By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
AFTER repeatedly declaring that his party would be returned to office, Free National Movement leader Dr Hubert Minnis was forced to concede defeat and congratulate PLP leader Philip “Brave” Davis for his wide margin electoral victory.
Dr Minnis also said he would stay on as leader of the FNM in opposition.
While the ballot count continued to trickle in last night, Dr Minnis accepted his party’s loss to the Progressive Liberal Party, which had run a campaign that resonated with voters.
Before 9pm, the FNM leader contacted Mr Davis to offer his best wishes. Dr Minnis said both he and his party accepted the results of the snap general election, adding they were proud of the work done in the last four years.
His statement was preceded by widespread predictions that the FNM had lost the election to the PLP by a wide margin. An air of silence and disappointment cloaked the now opposition party’s headquarters on Mackey Street last night, evidenced by virtually no supporters gathered there.
But over on Farrington Road and other portions of the island, PLPs were in celebratory mode over the fact that their leader— a man who has been in front line politics since 2002 and was once deputy prime minister under a previous PLP government — had now been elevated as leader of the country.
Ultimately, Dr Minnis’ universal food programme for school children among other last minute campaign promises were not enough to clinch victory.
“Tonight I spoke with leader of the Progressive Liberal Party Philip Davis and offered my congratulations to him and his party on their victory at the polls,” Dr Minnis, who retained his Killarney seat, said in a statement issued by the party.
“I will lead the Free National Movement into the House as the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition,” that statement continued. “The Bahamas has a proud democratic tradition. The people decide who serves as government.
“Our party presented its vision for the future to Bahamians from the northern islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco, all the way to the southern islands of MICAL. The people determined that they preferred the Progressive Liberal Party. My party and I accept that result. We are proud of our record over the past four-plus years.”
Dr Minnis said his party’s term in office was marked by immense challenges. Despite this, he said there were numerous accomplishments for the betterment of Bahamians.
“During our term we faced the most difficult times in Bahamian history. In September 2019, Abaco, the Abaco Cays and Grand Bahama were struck by the strongest storm to hit The Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian was one of the strongest storms recorded on our planet. It caused generational destruction to our northern islands. Six months later, we were in the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout each crisis my government worked hard to assist the Bahamian people. On the northern islands we have had to rebuild roads, water systems, schools, docks, bridges and other critical infrastructure.
“In the pandemic, we provided tens of millions of dollars per month in food and unemployment benefits to citizens, along with tax credits to businesses. We fought hard to secure more than half a million doses of three of the best vaccines in the world.
“The FNM has a proud legacy. We have governed The Bahamas over four terms. Our philosophy is to use the resources of government to provide opportunity to those who have historically been without.
“That is why we invested in free pre-school, providing early education to thousands of children. That is why we invested in free tertiary education at the University of The Bahamas and BTVI,” he said.
“That is why we created the Over-the-Hill initiative to benefit people in grassroots communities with tax concessions and development assistance. That is why we invested record amounts in Family Island infrastructure.
“That is why we created the Small Business Development Centre, extending millions of dollars to help Bahamians realise their dreams. Our belief in the Bahamian people was also evidenced in the manifesto we ran on in this election. We pledged a universal school meals programme, expanded access to after school programmes, $250 million to Bahamian small businesses over five years, expanded access to Crown land, support for the arts and agriculture and fisheries, along with many more policies for the people.”
Dr Minnis said while the FNM did not win this time, the next generation of FNMs should stay firm to the party’s ideals.
“Always put the people first, and be honest in government. The people have asked us to be the opposition. We will ensure the people’s resources are spent properly. We will ensure there is accountability. We will oppose when necessary. We will agree when the government’s plans are in the best interests of the people.”
He thanked his wife Patricia, his family for their support and the officers and members of the FNM.
Further he expressed gratitude to Bahamians for his time being as prime minister.
“You are a strong, hardworking and resilient people. Hurricane Dorian did not break you. The pandemic has not broken you.
“You trust in the God who has brought us this far. Trust that He will bring us further to brighter times. Again, thank you. And may God bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” Dr Minnis said.
Shortly after he voted in the Killarney constituency earlier yesterday, Dr Minnis said he thought his party did a remarkable job. He also responded to criticism that this election was called at the wrong time.
“I would only say when is the best time?” Dr Minnis said at New Providence Community Centre on Blake Road. “Canada called an election. (The) United States had an election. Jamaica had an election. Bermuda had an election, and a host of other countries had an election. The question that one should ask, let’s assume that we had waited until May, and we were still in the pandemic. Do you think the opposition would have allowed us to delay it until we came out of the pandemic?
“We say we need an extra six months to come out of the pandemic, you think they would? So, when is the right time?”
Asked whether he had concerns about low voter turnout, Dr Minnis said he was of the view that Bahamians were very anxious to vote as it was their constitutional right.
He said he anticipated that at least more than 90 percent of the electorate would turn out to vote.