Tuesday, January 10, 2012

With a general election that must be called by May of this year, Hubert Ingraham has let it be known that this time around he is bringing forward a new, younger slate of Free National Movement (FNM) candidates

Ingraham’s changing party

A new generation of FNMs expected to come forward as candidates

By Brent Dean
Guardian Associate Editor

After coming so close for so long, the Free National Movement (FNM) found gold in the last decade of the twentieth century.  Hubert Ingraham, the former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) minister and chairman, led the opposition party out of the wilderness and to victory.

Two decades later, that same party is depending on that same leader to win it a fourth mandate.  To do so, he has pledged change.  This change is not philosophical or organizational.  He’s changing faces – this in an effort to win a contest in tough times.  Some have already started complaining and calling ‘the chief’ names.  But being the only man to ever lead the party to success, is anyone in the FNM qualified to question his decisions?


Where they came from

The FNM is a coalition movement – as is any lasting party.  Remnants of the old United Bahamian Party (UBP) and rebels from the PLP formed the organization.  Its first general election was in 1972 and it lost that vote.  The FNM won 39.3 percent of the votes cast – the PLP won 59 percent.

The FNM struggled for the next two decades, losing the 1977, 1982 and 1987 elections to Sir Lynden Pindling’s party.  Ingraham joined the FNM in 1990 and led it to victory on August 19, 1992.  He, the poor boy who grew up in Abaco, ended the 25-year rule of Sir Lynden.

Over the next five years Ingraham took the FNM to its pinnacle.  It won in 1997 by a landslide margin, with Ingraham declaring after the poll that he could have won them all.

The PLP only secured six seats in that race – it lost one of those seats in a by-election following Sir Lynden’s retirement.

In the 1997 election, Ingraham cut the number of seats in the House of Assembly from 49 to 40 and he took the FNM to 57.7 percent of the popular vote. This was a massive swing from where the party was when it first took on the PLP in 1972.

What Ingraham brought to the FNM was winning.  Though Sir Kendal Isaacs and Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield are regarded as historic figures, those former FNM leaders could not deliver the ultimate prize. And in politics, winning is the only marker of judgment for leaders.


Who will run in 2012?

Ingraham won the FNM’s third mandate in 2007 by securing just under 50 percent of the vote.  The term has been difficult, however.  The financial crisis of 2008 was devastating and its effects persist.  The unemployment rate was 8.7 percent then.  It is now above 13 percent.  There have been four murder records in five years.  The $120 million road work upgrade for New Providence has been poorly managed by the contractor, Jose Cartellone Construcciones Civiles, and the government.  And Atlantis, the project initiated during Ingraham’s first term, has been taken by a creditor.  The prosperity resulting from that resort contributed to the FNM’s landslide win in 1997.

For the FNM, this election will not be easy.  Despite the efforts by the government to push back against the effects of the most significant recession since the Great Depression, voters often blame those in charge when things are not going well.

With an election that must be called by May of this year, Ingraham has let it be known that this time around he is bringing forward a new, younger slate of candidates.

No one will know for sure until the final names are listed, but from either public statements made by Ingraham, ‘word on the street’ or statements by candidates, the team will look quite different.

We know Kenneth Russell won’t be an FNM candidate again under Ingraham.  Clifton MP Kendal Wright is probably in that same category.  Also in the not-running-again group is Larry Cartwright, who has made it known he is bowing out.  North Eleuthera MP and House Speaker Alvin Smith too is out, seemingly along with Marathon MP Earl Deveaux.

Quite a few people are rumored to be in the ‘moving category’ – that is, sitting MPs or candidates who are leaving the areas they ran in last election.  Desmond Bannister is moving from Carmichael to North Andros.  And Zhivargo Laing, Loretta Butler-Turner, Dion Foulkes and Phenton Neymour are also said to be going elsewhere.


Reshaping the party is wise

For Ingraham this is likely his last general election.  Having sat in Parliament as an MP for Abaco consecutively since 1977, he has done it all.  He has even done something Sir Lynden could not.  He regained power in 2007 after stepping aside following his party’s 2002 defeat.  Sir Lynden, his mentor, tried but was unable to get back in the throne after his 1992 defeat.

Many tangible things have occurred during this FNM term.  The straw market was finished; the national stadium was completed; a terminal at the airport was built, and others are under construction; the unemployment and prescription drug benefits were created; millions of dollars have been spent on the water system and roads in New Providence; the Bahamas Telecommunications Company was privatized; the container port is almost built; major investment is underway to upgrade the hospital; the magistrates complex is almost done; and there have been upgrades to the Supreme Court complex.  Even more accomplishments could be listed.

The FNM during its campaign will argue that it is the party of doing and Perry Christie and his party are the party of talk.  Ingraham will list what he has done and ask the people to choose between talk and action.  At this stage of his career he will fight hard to win, but if the people want what he would describe as ‘mere talk’ over action and doing, then I suspect that he would be quite happy to say he did his best and to retire.

But before going, if that is to be Ingraham’s fate, it is wise to give the next generation a chance.  One of the major criticisms many

Bahamians have of the PLP and the FNM is that both Ingraham and Christie have stayed too long.  One of the ways to push back against this criticism is to empower the young now.

If the FNM wins, those young people would be in positions to lead right away.  If the FNM loses, those young people would have the experience of an election.

Those old FNMs who have had multiple opportunities to run should not feel badly if Ingraham tells them it’s over.  It is his party.  And that is so because he is a proven winner.  Within the party, he has earned the authority to set his line-up for an election.  Is a man a tyrant, as he was called by Russell, simply because he makes political moves to best position his party, in his mind, for an election?  Of course not.

In politics there are no friendships.  There are just alliances of convenience.  In the weeks to come as Ingraham refines his list of candidates, more FNMs will come to learn this – which is something they should have known when they entered politics.

I have always thought that both leaders should have retired by now, but that is neither here nor there at this stage.  For each to allow the next generation to step to the frontline at this election is a reasonable compromise in our centralized political system.  Those they used to get this far, who have been or will be discarded before the election, should look back fondly on the time they spent ‘in the mix’.  You were the tools of great men.

Jan 09, 2012