Tuesday, December 20, 2011

“Many voters have fallen out of love with Hubert Ingraham... but the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) should not be fooled into believing they have fallen back in love with Perry Christie.”

A reformed leader?

2007 issues still linger for Christie

By Candia Dames
Guardian News Editor

Nearly five years after the leadership of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) commissioned a post-election survey, the ability of the PLP to win the next general election may very well depend on whether it has addressed the perceptions and shortcomings highlighted in the report.

This notwithstanding the bitter taste many voters have developed for the current administration of Hubert Ingraham.

As one politico remarked recently, “Many voters have fallen out of love with Hubert Ingraham, but the PLP should not be fooled into believing they have fallen back in love with Perry Christie.”

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner report set out what the reasons were for the PLP’s stunning loss in the 2007 general election.

It revealed that 57 percent of respondents cited former Prime Minister Perry Christie’s perceived ‘weak leadership’ as the reason they decided not to vote PLP.

The ‘weak leadership’ issue was widely discussed before and after the election campaign, with Ingraham stating repeatedly that the 2007 election was about leadership. 
The survey said the alleged scandals that plagued the PLP leading up to the vote took their toll.

The report highlighted the perception of scandal within the PLP ranks as well as the perception that the leader of the PLP, Perry Christie, is considered a weak leader.

Almost five years later, the question in the minds of some voters is whether the PLP has carried out any of the reforms the report recommended.

The report is still important because we are on the eve of another general election.

If the PLP is to be victorious at the polls, one would expect it to show that it has a strong, decisive leader and that its party and candidates are of impeccable character and credibility.

Valentine Grimes, a trustee of the PLP, suggested the party has the right mix to form the next government, and to successfully carry out its mandate.

Asked whether Christie has put in place any reforms in the years in opposition — the years since the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner report — Grimes said Christie was always a strong leader, and that it was the FNM’s successful public relations efforts that painted him as weak and indecisive.

Grimes said the ‘weak leader’ impression was also formed in the minds of many as a result of ineffective public relations by the PLP ahead of the last general election.

“The PR team of the FNM was able to completely retool the image of Ingraham,” Grimes told National Review.  “Whereas on the other side, they were able to effectively paint Christie in a particular light.  Unfortunately, those perceptions were difficult to overcome during that last election.”

Grimes said there is no doubt in his mind that Christie has the interest of The Bahamas foremost in all of his decisions.

“And the fact that he thinks and tries to get the views of others, I think is an important part of his character,” Grimes said.  “Whereas on the other hand there is no doubt in my mind that Prime Minister Ingraham does not seek the views of his ministers and if he does, he does not frequently take those views into consideration.

“It’s his government and his government alone.”

But while some political observers think Ingraham’s recent firing of Kenneth Russell from his Cabinet spelt trouble in the FNM, others think it demonstrated his strength and decision-making process.

Remaking Christie

Former PLP Chairman Raynard Rigby said no one should be fooled about what the main issue in the upcoming election will be, and that is the choice between Ingraham and Christie, which leader the voters like more or which leader the voters believe can move the country forward.

Rigby said he does not see where the party has adequately addressed the issues raised in the Greenberg report.

“Well, certainly not in the public domain,” he said.   “If they have done so, they may have done it within the internal ranks of the party.

“The report is now in the public domain.  One would expect the party to address the glaring issues raised in the report, particularly the perception of corruption, the perception about the leader’s weakness and also this question the party has in gaining support within certain age groups.”

Rigby pointed out that in politics, perceptions do matter.

Forty-seven percent of respondents to the Greenberg 2007 survey said they did not vote PLP because of corruption and scandals, and 19 percent pointed specifically to the issue involving former Immigration Minister Shane Gibson and the late American celebrity Anna Nicole Smith (respondents were allowed to select the two factors they thought were the most important for deciding not to vote PLP). The survey said the corruption issue contributed to the perception of Christie as a weak leader.

“Voters perceived that he was unwilling to take action against advisers or Cabinet officials accused of wrongdoing, an impression that was reinforced by the delay over Shane Gibson’s resignation,” Greenberg found.

The 2007 report said that given the focus on the leadership of the parties, the PLP’s success will depend to a large degree on rebuilding Christie’s public image with a strategy that shows voters he can be a forceful, decisive leader.

Ingraham on many occasions accused Christie of lacking discipline, foresight, competence and decisiveness.

Rigby told National Review that it is important that voters can see reform in PLP ranks.

“Politics is about a public display of where you are.  It’s not a private matter.  It’s really a public thing and certainly I have not seen it,” Rigby said.

“I think the election will also be a telling sign of whether the Bahamian people believe that the PLP has responded to what they deem their concerns were which led them to vote against the party in the 2007 general election.”

Many people say though that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose elections, Rigby noted.

“But I’m sure that if the PLP wins the next election it means that they would be satisfied that they would have done sufficiently enough to gain the support and trust of the majority of the electorate to form the government,” he said.


Rebuilding the PLP’s image

The report highlighted steps that the party should take to rebrand its image, so as to gain the confidence of the Bahamian electorate.

It recommended expanding the party's base; cleansing the party’s reputation; conveying former Prime Minister Christie’s leadership qualities and advancing a progressive social agenda.

“It needs to take concrete actions that convey its seriousness about purging corruption from the party and state," said the report.

“There is a perception among voters — one deepened by the FNM (Free National Movement) — that the PLP has become more focused on doing things that benefit its own politicians than for people.”

It’s a claim now Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham made repeatedly on the campaign trail in the months and weeks leading up to the 2007 election.  Ingraham also accused Christie of presiding over “the most chaotic, last-minute, indecisive and incompetent government since independence”.

“The Christie administration is the poster boy for failed governance.  They have plunged our country into chaos," Ingraham said at a rally at R. M. Bailey Park on April 27, 2007.  “Mr. Christie’s PLP is besieged by scandal and incompetence.  They have lost the will and capacity to fix their own mistakes, or maybe they never had it.”

The researchers said they could not overstate the importance of cleansing the PLP’s reputation.

“It goes to the heart of people’s concerns about the PLP, and must be seriously addressed with concrete action,” the report said.

The report also said there are a number of things the party could do to show the public it takes corruption seriously: develop and publicize a party code of conduct that prohibits its leaders from exploiting public office for private gain and institute a party tribunal that is authorized to investigate allegations of corruption against party members and to recommend penalties.

In opposition, there is no evidence that those specific steps have been taken.

Former PLP MP Franklyn Wilson told National Review that “there is no doubt that there are large numbers of Bahamians who see Mr. Christie in negative terms”.

“I think if Mr. Christie is going to be true to himself, he needs to see that as what it is,” Wilson said.

“…But the fact of the matter is this campaign is going to allow people to see a lot of the image that Ingraham has is not supported in fact.”

Wilson said international credit rating agencies have pointed to the importance of consensus building in putting in place the types of reforms that are necessary to get the economy back on track.

“If that is true, what at another time was seen as a weakness on Christie’s part, can be re-presented as a strength,” he said.

Dec 19, 2011