Saturday, May 12, 2012

Loretta Butler-Turner is now the closest woman to the highest seat of power in the nation... ...In Mrs Butler-Turner's favour, all around the world, women are assuming power... and that energy will have a powerful pull just the same... ...Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago... Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller in Jamaica... Maybe President Hillary Clinton (USA) in 2016... and maybe Prime Minister Loretta Butler-Turner for The Bahamas in 2017

Loretta Butler-Turner For 2017?


EVER since May 7 when the mighty Free National Movement (FNM) came tumbling down, the name Hubert Minnis, former Minister of Health, has been floated as the inevitable next leader of the Free National Movement (FNM).
The final tally left the FNM with only three members of parliament with parliamentary experience: the dinosaur Edison Key, who, safe to say, health challenges aside, has no shot at leadership, and probably no desire; Dr Minnis and Loretta Butler-Turner, former Minister of Social Services.
Mrs Butler-Turner is the underdog in the two-way race with Dr Minnis, but only because this is the political arena, where gender dynamics work against her. But I think the FNM, which is badly in need of repositioning, would be foolish to overlook her as a strong, if not the strongest, leadership option for the party.
Based on Mrs Butler-Turner's size and statue, her strong back and her sharp mouth, I think she could eat Dr Minnis for lunch in a competition for the strongest opposition leader in the House of Assembly.
I am not always a fan of Mrs Butler-Turner as far as conduct in parliament is concerned; she too is a part of a boorish culture that has come to define all of our parliamentarians, but I do see her as a stronger leader for the lean FNM flock, who will stand against the 29-member strong government majority.
Nonetheless, last night, the FNM confirmed the talk and announced Dr Minnis as leader of the opposition. It was predictable, but I only hope it does not reflect the party's dismissal of Mrs Butler-Turner.
No doubt, when the convention comes around, probably in June, the party will nominate and elect Dr Minnis as leader and Mrs Butler-Turner as deputy leader. She would be a unwise not to have higher ambitions, but she would also be a unwise to contest Dr Minnis at this time. Timing is everything, and five years is a long time. Both Dr Minnis and Mrs Butler-Turner will have ample time to prove their salt.
This is not to undermine Dr Minnis, who is a hugely popular figure in his constituency, and a relatively popular Minister of Health, with the ability to lead. However, the people's mandate for the FNM to get rid of the dinosaurs and the old dynasties was so dramatic that an equally bold shift in the party's outlook and approach would position it the best.
Tommy Turnquest, Dion Foulkes, Charles Maynard, Carl Bethel, Zhivargo Laing and Desmond Bannister were all rejected by voters. Within this cohort of losers was the assumed next leader, which is why the FNM is now in its leadership quandary.
The blow must be the most bitter for Mr Turnquest and Mr Foulkes, who descend from the founding fathers of the party and have spent most of their lives trying to live up to their families' legacies.
On the sunnyside up, however, the Bahamian voter did for the FNM what its stalwart counsellors could and would never do: clean house and go against conventional wisdom. It is a golden opportunity for the reorganisation of the party, for new faces to shine. Sort of like the opportunity Branville McCartney was looking for when he was in the FNM.
Dr Minnis ran an extremely effective ground campaign, probably the best in the FNM. It is a wonder why no one followed his lead. Prior to the election, I understand, he had leadership ambition, but he understood the competition: men who were not only anointed, but had a breadth of experience in the public service, which is something a prime minister ideally should have.
Mr Turnquest had been a minister of national security, works and tourism. Mr Foulkes had been a minister of youth, sports and culture and a minister of labour. Mr Laing had been the minister of state for finance.
Dr Minnis, being somewhat of an academic and analytical man according to insiders, wanted to leave the Ministry of Health where he had accomplished so much, according to sources. Dr Minnis entered politics with the skill set for health, and did not want to be pigeon holed. In the Ministry of Health, he was not really tested.
He wanted to stretch his wings, broaden his base by taking on the challenge of another ministry, so when time came, he would have all of his credentials and recommendations lined up. Sounds like smart politics, so the fact that the party's leadership dropped in his lap was ahead of schedule, but in a sense right on time.
But here is where Mrs Butler-Turner trumps Dr Minnis. When the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was in its early days, some observers say, it was former attorney general A D Hanna who was really the brains behind the operation, while Sir Lynden Pindling was the face.
Mr Hanna was the kingmaker but never the king. This is the difference between Mrs Butler-Turner and Dr Minnis in terms of their political strengths.
Dr Minnis is a well-organised man, but he is as mundane as he is organised. He does not evoke strong passions in people although he evokes confidence. What Mr Ingraham and Mr Christie have in common is that they are either loved or hated. Mr Ingraham's in the end was trumped by those who hated him.
Dr Minnis is a neutral figure, and politicians of this kind do not make strong leaders, because they have a hard time garnering followers.
