By Alfred Sears
THE defeat of the Progressive Liberal Party by the Free National Movement in the general elections on May 10, 2017, ironically, provides a watershed opportunity for the oldest political party in The Bahamas to reflect, refresh and rebound.
The dramatic shift in the political fortunes of these two parties is best captured by a comparison between the general elections results of 2012 with 2017. In 2012, the PLP won 29 out of 38 parliamentary seats, with 75,815 votes or 48.6 per cent of the votes; while the FNM won nine parliamentary seats, with 64,634 votes or 42.1 per cent of the votes. In the general elections of 2017 the FNM won 35 out of 39 parliamentary seats, with 91,413 votes or 57.0 per cent of the votes; while the PLP won four out of the 39 parliamentary seats, with 59,289 votes or 37 per cent of the votes.
What accounts for this dramatic reversal of fortunes of the two main political parties and the repudiation of the PLP?
Firstly, I thank the Right Honourable Perry Christie for his 40 years of public service in the highest public offices of our country that are a testament of his patriotism, love and commitment to The Bahamas. I commend him for taking the honourable course of resigning as leader of the PLP after the general elections. That course is within the best tradition of the Westminster system. I hasten to add that there were many contributing factors to the defeat of the PLP, including the failure to provide a clear vision and political and social agenda for the future of The Bahamas and the weak governance and democratic structures of the party itself.
Secondly, I thank the Progressive Liberal Party for giving me the privilege to be its candidate in Fort Charlotte. I am grateful to the branch of Fort Charlotte and the scores of volunteers and friends who campaigned with me and contributed to my campaign. I appreciated the hospitality of the residents of Fort Charlotte, who invited me, my wife, Marion, and our campaign team members into their homes, listened to our platform and shared their concerns with us. I congratulate Mr Mark Humes on his election as the member of Parliament for Fort Charlotte and wish him well. I will continue to contribute to the community of Fort Charlotte.
I congratulate the FNM on its victory in the general elections. I commend Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and his government, based on the Speech from the Throne, for committing to implement progressive and liberal policies to continue the decolonising process, deepen the democratic process, improve governance processes and institutions, increase accountability and expand economic opportunities for the marginalised. I am especially pleased that the government intends to establish an Independent Electoral Commission and Boundaries Commission, implement a system of recall for non-performing members of Parliament, anti-corruption measures for parliamentarians and public officers, an Office of Ombudsman, an independent director of public prosecution, campaign finance reform, term limits for the Office of Prime Minister, local government in New Providence and an economic revitalisation for inner city communities. It is again ironic that these reforms are consistent with the core values of the PLP. These reforms were proposed by Sir Lynden Pindling in 1998 in a symposium at the College of The Bahamas after he had led the PLP in two electoral defeats. These reforms were also clearly laid out in my leadership platform of 2016/2017. It is pure irony that these reforms were neither embraced by the PLP convention in January 2017 nor contained in the Charter for Governance 2017.
Today, the progressive and liberal political and social agenda is being promoted by the FNM. This shift in the public narrative of social and political reform explains, I believe, why the FNM has a greater appeal to Bahamian Millennials, independent voters, women and sectors of the political base of the PLP.
The rebuilding, rebranding and rebounding of the PLP should, I believe, begin with a focus on the core values of the party and the crafting of a political and social agenda for the future development of The Bahamas and the party.
Over the next five years, the PLP must do more than react, oppose and criticise the FNM; it must provide a most compelling and relevant vision and agenda for political and social reform for sustainable development and good governance.
