By MALCOLM STRACHAN
LAST week’s spectacle in Parliament – a vote of no confidence becoming a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Minnis - was doubly disappointing. Not only did it serve as a sobering reminder of the political horror show that was the previous administration under then-Prime Minister Perry Christie, but it also reaffirmed the nature of Bahamian politics is the greatest impediment to our advancement as a nation.
Listening to the buffoonery and chicanery on display between the opposing parties, how can one not be deflated two-and-a-half years before election with no political faction seeming equipped to give this country exactly what it needs – 21st century leadership? Rather, the government would prefer to cozy up in its echo chamber, tuning out the cries of countless Bahamians who trusted this administration to bring change. And in Opposition, the leadership of Philip “Brave” Davis still causes many to shudder at flashbacks of the previous administration.
While the PLP has yet to prove itself of being worthy of another chance, their luck may be found in that a government has to reach at least an average standard to remain in good favour. Else, alternatives begin looking more attractive. As of right now, there isn’t much adulation for the Minnis administration.
Crime remains an issue and the recent uptick in violence begins to make last year’s incredible feat look like a fluke. The economy has suffered a setback at the hands of Hurricane Dorian, while the government’s handling of post-Dorian rebuilding efforts has been unimpressive. Add measures which increase the cost of living, and the Minnis administration has hit the Bahamian people where it hurts.
Yet, publicly, they still remain confident the electorate will return them to power in 2022. Perhaps this is why, over two years in office, their weapon of choice is to remind the Bahamian people of how terrible the PLP performed. While that may not be a bad political play for a party seeking a second term, it does not elevate the standard of government in this country.
If their most often used tactic is to attack the PLP, then what does it say about the sitting government? How can the Bahamian people be confident in them, if their confidence seems so shallow and insecure?
Such is the quagmire in Bahamian politics.
As much as the Bahamian people complain about the PLP and the FNM, we remain in this twisted, abusive love affair, apprehensively waiting to be whisked away by another party. Though, while we hear this often, the past two elections have shown that when it counts, the Bahamian people opt for the devil they know.
However, particularly after 2017, the voters are in a unique space – cynical of both major parties and seeking new leadership. Perhaps, some would say, this is the perfect opportunity for a third party to disrupt the status quo.
213 total votes.
Yet, while the opportunity may be there, there doesn’t seem to be any takers.
In 2011, just under a year before the 2012 election, the Democratic National Alliance, founded by Branville McCartney, looked to be a viable alternative to our played out two-party system. Although most Bahamians, characteristically political creatures of comfort, were hesitant to take a chance on the new party, they were still able to walk away from the election with eight percent of the vote. Some would say this was a good start.
The DNA’s vision was to move The Bahamas into the 21st century, and certainly, they seemed to have some of the ingredients for success. Chief among them was their leader. A young, vibrant McCartney showed the courage to stand up to a fierce former prime minister in the likes of Hubert Ingraham, building a lot of buzz surrounding the party. They were also able to capture the attention of the young and old who wanted to see change – a very difficult thing to accomplish in an intensely cultish political climate.
Nevertheless, the Bahamian people would tell McCartney that 11 months was too little time to persuade the electorate.
Later, during the former government’s term, the DNA’s presence was also sparse, and they lost momentum while the opportunity was ripe to position itself as a better alternative. Failing to capitalise on conveying to the Bahamian people that since 2012 the party had become more seasoned and ready to lead, the DNA made fatal mistakes that led to it becoming a non-factor in the 2017 election. Crucially, McCartney’s decision to form an alliance with Loretta Butler-Turner may have been the misstep that torpedoed both of their political aspirations ahead of the 2017 election.
After an embarrassing showing at the polls and having stepped down as leader, McCartney manages to maintain his relevance by providing the media with the occasional interview. Still, one must wonder if his decision to step down as the party’s leader came prematurely, and, in effect, set the party back a few election cycles.
As much as he felt the DNA’s poor performance at the polls in 2017 was an indictment on his leadership, the sweeping majority of FNM parliamentarians voted in also showed the Bahamian people wanted to ensure Perry Christie’s political run ended.
Nonetheless, the DNA’s transition to leadership under Arinthia Komolafe – a bright young Bahamian woman revered by many – still leaves the party with little chance of breaking through the ceiling. While parts of our society has warmed to the idea of women in leadership, from a practical standpoint, we are a long way away from this becoming a reality in government – a disproportionately male dominated arena. And thus, Bahamians will likely once again be led by fear when it comes time to vote for their next government. The question is, though: “Whose leadership will we be more afraid of in 2022?” Will we still be suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from the Christie years? Or will things get so bad during the next two-and-a-half years under Prime Minister Minnis that our memories will become as fuzzy as “Brave” Davis?
We shall soon learn our fate.
Though, one thing is certain – much of what Branville McCartney outlined in a 2011 interview where he discussed the country’s need for a leadership alternative still exists today.
He said: “We’ve been in one direction for basically the last 40 years. Initially, our main issue in this election, as I said, is crime. Crime did not just develop over the last five years, it is something that has developed over many years... And both governments have been in power during that period of time. The same thing with illegal immigration, which is at its worst right now, in the history of The Bahamas.
“That is the result of successive governments not doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s the same thing with our educational system. Our educational system needs revamping. It’s not a system for the 21st century, and there are a lot of our students out there with D averages, unable to read and write, fill out resumes and application forms. But that’s the result of successive governments.”
Discussing the state of the economy, McCartney said: “Our economy is failing. It’s not working. We have no money — the country is broke. Successive governments have failed to diversify the economy... failed to provide opportunities for young Bahamians and failed to empower young Bahamians. Where we are now, the middle class is about to be extinct. Getting the Bahamian electorate to recognise that - that may be the challenge. There’s no doubt that this country needs a new direction and must be changed, but getting them to see that and change is always difficult.”
Eight years later, crime is still an issue. The middle class has all but vanished. Illegal immigration still vexes the masses of Bahamians. Our education system is still a challenge, and our economy is still dependent on tourism. And maybe most unfortunate, the Bahamian people still refuse to affect radical change in government.
Had McCartney stayed the course, who knows how promising the DNA’s chances would have been in 2022 with him and Komolafe at the helm?
Certainly, the third time may have been the charm.
As 2022 is not that far off, the DNA’s highest hurdle will be introducing a slate of candidates the voters can get behind, developing a platform that resonates with the populace, securing the funding to form an aggressive campaign for election and changing the Bahamian people’s views towards having a woman serve as prime minister.
Eight years since McCartney’s 2011 interview, the DNA can ask the Bahamian people a very serious question: “Where do you want to be in another decade?”
Indeed, the DNA should not underestimate what the next two-and-a-half years can mean for its party’s legacy and our national history, as it can be a game changer for Bahamian politics.
Just as much as Komolafe’s, McCartney’s leadership and experience will be essential to their party’s success.