Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bahamas: This upcoming general election, like all others before it, will be a race of Leadership

Election will be a race of leadership

Tribune242 Chief Reporter
Nassau, Bahamas

WE BAHAMIANS are a people of shifting anxieties. We will rend our garments because of the drought on Monday but tear out our hair because of the rain on Tuesday.

This is such a persistent state of our nature that it is strange to hear people debate which ideological issue will damn or elevate the PLP or FNM to the next government of the Bahamas.

Let's be honest, Bahamians don't choose governments based on ideology nor do they reject a government based on controversies that might plague a particular administration.

This upcoming election, like all others before it, will be a race of leadership. The public when all is said and done will decide which man, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, Opposition Leader Perry Christie or DNA leader Branville McCartney, they want to lead the country.

Many seem to believe that the sale of BTC will be the nail in the coffin for the FNM. I strongly doubt it.

The prime minister announced in March that he will close the current voters' register in June or July of this year, which is more than enough time for emotions surrounding the issue to cool or even be forgotten.

There are three rules when it comes to controversy in Bahamian politics.

The first two are:

* It is the totality of the "scandals" in an administration, not one individual issue that may cause a party to lose an election.

* If a leader appears unwilling or unable to face the challenges these "scandals" brings to his administration the bad taste will linger longer in the mouths of the public.


After the 2002 general elections there were a plethora of issues which people thought would sink the PLP. Early on it was the allegations of Mohammed Harajchi and later on it was the Korean boat scandal etceteras, etceteras.

By the time the 2007 election rolled around, however, these issues were forgotten and it still came down to who the electorate could stomach more, Perry Christie or Hubert Ingraham.

Because even if voters took into account these scandals and added the embarrassment of Anna Nicole, the money in the closet issue and the Cabinet fight and considered the PLP unpalatable, it still boiled down to how well Mr Christie handled, or didn't handle, these issues.

People wondered WWID (What Would Ingraham Do) if two of his Cabinet ministers nearly killed each other with furniture in the Churchill Building. WWID if one of the MPs of his party facilitated the commercial activities of foreigners in our fishing industry and so on and so forth.

Now, after the FNM's win in 2007 a number of issues have arisen which persons feel will work against the governing party when persons go to the ballot box.

There was the issue of Saunders Beach, the relocation of the port, the inconveniences of the New Providence Road Improvement Project, the Bell Island issue, the number of Chinese workers needed for Baha Mar and now most recently the sale of BTC.

The final truth about political controversy in the Bahamas is that if a scandal happens long enough before an election it won't be remembered and this is the main reason why issues like the BTC sale will not directly factor in a win or loss for the FNM.


By the time an election is called there will be too much happening in personal lives of the citizenry for them to expend the emotional effort to be upset about BTC.

As stated before the Prime Minister said that he will close the register in either June or July. In the end, like Mr Ingraham likes to say, only one man knows the actual day when these things are to happen, but if one were to take bets I think any date after July 11th would be safer than a date before.

Between now and July 11 there are five public holidays, and six Family Island regattas and 30 home comings and festivals on all of the major islands, including New Providence.

By that time Bahamians will already be used to the idea of being a customer of Cable and Wireless. I mean if you really think about it people were upset but not upset enough to put down their cell phones or blackberries to boycott the company.

Even after the voters' register is closed it stands to reason that there will be at least another 11 to 10 months before elections are called and thus far there is no reason which is readily apparent for the prime minister not to wait until May 2 of 2012 for the election to be called.

All this considered I am not fully convinced that the majority of Bahamians, particularly the tech-sensitive younger generation who were either used to the telecom services they enjoyed while away in school or hearing their friends abroad boasting the benefits of their 4G networks, cared that the company was being sold.

Even one of the union leaders involved in the protests against the sale of BTC, NCTUB President, Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson admitted that the movement lacked sideswiping national support.

"I don't think we really rallied behind the unions and BTC and all of the committees that came forward to lead that change. I still think that Bahamians are still very selfish and that Bahamians will have to realize that one day it's BTC and the next day it could be you, but we always pass the buck and say it's not happening to me," she told The Nassau Guardian.

There is always the temptation of believing that just because we and our friends are outraged about something that the whole world is up in arms. For better or for worse this is only the case some of the time.

To think that the upcoming election will be more about a fight is terribly naive at best and at worst shows a woeful or wilful lack of understanding of our culture.

