Why the FNM lost and the PLP won
By Arinthia S. Komolafe
Although the general election is over, arguably the election season is yet to come to a close. There is at least one imminent by-election in North Abaco following the announcement by former Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham that he will resign from this seat on July 19, 2012. Meanwhile many individuals continue to weigh in on the possible causes of the Free National Movement’s (FNM) defeat, the victory of Perry G. Christie and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) impact.
It is apparent that a number of factors contributed to the FNM’s loss even though it is difficult to unequivocally state which particular issue impacted the voting population the most. The most obvious contributors to the aforementioned defeat from a macro-economic perspective were the poor state of the economy, record unemployment levels, inflation, labor unrest, the perceived opaque immigration policy of the FNM government and rising crime levels.
It has been suggested that the FNM’s insistence on turning the entire election campaign into a leadership and/or personality contest between Ingraham and Christie played a significant role in the downfall of the FNM. This coupled with what many deemed to be a growing tyrannical and dictatorial style of leadership by Ingraham is also being cited as part of the reasons for the FNM’s loss and the PLP’s landslide victory. As can be expected, a rejection of Ingraham by the electorate would spell doom for the FNM. The perceived incidents of fragmentation, scandals and corruption within the Ingraham administration that prompted voluntary or involuntary resignations of long-time politicians along with constituency reassignments also played a role in the outcome of the elections.
The Ingraham administration also had its fair share of controversy including the sale of the Bahamas Telecommunication Company (BTC) to a foreign-owned firm over and above Bahamians, significant cost overruns and delays in the New Providence Road Improvement Project that also contributed to the closure of several small to medium-sized businesses and the perpetuation of a monopoly of the nation’s most important gateway by way of a public-private partnership agreement to an elite group of families through the Arawak Port Development.
Notably, the FNM could also be accused of political tokenism – an exercise in which under-represented groups are placed in races that they have little or no chance of winning. Arguably this occurred with some FNM newcomers and female candidates who were placed in historically PLP strongholds or incumbent constituencies. The constituencies of Englerston, Bains Town and Grants Town, Centreville, Golden Gates, Tall Pines, Fox Hill and West Grand Bahama and Bimini readily come to mind. These constituencies, for the most part, witnessed PLP candidates commanding the majority of the votes by a minimum margin of 645 to a maximum of approximately 1,390 votes. As admitted by the FNM’s chairman, the party failed to attract the female vote – this in spite of the FNM’s impressive fielding of nine female candidates. The PLP, however, fielded five female candidates, four of which were successful compared to one for the FNM.
In the midst of it all, it appears that the electorate rejected the FNM’s approach to the myriad socio-economic issues that plagued the country during its term in office. Further, on the campaign trail, the FNM’s message focused mainly on its delivery of infrastructure projects. The FNM, however, failed to “touch the pulse” of the people who for the most part were suffering due to unemployment, the rising cost of energy, food prices, foreclosures and high taxes just to name a few.
Ingraham’s strategy of painting Christie as weak, indecisive, unable to control his ministers who were all eager to get their hands on the proverbial “cookie jar” was obviously ineffective and failed to resonate with an electorate that had become weary of that old form of “politicking”.
An analysis of the PLP’s modus operandi and efforts during the 2012 election campaign is imperative in order to complete this piece. The former prime minister, the late Sir Lynden O. Pindling, in response to a question as to the reason for the PLP’s success at the polls was quoted in The National Observer’s January 14, 1967 edition as stating: “Organization, good candidates, red-hot issues, complete unity”.
The aforementioned quote can easily sum up the PLP’s 2012 election campaign. It was clear from the beginning that the PLP led an organized campaign by campaigning on the issues that affected the Bahamian people the most – crime, economic recovery and job creation. These were obvious issues in the wake of increased criminal activities, widespread economic hardship and joblessness. Further, the PLP introduced what it coined as “a new generation of leaders” who in the run-up to the general election (when compared to their FNM counterparts) spent months to years on the ground in their respective constituencies, made many platform appearances at constituency office openings, rallies and the talk show circuit. These provided them with opportunities for increased exposure and introduction to the electorate.
Finally, the success of any political party at the polls hinges on the ability of its members to be unified and stand together. During the election campaign, the PLP spoke with one voice and had a common understanding which allowed for the resonance of its message.
As for the impact of the DNA, there are some 20 parliamentary seats that could have changed the results for the PLP or FNM but for the DNA’s presence. However, the absence of the DNA may have also resulted in low voter turn-out in a general election that witnessed high voter registration with a record 172,000 voters.
The DNA’s showing was historic and impressive as it garnered approximately eight percent of the electoral vote, the highest by far for a third party. The party’s presence deepened our democracy, provided voters with an alternative and forced the established parties to improve their political campaigns. Their future existence and relevance will depend on their commitment to “stay on the ground” and be a formidable opposition from the side-lines.
Considering the 14-year rise to power of the PLP and the 20-year journey of the FNM, it will benefit the DNA to study these parties’ voyages. Invaluable lessons abound for the DNA in the successes and failures of the PLP and FNM in the past. The DNA and its supporters should draw inspiration from the rise of the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom whose ascension in UK politics led to the Conservative/Liberal Democrats coalition in 2010, the first in Britain’s history since World War II. The Liberal Democrats’ victory silenced naysayers that had asserted that third parties have no place in a Westminster system. With a clear philosophy, purpose and perseverance, the DNA can hope for a similar testimony in future.
• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
May 17, 2012