In the last election, the Free National Movement (FNM) presented a slate of many new candidates and got most of them elected, negating the specious argument that new political parties are needed to get new blood in Parliament.
Indeed, there is some criticism that the generational change in the FNM might have been too sweeping, hence robbing the Government of the benefit of experience and institutional knowledge.
There is general agreement that more women should be in Parliament. The problem is not that the political parties do not want women. Many qualified women have sat in the Senate and accepted other high public offices by appointment but are unwilling to offer as candidates for election.
It was not until 1982, two and a half centuries after the establishment of the House of Assembly that a woman was elected to that chamber. It was the FNM which shattered the glass ceiling, successfully running Dame Janet Bostwick.
With the FNM’s 1992 victory, three women were appointed to cabinet posts with portfolio assignments in health, social services, national insurance, transport and the public service.
After a cabinet shuffle during that term, women were appointed to portfolios dealing with education, foreign affairs and that of the Attorney General. The FNM irrevocably shattered many glass ceilings for women, including in the judiciary and Mount Fitzwilliam.
Following the 1997 election, both the Speaker of the House, Italia Johnson, and the President of the Senate, Lynn Holowesko, were female. A mid-term change of senators resulted in 50 percent of the Senate being female.
Today, many have forgotten this history and fewer know of the origins of the FNM. In October 1971, Prime Minister Lynden Pindling boldly declared on radio that other political parties in the country were “out of the ball game”.
Just a few days later on 20 October 1971, the Council of the Free PLP, which comprised the Dissident Eight, who left the PLP a year earlier, and other early supporters including Sir Kendal Isaacs and Sir Orville Turnquest, met at Dissident James (Jimmy) Shepherd’s residence at Spring Hill Farm in Fox Hill. Sir Orville up to that time had been a member of the NDP.
After a marathon session that began in the evening and continued into the morning, the dissidents cum founders of the emerging FNM issued a resolution, creating a new political party after a series of momentous events which led to the birth of the new viable party.
At the time there were two other opposition parties in the country: the United Bahamian Party headed by the late Sir Geoffrey Johnstone and the National Democratic Party (NDP) headed by the late Paul Adderley.
The previous year, in 1970, in the House of Assembly, eight PLP Members of Parliament voted no confidence in the leadership of Pindling. After the vote, the eight walked out of the chamber into Parliament Square protected by a police cordon. They were heckled and booed by a large crowd, some of whom were out for blood.
A knife-wielding assailant attempted to stab Wallace Whitfield. The blade of the weapon was caught in the palm of a supporter of Sir Cecil’s, the latter narrowly escaping injury or something worse.
Quite early in the PLP’s tenure in office there were mounting concerns about the increasing lack of collegiality and the growing cult of personality surrounding Sir Lynden. There was alarm over a number of policy decisions and betrayals at odds with the party’s once progressive philosophy.
There were originally more dissidents than the eight who left to form the Free PLP and then the Free National Movement. For different reasons they decided not to support the no confidence vote, but some later also left the PLP and joined the FNM.
The eight dissidents courageously opposed Sir Lynden at the height of his power. Some of them were to pay a heavy price for their convictions as Sir Lynden set out to destroy them. They were branded and targeted as traitors as they opposed Sir Lynden’s court and cult of personality, greed and power.
The brothers who helped secure the Second Emancipation of majority rule were treated as outcasts and enemies, one of the greater shames of the PLP and of that era. It is a shame and a disgrace which the PLP has never fully acknowledged.
While entreaties were made to some dissidents to return to the PLP, with promises of favours and financial rewards, Sir Lynden and his political hatchet men made it impossible for some to find work and to access other benefits such as scholarships for their children.
Still, they did not buckle. One dissident captured the convictions of some of the others: “We were prepared to die rather than return to Pindling’s PLP.” Because of this brand of courage and sacrifice our democracy is secured through a vibrant two-party system.
The PLP continued to promote that mob mentality in order to silence critics and to protect Pindling’s leadership.