In 1992 the country wanted less corrupt leadership so they chose a man who billed himself as a no-nonsense, liar-hating, mean what I say, say what I mean "delivery boy."

In 2002 when the country felt that the FNM was more concerned about infrastructure than the "poor man" they chose the son of a taxi driver and nurse who promised "help and hope."

In 2007 when the country felt that things were getting out of control and the nation was returning to the days of lecherous and corrupt public officials they wanted the return of a leader who would kick butt and take names later.

Now as 2012 approaches the desire of the FNM to frame the next election debate around leadership is obvious. As a matter of fact if it boils down to that, I believe it is a fight the FNM can win.

For all his faults Mr Ingraham and his team have done well to drill it in the public's mind that Mr Christie may have started the construction of the Straw Market, the Baha Mar deal, the New Providence Road Improvement Programme and the new airport, but he was not strong or decisive enough to finish it.

The PLP would do well to avoid a toe-to-toe battle on these issues.

However, they seem to be on the edge of a strategy that may work, but they are simply just standing on the edge. They are beginning to tell the public that Mr Ingraham lacks compassion, that the FNM is really the Foreign National Movement, but this talk will only amount to sloganeering if Mr Christie isn't a factor in their strategy.

They seem to forget that the last impression Mr Christie left the public with when he left office wasn't that he was kind and caring, but that he was indecisive and permissive.

What they should do is have Mr Christie explain what he would have done differently if he were in office. From Mona Vie right down to BTC explain Mr Ingraham's missteps and say what he would have done differently if he were in office.


The former Prime Minister missed a golden opportunity to do this during debate on the sale of BTC. Instead of focusing on what he saw as odious in the sale of BTC to CWC and explaining what he would have done differently he was out-manoeuvred by the FNM and spent most of his contribution explaining why Bluewater was the choice of his administration and answering criticism that his weak leadership almost caused BTC to be put in the hands of a less than desirable company.

Mr Christie's latest pronouncements of having the government backtrack on the port and BTC deal if he returns to office will please Mr Christie's base, but it makes swing and more moderate voters uneasy.

While my cynicism won't permit me to believe that Mr McCartney's DNA will stand a chance in the next election, the former FNM MP is obviously leaning on his greatest appeal as a prospective leader -- he is not Mr Christie nor is he Mr Ingraham.

There is a segment of the population that says they are weary of the Ingraham vs Christie battle, but that's what they say.

Mr McCartney has a Herculean task of trying to convert this type of public sentiment into actual ballots in the box. His victory depends too much on this for a reasonable person to think that his victory is assured.

He has to attract enough disaffected PLPs, enough disaffected FNMs and enough swing voters not only to win his seat, but to get the other members of his prospective party in the House of Assembly.

In his latest press release Mr McCartney compared the likelihood of his victory to the victory of Barack Obama in that many did not believe that Mr Obama - being black - could win the race against John McCain because America could not get beyond its historical racism enough to elect an African American president.

Of course Mr Obama won and now Mr McCartney uses this example to explain how it might be possible that he could become the next Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.


Mr McCartney's idea that there is so much thirst for change that his DNA will be able to tap into the zeitgeist and disrupt the two-party system in the Bahamas is a non-starter.

The circumstances that gave the people of Egypt enough courage and determination to remove President Hosni Muhammad Mubarak - which he also mentions in the press release - does not exist here.

And while it was an amazing achievement for the United States to elect Mr Obama, the US President did not go into the election without base support.

He is a black man, yes, but he is also the leader of one of the two major political parties in the country which he serves.

Nevertheless, Mr McCartney is doing what is smartest. He is using leadership as his platform. He is the only candidate who can truly boast that he is in fact new leadership.

There are many who decry the fact that politics in the Bahamas generally boils down to a cult of personality and does not depend enough on the issues.

But the Bahamas is not unique in this. In the United States business man and reality TV show star Donald Trump heads the field of potential Republican contenders while more sober choices like Mitt Romney are further down in the polls.

Like Sara Palin before him, Mr Trump's greatest attraction is his larger than life persona - it's hard to see what else qualifies him to be the leader of the free world.

As time goes on you can expect that the political campaigns will get increasingly personal with candidates attacking the various leaders and highlighting the inability of the leader opposite to rescue the economy, reign in rogue MPs and put a handle on crime.

This is because most politicians recognize what is apparent, that Bahamian elections are not ideological battles but are arguments over who will make the best king.

April 18, 2011