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Why the early split in the PLP?

EDITOR, The Tribune.

The PLP party with the strategic assistance of Randol Fawkes and Alvin Braynen ushered in Majority Rule in the Bahamas following the general election of 1967.

This historic achievement was the culmination of decades of struggle for political and civil rights by the PLP and its earlier iterations manifested by persons such as Dr Claudius Walker, the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement and the founders of the PLP.

In 1967 the PLP was led by Lynden Pindling who became the country’s first black Premier. The PLP and the UBP both won 18 seats but Randol Fawkes who won his seat as a Labour Party candidate, and Alvin Braynen, an independent member, threw their support behind Pindling and the PLP.

The first PLP cabinet consisted of eleven members highlighted by A D Hanna, Deputy Leader of the PLP as Minister of Education, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Chairman of the party, as Minister of Works and Carlton Francis as Minister of Finance.

Many Bahamians ask the question why after years of blood, sweat and tears, and after less than three years in government did the unity in the PLP fracture so quickly?

Actually the fissure was exposed as early as 1968.

In the first Cabinet A D Hanna was appointed as Minister of Education and with his $7.2 million budget immediately started plans to construct two new high schools, one junior high school and one primary school.

Cecil Wallace-Whitfield was appointed Minister of Works in the first PLP cabinet and he wasted no time in planning for major infrastructure improvements in the country.

However, Lynden Pindling shuffled the cabinet in 1968 and Mr Whitfield was appointed Minister of Education. His education budget allocation was slashed from $7.2 million to $5 million by Carlton Francis. Mr Wallace-Whitfield complained bitterly about the decrease in his ministry’s budget allocation. He first complained in cabinet and when his complaints fell on deaf ears, he took his grievance the public.

History proved this to be a tragic miscalculation as it publicly exposed a rift in the new government and ruptured irrevocably the relationship between two longtime friends and two leaders of the “quiet revolution”. It also had the potential of irrevocably damaging the new government in its infancy.

After this the relationship only went downhill.

Cecil Wallace-Whitfield seemingly began to wage a campaign to undermine Pindling’s leadership. He complained that Jeffrey Thompson and his cabinet colleague Warren Levarity were ineffective and ought to be fired. When Pindling refused to fire his two cabinet ministers Wallace-Whitfield threatened to resign from cabinet.

Moreover, Whitfield-Wallace made a speech to the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce in which he criticised the reduction in his ministry’s budget allocation. This did not sit well with the majority of the PLP members who called for Pindling to discipline the Minister of Education.

Mr Pindling won a vote of confidence at the party’s national convention in 1968. He was emboldened by the vote of confidence and dared Cecil Wallace-Whitfield to resign his cabinet post and the chairmanship of the PLP. Wallace-Whitfield refused to resign.

Astoundingly, Pindling did not fire Wallace-Whitfield who remained in the cabinet for almost another two years. Some dictator!

The wheels came off the wagon at the PLP’s national convention in October, 1970. Lynden Pindling was the keynote speaker at the convention’s opening night. He set the tone for the rest of the convention when he made his famous remarks aimed at his education minister: If you can’t fish, cut bait; if you can’t cut bait get the hell out the boat.

Not to be outdone when it comes to a flair for drama, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield during his convention speech abruptly resigned his cabinet post and his membership in the PLP on the convention floor. He accused Pindling with exercising a growing culture of dictatorship by not allowing persons to freely express their thoughts. He ended his speech with these words: Free at last, free at last, my soul is dancing.

The resignation of Mr Whitfield started a flight from the PLP. His resignation was followed closely by the resignation of Dr Curtis McMillan as Minister of Health, James Shephard as Chairman of BEC and Dr Elwood Donaldson as Commissioner of Sports.

Moreover, to add insult to injury, Mr Wallace-Whitfield had his resignation letter sent directly to the Governor bypassing the protocol of sending the resignation of a cabinet minister firstly to the Prime Minister.

These resignations rocked the PLP as the party found itself in a quandary. The members who walked out with Cecil Wallace had to be disciplined but how do you prevent them from leaving the party and follow Wallace-Whitfield?

The PLP decided on a strategy to suspend the seven from the PLP for two years. This strategy failed as the seven members resigned from the PLP. The seven former PLP members together with Wallace-Whitfield attracted the infamous moniker of the Dissident Eight. They formed themselves into the Free PLP and contested the by election in the Mangrove Cay constituency occasioned by the death of Clarence Bain but were badly beaten.

On 18th November 1970 Randol Fawkes moved a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister of the Bahamas. It is instructive to know that Randol Fawkes was not around to vote on his own motion as he was suspended from the service of the House by the Speaker for casting inappropriate aspersions on the chair. Many believe that Mr. Fawkes did so deliberately so as to be suspended to avoid voting on the no confidence motion.

The dissident eight members along with all seven UBP members supported the no confidence motion and final count on the division was 19 to 15 against the motion which was defeated. This was the closest Cecil Wallace-Whitfield ever came to defeating Lynden Pindling.

In 1971 the Free PLPs joined up with the remnants of the disbanded UBP and formed the Free National Movement (FNM).

The question still remains why did the PLP splinter so early after years of struggles for civil rights and political power?

Was Cecil Wallace-Whitfield overly ambitious? It was no secret that he wanted to be prime minister; was he envious and resentful of Lynden Pindling because of the esteem and admiration of the Bahamian people which greeted him wherever he went? or did he believe that Pindling was an incompetent leader? Did he truly believe that Pindling, was a dictator?

After reading the above article and doing your own research, you make the call. Those of you who may have lived through these momentous events, I implore you to view the events with an open mind.

MAURICE TYNES

Nassau,

March 6, 2023.

Comments

birdiestrachan 1 year, 3 months ago

Sir Lynden Pindling was a great man visionary and brilliant , now we hear FNMS calling for the immovable property act put in place by Sir Lynden he would never call us corrupt or say we are not good enough to own BTC he encouraged us to be proud to be Bahamian s

birdiestrachan 1 year, 3 months ago

Thanks for the history lesson

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