By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced an early election yesterday after Governor General Sir C A Smith dissolved Parliament, a step he said is needed to ensure the next administration has the mandate to address the major economic and health challenges ahead.
The election, scheduled for September 16, will let voters render a verdict on the Minnis administration, which has faced such historic challenges as Hurricane Dorian and a pandemic.
“Your next government will have to make important decisions on rebuilding and renewing a post-COVID-19 Bahamas,” Dr Minnis said during a national address that came on the anniversary of his party's first election victory in 1992.
“As a result of our country reaching the goal of securing the vaccines we need, it is now time for the Bahamian people to choose who they want to lead them as we move toward vaccinating every Bahamian who wishes to be vaccinated. Your next government will have key decisions to make in enacting post-pandemic public health legislation. Your next government will have to make other key decisions to build on the robust economic growth started on our watch.”
Dr Minnis encouraged residents to continue following public health measures to curb COVID-19 cases.
His announcement comes as virus cases overwhelm the healthcare system, with one Accident & Emergency consultant saying this week that Princess Margaret Hospital is bursting at the seams and needs additional resources. It also comes as the Minnis administration faces pressure from various unions to address their concerns over benefits and gifts.
In a speech last night, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said the Minnis administration did not prepare well for the escalating COVID-19 crisis, adding: “Everywhere we look, we see chaos and collapse and crisis.”
“Our hospitals are stretched beyond capacity, affecting not just our ability to treat COVID patients but everyone else, too,” Mr Davis said.
“Our economy is stuck, with too many Bahamians still left out; for those lucky enough to have jobs, wages are often too low to keep up with the cost of living.
“We are seeing armed robberies in broad daylight, as desperation increases. The same handful of wealthy families keep getting wealthier, while the doors of opportunity are slammed shut to everyone else.
“In the midst of this suffering and tragedy, the government is asking you for a new mandate. They are asking you for a vote of confidence,” Mr Davis said.
Some global leaders have recently gone to the polls early despite rising COVID-19 cases and have also faced criticism for doing so: just this week Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an early election, and several Caribbean countries have done the same in the last year.
Buoyed by the Free National Movement’s internal approval rating polls which compare him favourably to Mr Davis, Dr Minnis has considered going early for some time now.
FNM insiders, however, acknowledge that a raging pandemic and elevated unemployment levels are unattractive circumstances to hold a general election. Privately, many in the party are apprehensive about the move though some appear convinced that holding out until May 2022 would be no better for the party’s political fortunes.
To win, the FNM must reverse an unfavourable trend for incumbent parties: none of them have won re-election since the FNM did so in 1997 under former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham. The last two elections, held amid double-digit unemployment rates, were not close: the PLP won 29 of 38 seats in 2012 and the FNM won 35 of 39 seats in 2017.
The stakes, meanwhile, could not be higher for Mr Davis who easily solidified power in the PLP after its near wipeout at the polls in 2017 despite the resistance of some in the general public to him. A former deputy prime minister and a major figure in the PLP for years, Mr Davis will enter the election with high name recognition and with much of the public’s opinions about him seemingly solidified, a fact his opponents will try to exploit.
“We have a blueprint for stabilising the country’s finances, providing immediate relief to the suffering, revolutionising education and training for the 21st century, diversifying the economy and creating opportunities across the country,” Mr Davis said yesterday.
Under the slogan “It’s About Your Future,” the FNM is expected to maintain a brisk rally schedule. It is unclear how their rallies will be held, but virtual rallies and drive-up events are currently under consideration. With a slogan “A New Day,” the PLP will hold virtual and drive-up rallies, with traditional rallies unlikely, according to PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell.
In addition to COVID-19 challenges and the ailing Bahamian economy, the next administration will face the significant challenge of arresting the country’s escalating debt, which is projected to top $10b at the end of this fiscal year.
Financial expert Gowon Bowe said yesterday that Bahamians should not take seriously any political party that claims raising taxes will not be up for consideration by the next administration.
“Our fiscal debt and our fiscal performance is going to be the first thing that has to be stabilised,” he said. “We’re going to have to make decisions in relation to that; that impacts other things but the reality is we are very quickly running into fiscal headwinds. We will have to present a very clear plan and that is going to mean taxation will follow, whatever form that is going to take. Now, more than any time in our history we need a very clear strategic direction.”
Police Commissioner Paul Rolle read a proclamation from the Governor General yesterday that said the new session of Parliament will be held on October 6, 2021 at 10am.