Lewis Yard, Grand Bahama: In 1970, a group of senior PLPs decided to hold a meeting one Sunday afternoon. They were alarmed by the cult of personality around Sir Lynden and the metastasizing corruption in and direction of the party and the country, the very same culture of corruption that survived in subsequent PLP administrations.
The delegation included Cecil Wallace Whitfield, Arthur Foulkes, Maurice Moore, Dr Curtis McMillan, Garnett Levarity (Warren’s father) and now Governor General CA Smith, all veterans in the fight for majority rule.
The meeting was held in a school room, with a raised platform for the speakers and rows of folding chairs for attendees. Having just invoked the Lord’s name in prayer, a goon squad sprang from the front row. Once on their feet they grabbed the chairs, folding them into bludgeons.
Then they viciously set upon their targets. They drew blood from Sir Cecil, bashing him in his head, and bruising others. On the way out of Lewis Yard, a close associate of Sir Lynden was observed in a trench coat, standing in a drizzling rain.
To ensure that those who disagreed with Sir Lynden and his court got the message intended at Lewis Yard, PLP MP the late Henry Bowen went on ZNS to denounce the dissidents as traitors. The charges were replayed on state radio in a barrage and loop of intimidation.
These events preceded the October resolution. The resolution is a refutation of the historical revisionism that the FNM merged with the UBP.
There were no UBP politicians present at the birth of the party, founded by the courageous men who fought within the PLP for majority rule and against the racist policies of the white oligarchy.
The resolution stated: “Whereas the Free-PLP has witnessed the gross misdirection of the progressive movement in The Bahamas and the willful abandonment of the ideals upon which that movement was launched and the consequent peril and destructive course on which our beloved country and its people are now being led by the PLP Government;
“And whereas, in order to restore and maintain the purity of purpose upon which the Bahamian people have placed their hopes, the Free-PLP was created and dedicated itself to establish a government which will truly reflect the political, social and economic aspirations of the people of the Commonwealth of the Bahama Islands;
“And whereas the Free-PLP has become increasingly concerned over the scattered direction in which varying political groups in the country have been heading and the continuous emergence of new and additional factions amongst citizens of our country who have common aspirations for the good government of the country and who ought logically to combine their energy, resources and political aims for the benefit of a unified and single cause;
“And whereas with an impending General Election imminent, the Free-PLP views with alarm the prospect of several political parties all of whom are opposed to the ineffective and downhill direction of the present government, engaged in an election contest in which they would be competing against each other and possibly thereby causing the present government to be returned;
“Be it therefore resolved that the Free-PLP hereby declares its grave concern over the continued fragmentation of the political forces in the Bahamas who are opposed to the present government and seeks to take any necessary steps to implement a solidification of such of the political forces as ought immediately to be united;
“Be it further resolved that in pursuance thereof the Free-PLP has re-dedicated itself to the creation of an all-embracing National political party and to this end hereby reconstitutes itself under the name and style of the Free National Movement and invites into its ranks all Bahamians who are opposed to the corruption, tyranny and reckless folly of the present government and who seek to establish good government dedicated to serve the best interests of our country and all its people.”
Facts are stubborn. As one writer noted: “The Free National Movement was [not] created as a result of the amalgamation or merger of the Free-PLP and the United Bahamian Party (UBP).
“[The FNM] was a black-led alternative to the monolithic PLP.” Like the PLP, its creation was rooted “in the depths of the history of the development of multi-party democracy in the modern Bahamas, which commenced in 1953.”
Sir Geoffrey Johnstone, then Leader of the UBP, courageously stood up to some strong internal opposition and presided over the dissolution of that party. Paul Adderley, Leader of the NDP, refused to dissolve his party but some of his members, most notably Sir Orville Turnquest, joined the FNM.
The Dissident Eight and their supporters were as opposed to the policies and mindset of the UBP as were many of the other leaders who remained in the PLP.
In subsequent years it was FNM governments that rekindled the progressive ideals abandoned by the PLP including: freeing the broadcast media, greater gender equality, a slew of social advancements, an insistence on a multiracial society and other achievements.
To forget or negate this rich history through ignorance or malicious intent is to diminish or destroy the legacy of those courageous freedom fighters who gave their lives to help entrench a viable two-party democracy.