Changing political fates
A restless Bahamian electorate is becoming harder to read
BY BRENT DEAN
Guardian Associate Editor
After the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) victory in May 2002, Bahamians were in love with their new leader.
Perry Christie could do no wrong.
When he mounted rally podia to the sound of R. Kelly’s “The Storm is Over Now” in that campaign, he was like a loved prophet coming to bring new times to a tired but hopeful people. He won that general election by a landslide margin.
Five years later Christie and his PLP were defeated.
The man who defeated him was his friend and the prime minister from 1992 to 2002. Hubert Ingraham came back as the anti-Christie.
While Christie, he argued, was lazy and inadequate, another Ingraham-led government would restore order to The Bahamas. Ingraham won the 2007 general election.
Five years later, the man who was not good enough to lead was good enough again. Christie was reinstated as prime minister.
The mood of the electorate in the modern Bahamas is very different than in the Pindling years. Then, one well-loved leader was able to govern for 25 consecutive years. Now we have had two consecutive one-term governments, and this latest crew of leaders has run into headwind.
The referendum loss for the PLP, despite the party officially saying it was not on a side, came after it won the 2010 Elizabeth by-election, the 2012 general election and the 2012 North Abaco by-election. A declaration of upset came so soon after many expressions of support.
Politics and electorate of today
With an electorate now willing to change its mind so quickly, politicians should not take anything for granted. They should also not misread their mandates.
The 2007 Free National Movement (FNM) government and the current PLP government each won just under 50 percent of the vote in the respective elections that brought them to office. Both had comfortable margins, but not the overwhelming support that is needed to move controversial policies or legislation alone.
This may have been the fundamental problem with the gambling referendum. A party with less than 50 percent of the support of the people moved forward with a vote on a divisive issue to a volatile electorate against established stakeholders such as the church. Considering the modern Bahamian electorate as the same as the Pindling voters would cause miscalculation.
Fewer and fewer Bahamians love the PLP or the FNM. Fewer and fewer Bahamians believe that our political class has the best interest of the people at heart. There is suspicion and anger. There is a belief that many simply want to lead in order to dispense the assets of the state to friends, lovers and associates.
The people are not innocent victims in this, however. Assuming politicians to be modern pirates seeking loot, many Bahamians align themselves with whomever just for the time in order to get their contacts or their jobs. Cynicism has set in.
When enough people feel they have not gotten theirs from the crew they voted for, they send for the others only to facilitate self-interest.
Navigating treacherous waters
The current mood of voters presents an interesting set of problems for the people who run the ‘Gold Rush’ administration.
For Christie, if he intends to retire before the end of this term it is easy and simple. Wait for his full pension and then ride off into the sunset an even richer man – one who will always be taken care of by the state. Politically speaking, he needs to do nothing but sit and wait.
But for the group including Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis and Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, men who want to be prime minister, it is crucial that the method is found to satisfy enough members of a cynical electorate to ensure the PLP wins again.
If Christie does go before the end of this term – and I don’t just assume he will – he may find the wannabe prime ministers in his Cabinet increasingly at odds with him. A departing Machiavellian leader has no real interest in the future of the crew he leaves behind when all of his interests are already taken care of. He can do as he pleases in his final days, making moves that are not necessarily in the best interest of them.
The would-be heirs will increasingly want to have a more direct hand in policymaking and governance if Christie is leaving because they want to ensure the party can win again, extending their time on the throne.
As the months go by, these men will want to know if the chief is going or staying. They know that it cannot be assumed that the PLP will just win again, even though the FNM is without money and elements of the Ingraham fan club are tearing down the current party leader, Dr. Hubert Minnis.
To the potential PLP PMs the governing party needs successes. The governing party does not need debacles such as the failed referendum.
Ingraham’s end may scare the future leaders of the PLP. He publicly confirmed late in his term that he would run again and seek to be prime minister a fourth time. Misreading his mandate from 2007 and full of belief that he was loved, Ingraham ran again in tough times and was rejected. That rejection also swept out many senior FNMs. Carl Bethel, Tommy Turnquest, Dion Foulkes, Desmond Bannister, just to name a few, may too have been retired for good with Ingraham.
When the boss just does what he wants, he can destroy you too.
It feels like the general election was just a few weeks ago. It actually is nearing a year since that clash.
These years of the PLP mandate will pass quickly. And with each passing month, for those who seek to lead the PLP and The Bahamas, it will become increasingly urgent for them to know what Christie intends to do and when he intends to do it.
Our prime ministers are politically all-powerful in their parties. They can’t be voted out internally.
I wonder what goes on in the mind of the prime minister. I wonder whether he is tired and wants no more, or if he likes it so much that he just can’t give it up. I wonder if he supports Brave Davis, his law and business partner, or if he seeks to hand the throne to another. I even wonder if he has come to conclusions on these matters yet. Only Christie can answer.
Christie is a wise politician who has seen it all. He has witnessed up close how in recent years the fates of politicians have changed so dramatically so soon.
He, like Ingraham, has the chance to write his last chapter. Time will pass quickly and Christie will soon have to make his choices known.
February 11, 2013