Thursday, December 29, 2011

This year in Bahamian politics - 2011: ... and in 2012... crime, the economy, the New Providence roadworks and leadership are likely to be the major issues debated during the general election campaign... The Bahamian electorate will decide if they want Perry Christie, Hubert Ingraham or Branville McCartney — that is, if a clear winner is chosen

An intriguing year in politics

Year in review 2011

By Brent Dean
Guardian Associate Editor

This year in politics has been a preparation for the year to come.  Next year men who have dedicated their lives to politics are preparing to fight for power, likely for the last time.

Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie, leaders of the Free National Movement (FNM) and Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) respectively, are the main contenders.  Branville McCartney and his Democratic National Alliance (DNA) are making their first appearance.

In 2011, each political leader was faced with internal upset.  Sitting parliamentarians, potential candidates and political wannabes all expressed anger in the public sphere when it became evident that the end had come to their ambitions or careers.

A minister is fired

Kenneth Russell, MP for High Rock and former housing minister, sat next to Hubert Ingraham in the House of Assembly.  Up until November, he rigorously defended Ingraham, his leader, and the policies of his administration.

Then in December, that bond between the men was broken with Russell publicly calling Ingraham a ‘tyrant’ and a ‘dictator’ after being fired from Ingraham’s Cabinet.

“I worked with him a long time and this is the first time I have seen this negative side of him,” said Russell on December 9, the day he was fired.

“The prime minister was my friend.  In fact, we are related.  The same aunties and uncles he has in Cooper’s Town (Abaco), so do I.

“I don’t know why he turned this way, but I have no problem with it; it’s his choice to make.  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is always with me.  And even though Ingraham would attempt to slay me, I still love him.”

Ingraham indicated Russell was fired for inappropriately discussing Cabinet business — a project for Grand Bahama that was rejected by Cabinet.  However, some political observers think Russell’s termination resulted from Ingraham’s desire not to run him in the next election and his public complaints about that decision.

Whatever the reason, Russell ends 2011 an outsider.  He will not be a candidate for Ingraham’s FNM.

Opposition party upset

Christie and McCartney had their share of public break-ups too over nominations.

In June, then PLP treasurer Craig Butler resigned his post and left the party because he could not secure a PLP nomination.

Butler sought the party nomination in the February 2010 Elizabeth by-election.  He was rejected.  He then tried for the PLP nomination for the old Kennedy constituency.  He was rejected again.

Butler has admitted past drug use.  The PLP, a party that has had to wrestle with embarrassing scandals in the past, would not budge on its opposition to Butler’s candidacy under its banner.  Butler has vowed to run as an independent.

While Butler left the party because he could not get a nomination, a former PLP colleague of his was forced to announce he would not run in the general election.

Vincent Peet, the North Andros and Berry Islands MP, on December 20 bowed out after an issue regarding $180,000 in client funds was made public in a series of Nassau Guardian stories.

“After much prayerful deliberation and after much consultation with constituents, colleagues, family and friends, including the esteemed leader of my party, Perry Christie, I have decided not to stand for re-election in the forthcoming general election,” Peet said in a statement.

“My decision in this regard is final and irreversible and I have informed my leader and the relevant councils of my party accordingly.  At this particular juncture of my life, I need to concentrate my attention and energy on my legal practice.”

Dr. Perry Gomez is to take Peet’s place as the PLP’s North Andros candidate.

DNA disputes

McCartney’s party revoked the nominations of two candidates, it said, for non-performance.

Former High Rock candidate Philip Thomas and former South Beach candidate Sammie Poitier, also known as Sammi Starr, were out at the end of November.

However, McCartney and Thomas gave different reasons as to why Thomas is no longer the candidate for High Rock.

Thomas claimed he was kicked out for disagreeing with McCartney, while McCartney claimed Thomas was not living up to the commitment he made to the party.

On December 5, McCartney denied reports that his party was falling apart after the break-up with Thomas and Poitier.

“It’s not falling apart at all; it’s growing every day and getting stronger and stronger,” he said.

“We’ve been in existence for six months, we’ve made history in six months and we have become a major party within a six-month period.”

Is the DNA real?

McCartney faced these political issues at year’s end.  His DNA party was launched May 12.  At his launch event at the Wyndham Nassau Resort on Cable Beach he called on Bahamians to “redefine the possible”.

“I truly believe that you are not here simply because you have nothing better to do, but because you believe that change is necessary, and you know, like I know, that our country is not the country we envisioned it to be,” he said.

McCartney hopes to take advantage of perceived dissatisfaction with the PLP and FNM.

In 2002, with Ingraham as leader and Tommy Turnquest as leader-elect, the FNM lost by a landslide margin to the PLP.  In 2007, with a growing economy, Christie’s PLP lost to the Ingraham-led FNM.  In 2012, Ingraham and Christie plan to return to the electorate as the leaders of their respective parties.

They present themselves at a time when the country has set four murder records in five years and the unemployment rate is above 13 percent.

McCartney thinks the Bahamian people now want a change.

Even if this is true, Bahamians are conservative voters.  Dr. Bernard Nottage was the leader of the Coalition for Democratic Reform (CDR) in 2002.  He was the sitting Member of Parliament for Kennedy at the time, having left the PLP.  In that election Dr. Nottage’s party only won two percent of the vote and he lost his seat.

History is not on McCartney’s side.

The stakes are high for the leaders

Ingraham and Christie have been at it, politically, for quite a while.  Both have been MPs since 1977.  Both were young ministers in Sir Lynden Pindling’s Cabinet.  Both served as leader of the opposition and as prime minister.

Christie will be 69 next year.  Ingraham will be 65.  These friends and adversaries have become so powerful in their respective parties that neither could be moved internally.  But, the years have taken their toll and most observers think that this is the last race for the historic duo — the winner becoming prime minister again and the loser going in to retirement.

For McCartney, the stakes are also high.  If his DNA does poorly and he loses his seat in the House, a promising career could be over.

Crime, the economy, the New Providence roadworks and leadership are likely to be the major issues debated during the campaign.  The voters will decide if they want Christie, Ingraham or McCartney — that is, if a clear winner is chosen.

The 2007 general election was decided by fewer than 4,000 votes and the 2010 Elizabeth by-election by only three votes after a court case.  The country has remained divided from the last general election and a third party makes the race more unpredictable.

If Ingraham wins again his political success will debatably rival his mentor Sir Lynden Pindling.  If Christie wins he would be able to complete an agenda he thinks was pulled from him too soon.  If McCartney wins, even just a few seats, Bahamian politics would change forever.

With 38 seats in play –—the boundaries commission cut the constituency number to the constitutional minimum — this battle will play out seat by seat in community after community.  As it should be, the people will decide the fates of these leaders and their parties.

Dec 28, 2011