By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ST Anne’s MP Brent Symonette yesterday admitted he was involved in “some discussions” ahead of the coup that saw then-Opposition Leader Dr Hubert Minnis ousted as leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament last term – but ultimately told the “rebel seven” not to go through with it.
Dr Minnis was removed in late 2016 following a vote of no confidence by seven of his party’s 10 MPs on December 7.
Mr Symonette did not clarify his role in those discussions, but acknowledged he later went on to support then-MP for Long Island Loretta Butler-Turner’s leadership bid.
Mr Symonette was responding to speculation that his decision to step down as minister financial services, trade and industry and immigration was part of a wider plot to unseat Dr Minnis, as a guest on radio talk show The Conversation with host Shenique Miller.
He insisted he has supported Dr Minnis “1,000 percent” since he was re-elected leader of the FNM.
“Once Hubert Minnis was elected leader of the FNM he had my full support and I continue to support him to this day,” he said.
“We have a saying, the worst day of the FNM will be a thousand times better than the best day of the PLP. I firmly believe that and I believe Dr Minnis and his Cabinet are the clear choice, the right choice to guide this Bahamas to the next three years and beyond.”
Seven of the 10 opposition members - Fort Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins, Central and South Abaco MP Edison Key, North Eleuthera MP Theo Neilly, Mrs Butler-Turner, St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman, Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn and Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant - submitted a letter of no confidence in Dr Minnis to House Speaker Dr Kendal Major and to then Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling, revealing they have voted to be led in Parliament by Mrs Butler-Turner.
Then-Deputy Leader Peter Turnquest and Leader of Opposition Business in the House Renward Wells did not participate in this effort to oust Dr Minnis.
Formerly the FNM’s deputy leader, Mrs Butler-Turner’s appointment represented the climax to years of bitter infighting over the party’s leadership and the dissatisfaction of its parliamentary caucus with Dr Minnis.
The FNM later charged the “rebel seven” parliamentarians had brought the party into “disrepute, division, rancor and dishonour,” and were given seven days to give a written response to the executive committee of the FNM, attempting to exculpate themselves. Expulsion from the party was threatened but never materialised, however the MPs did not receive nominations for the 2017 general election.
“Let’s bring this full and square on the table,” Mr Symonette said on the ZNS radio talk show yesterday.
“One of the twice a week papers said the other day that I was involved in a coup, Papa (former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham) and I were involved in a coup to get rid of Minnis.
“Papa said he wasn’t involved, I said many times I wasn’t involved, matter of fact, Richard Lightbourn and those, I advised them at that time not to go ahead with it, it was wrong they should support the leader.”
Mr Symonette said: “Yes subsequently I supported Loretta Butler to become leader of the FNM, yes.”
He was then asked by Ms Miller whether he participated in any private meetings to unseat Dr Minnis.
Mr Symonette said: “I was involved in some discussions prior to that, my view as I said, when it came for the MPs to do what they did I was totally against that and I told the MPs at that time. Mr Ingraham and I know that about each other for a fact, we’ve discussed it.
“Dr Minnis got elected, he has my full support 1,000 percent,” he added.