Core Values of the Progressive Liberal Party
On Monday, October 26, 1953, the PLP published as a paid advertisement in the Nassau Daily Tribune a document entitled the "The Core Values of the PLP" wherein the party committed to do as follows:
(a) Provide servant leadership to the Bahamian people and not the people the servant of the government
(b) Commit to honest political activity and democratic practice
(c) Ensure maximum opportunity for all Bahamians to participate in the economic and social development of The Bahamas
(d) To serve all Bahamians and not just the privileged few
(e) Create sustainable development in Family Islands
(f) Protect fundamental rights of workers to collective bargaining and the right of employers to a good day's work
(g) Provide quality education equally to males and females to facilitate social and economic productivity and produce better citizens
(h) Ensure equality between men and women
(i) Promote and protect the fundamental rights of all Bahamians to life, work, vote, worship as he/she sees fit, participate in the administration of government, peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, of religion, of the press and the equal protection of the law.
These core values can be reduced to four basic concepts: honesty (integrity and trustworthiness) and democratic governance; sustainable economic development strategy and promotion of Bahamian entrepreneurship; equal opportunity for all Bahamian citizens to the public goods/resources of the Bahamas; and protection of the fundamental rights of citizens and freedom of the press in the Bahamas. These core values constitute, I believe, a social contract formed 64 years ago between the Progressive Liberal Party and the Bahamian people to build and advance our democracy. These core values were framed by founders of the PLP, namely Henry M Taylor, Cyril St John Stevenson and William W Cartwright and its first officers John S Carey, Felix Russell, Urban H Knowles, Holly Brown, Paul Farrington and Clement Pinder. Since 1953 these core values emboldened thousands of Bahamians to risk life, limb and the immediate welfare of their families in the political and civil rights struggle for Bahamian workers, universal suffrage, economic enfranchisement, racial equality, Majority Rule and independence.
The Bahamian human rights struggle during the 20th Century was, for the most part, led by the PLP and the labour movement under Sir Randol Fawkes espousing these core values. The leadership in this human rights struggle, resulting in Majority Rule, independence and establishment of the national institutions of state, came under the early governance of the PLP. Iconic personalities in this national struggle, based on these values, included Sir Henry Taylor, Sir Lynden Pindling, Arthur Hanna, Sir Milo Butler, Clarence Bain, Georgina Symonette, Mabel Walker, Dame Doris Johnson, Effie Walkes, Eugenia Lockhart, Sir Randol Fawkes, Alvin Braynen, Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield, Warren Levarity, Sir Arthur Foulkes, Rev Dr H W Brown, Canon William Thompson. The PLP therefore has valid claim in the national narrative as the progressive and liberal vanguard of social reform and transformation within the Bahamas.
However, over the 44 years of political independence, the public perception of the PLP has shifted from being the progressive and liberal vanguard of the independence process to a party more aligned with foreign interests over Bahamians, a lack of national vision, weak leadership, corruption and scandals.
In the meantime, the social conditions for many of our citizens, especially in the inner city communities in New Providence and in many of the Family islands, remain desperate. After the Burma Road Riots of June 1942, Dr Claudius Walker, representing the workers, summarised the condition of Bahamians to the Duke of Windsor, as governor, and his advisors in the following terms: "The underlying causes for this social unrest are manifold. We are in the majority but we have minority problems. We are poorly housed, poorly fed and poorly educated. Truth to tell, we are the wretched of the earth."
Ironically, from my Leadership Listening Tour (2016/2017) of many of our Family Island communities and from my canvassing of constituents in Fort Charlotte over the past two years, I confirm that far too many citizens in our archipelago remain "poorly housed, poorly fed and poorly educated."
However, I believe that the Progressive Liberal Party, based on its core values, can reclaim its role as the progressive and liberal alternative for the full realization of the sovereign potential of the Bahamian people. This reclamation can only happen if the party acknowledges its problems, recommits to its core values, refreshes itself and offers a meaningful and dynamic political and social agenda for transformation and success.
In Part II, I will share my observations about the party's governance process in relation to its core values. Further, I will propose how the PLP can reconnect with those core values and the independence mission that inspired three generations of Bahamians into public service to advance the Bahamian national project.
• Alfred Sears is an attorney and a former Attorney General and Minister of Education. He is the Progressive Liberal Party's former representative for the Fort Charlotte constituency.