Mrs Butler-Turner on the other hand, is an effective speaker and has a strong presence. She has the capacity to build a following, even though she has polarising qualities.
Before the election, I had predicted that the FNM would win big or lose big, for one simple reason. It was clear that key FNM MPs were given one mandate: deliver two seats (the one where they served in the last government, and the one where they were running on May 7). If they had, the FNM could have swept the election. FNM insiders had predicted 28 red seats, when in fact the FNM lost 28 and more.
Zhivargo Laing was one of the earliest cabinet ministers to fall, and with that the FNM virtually lost two seats. Sure enough, by the end of the night, Marco City, Mr Laing's old seat, had fallen. When Sydney Collie lost to V. Alfred Gray in MICAL that sealed the deal (if there was any doubt) about Leslie Miller's (PLP) chances in Tall Pines, Mr Collie's former Bluehill constituency.
The only FNM who delivered on the two-seat strategy was Loretta Butler-Turner, who despite the claims that she was ousted from Montagu in unpopularity, delivered Richard Lightbourne to the House in a heated contest against the PLP's Frank Smith. The FNM lost big because they gambled wrong with their two-seat strategy on everyone except Loretta. (Of course they underestimated the impact of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and had other challenges).
Montagu is usually assumed to be a secure seat for the FNM; however, given the climate, no seat was safe. It was not a surety that Mr Lightbourne would win, especially not against Mr Smith. And whereas Mrs Butler-Turner won by some 1,300 votes in the last election, Mr Lightbourne only won by a few hundred.
So give credit where credit is due. Mr Lightbourne of course, did his job, but he inherited Mrs Butler-Turner's Montagu team; friends and family in her childhood knocking ground, based on the boundary cuts; and her reputation, which while damaged was still intact. But more importantly, Mrs Butler-Turner also won her Long Island seat.
What is interesting is that while the dynasties fell, Hubert Ingraham's two buddies held firm. Mr Ingraham was said to have a strong relationship with Dr Minnis and to be the biggest backer of Mrs Butler-Turner.
In fact, some say Mr Ingraham is a feminist at heart. However, given the FNM's defeat, and Mr Ingraham's departure, many stalwart counsellors, who may have felt bound to the will of Mr Ingraham before, will now feel free.
Sources claim some FNM insiders resented how much say Mrs Butler-Turner had, asking Ingraham at times to muzzle her. They wondered why he would not put her in her place or shut her up. This came to a head with the proposed amendment to the Sexual Offences Act that was not popular amongst FNM MPs. Even Cabinet support was questionable.
On this particular issue, Mrs Butler-Turner has the female advantage. There is an old Jamaican saying, "tie the heifer, release the bull." However, in a political pen with many bulls the opposite would seem to make more sense, "tie the (other) bulls and release the heifer." Mrs Butler-Turner has never had to live in the shadow of "Papa" Ingraham, which cannot be said for any other male MP in the party.
With two bulls in a pen, there is by nature a competitive and antagonistic energy that subordinates the weaker of the two. Gender dynamics between men and women are different. Even where a woman may be more dominant, she will not likely be perceived as a threat for a man who is strong in his own character.
Loretta Butler-Turner is now the closest woman to the highest seat of power in the nation, notwithstanding Cynthia Pratt, who was acting prime minister. It is a heavy weight to shoulder, but I have no doubt Mrs Butler-Turner is capable of rising to the occasion.
The heartening part is that Mrs Butler-Turner is not just an MP in a skirt. She actually stands for women's rights. Let us hope she stays that way. Let us hope she does not turn into a partisan hack. Let us hope she puts principle before party, and people before self as a leader. Let us hope she takes wise counsel. Let us hope she brings substantive contributions to parliamentary debate, not just partisan reflections or lamentations about the good old days of "papa."
People who oppose Mrs Butler-Turner sometimes say she is short-tempered and elitist. If the former is true, she will certainly need to learn to temper her spirit. As far as being a snob, there are managable things she can do to change that perception. So she should get to it.
What I think a large part of the opposition boils down too, however, is that Mrs Butler-Turner is an outspoken woman with strong opinions, who does not easily back down. Opponents in and out of the party must hate that, especially when her ideas do not gel with their own.
As she jostles for a shot at leadership, no doubt women will be her harshest and most vocal critics. For them, her physical size, will probably be the most intimidating. I urge them to be honest and fair critics and not crab-in-the-barrel "haters."
In the past few years, governments have toppled all around the world. The FNM was swept up in that powerful force.
In Mrs Butler-Turner's favour, all around the world, women are assuming power: and that energy will have a powerful pull just the same. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago. Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller in Jamaica. Maybe President Hillary Clinton (USA) in 2016, and maybe Prime Minister Loretta Butler-Turner for the Bahamas in 2017.
It will be interesting to see how everything pans out.
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May 10, 2012