging that internal errors, including ignoring scandals, led to its recent general election defeat.
Mr Cooper said another misstep of the former administration was the protection of the party’s interests over those of the country, adding that the PLP was not accountable or transparent enough.
His striking critique came during a speech at the National Progressive Institute (NPI) last night. The NPI is a policy advisory group for the PLP.
Mr Cooper’s statements on why the PLP lost the recent election contrasts with the publicly expressed view of the PLP’s leader, former Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis.
Mr Davis said during his contribution to the budget debate last week that the FNM won the election by perpetuating false narratives about his party. Highlighting the FNM’s criticisms about value added tax and the Christie administration’s dealings with China, Mr Davis said such “falsehoods” formed the foundational premise upon which the Free National Movement (FNM) won.
“It worked very well for the FNM,” he said.
By contrast, Mr Cooper said last night that the PLP lost the May 10 general election because, among other things, it ignored scandals by protecting the interests of offending people and it condoned actions it should not have.
“We were not accountable enough and not transparent enough,” he said, according to his prepared remarks released to the media. “And we ignored scandals––protecting the interest of offending individuals and condoned things we should not have by our silence. I can give you examples of the last few weeks (of the campaign), but suffice it to say, this was one moment when my campaign team reportedly felt a momentum change. We protected the interest of the party over the interests of the nation, thinking, wrongly, that the Bahamian people would somehow understand without being told that those two things were actually the same.
“While trying to fix the nation’s major problems, we often forgot to sweat the small stuff and left too many people behind,” he said. “In short, even our base felt ignored, oftentimes at the expense of others who didn’t support us or persons who hopped on the bandwagon at the 11th hour.
“We went into communities asking support from the very people we raised taxes on to improve their lives and when we did so, we found them in the same circumstances we met them in when we promised to improve their circumstance five years ago.”
He continued: “We hid behind a message of Majority Rule, without updating it for new generations who feel little connection to it but rather seek economic empowerment. The millennials told us that they were over all that and we ignored the youth to our peril.”
While he says he does not expect much from the new FNM government, Mr Cooper said it’s presumptuous for the PLP to assume Bahamians will embrace the party again in 2022.
“We cannot just wait for the FNM to screw up, though I suspect it won’t be very long,” he said. “In the case of France, none of the major parties in that (recent) historic democracy holds sway over the majority any longer.”
Choosing to defend the PLP’s actions from the past five years will anger the electorate, Mr Cooper said.
“We have to show the Bahamas we have learned from our mistakes. We must show the Bahamas that we are ready and able to serve. We must show them that we are willing to listen to them more than we are willing to talk about ourselves. We must reform. We must transform. Or we risk an extended stay in the wilderness, watching those with bad ideas and half-baked schemes flounder while our people suffer.”
Mr Cooper said the first test of the PLP’s willingness to undergo a transformation will come at its next convention.
He did not say if he will seek a leadership post at that convention as some in his party have quietly expressed a desire for. However, he said the lead up and result of that convention will show if the PLP is “ready to get up and fight again” or “continue to lay down and bleed a while longer.”
Mr Cooper listed ten points the PLP should embrace ahead of 2022.
Among these is offering a “sincere and humble apology and repentance” to PLP supporters and the nation. He also called for a “reconnection tour,” a tour of all constituencies in the country so supporters could vent and share their disappointments with the party.
“We must move immediately towards the reform, rebranding and re-energising of our party, inclusive of a thoughtful analysis and updating of the party’s constitution and governance including the structure and protocols of appointing stalwart councillors as well as the election of a new slate of party officers that signals that the party is ready to regain the trust to be repositioned into a lean, mean winning machine,” he said.
Candidates nominated by the party in 2022 should include a significant number of new candidates, young candidates and female candidates, he said.
Mr Cooper said not all is lost for the PLP. Contrary to the portrayal of the party in the “mainstream press and social media,” he said the PLP is not a bad organisation and its core principles “are best suited for the Bahamas.”
He said when removed from the heat of the recent political campaign, some contributions of the Christie administration will be appreciated.
“The truth is that––despite our shortcomings, history will judge us fairly…we helped many, we tackled issues, we left the Bahamas as a whole better than it was in 2012,” he said.