Are we headed for dictatorship?
By Philip C. Galanis
"How fortunate for leaders that men do not think." – Adolf Hitler
The election bell has been rung, Parliament has been dissolved and, like the Biblical reference to Gog and Magog, the forces are assembling on all sides toward the final countdown on May 7, 2012 – General Election Day in The Bahamas.
Over the past five years, there have been numerous references to, and a certain level of discomfort regarding, the leadership style of our current prime minister. It has been described by some as domineering, dictatorial and despotic. Others have preferred decisive as a more appropriate description of his leadership style. So this week we would like to Consider This...is it more appropriate to characterize the prime minister as dictatorial or decisive in light of his authoritarian style, and, if he is returned to office, are we at risk of becoming a country that is led by a dictator?
What is the genesis of the accusation of dictatorial behavior by the nation’s chief executive? Perhaps it is deeply rooted in his no-nonsense approach and social intercourse with friends and foes whom he would not hesitate to publicly humiliate, particularly if they do not share his point of view. The prime minister is not known to suffer fools – or even sages – lightly. While there are countless examples of this during his term in office, the more recent past provides graphic patterns of such petulant propensities.
Perhaps the more glaring ones are those instances where he single-handedly chose his candidates for the upcoming elections, introducing them en masse to the Free National Movement (FNM) council as a fait accompli with the autocratic attitude of “take it, or leave it, this is what I want, and this is what I will get”. Of course, the party acquiesced to each and every nominee, without exception.
Who can forget how mercilessly he cut three of his sitting parliamentary members from the candidate’s list for the upcoming general election? To add insult to injury, at least one of the eleventh hour “terminated” candidates was not even informed that he had been chopped this time around.
Then, of course, the House of Assembly proceedings were abruptly abated, suspended, then dissolved, without allowing any of the members from both sides, including the speaker, the deputy prime minister, past and present, as well as several of his own ministers, past and present, the customary opportunity to thank their constituents and the Bahamian people for allowing them to serve in high office. Parliament belongs to the people of The Bahamas, not to one man to do with it as he wishes, when he wishes. But not one of his parliamentary colleagues dared raise his voice in disapproval. As Adolf Hitler once said: “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.” I would add, “or speak up”! There are certain parliamentary conventions that apply to our system and to deliberately disregard the established decorum is an abuse of office and an abuse of power.
We also recall that at the launch of the FNM candidates in Freeport many Sundays ago, the prime minister bellowed: “I want to win all five seats in Freeport.” Not, “the FNM wants to win” or “we want to win”. No, his words were well-chosen that, “I want to win all five seats in Freeport.” Since that launch, he has repeated this personalization of the goals of the FNM in speech after speech. His party, his Parliament!
The practice of the leader
Now that the elections have been called, a thinking and discerning public would seriously question the appropriateness of the executive branch of the government entering into and executing new multimillion-dollar contracts, one after another, from island to island, as Hubert Ingraham’s government seems intent on doing right up to voting day.
On the other hand, while in office, Perry Christie refused to sign the agreement which would have authorized the sale of BTC after he called elections for May 2007. He could have, but he did not think it was appropriate and therefore did not abuse his office or power.
We believe that it is totally inappropriate for any government to continue to execute substantial, new contracts or agreements after its term in office has come to an end and Parliament has been dissolved. There are only two things which can explain this prime minister’s behavior: Either he is deliberately and unconscionably exploiting the public purse in order to win votes in the upcoming elections, or he is rushing to reward and enrich his supporters with last minute, multimillion-dollar, ginormous contracts because he is not sure that he will be returned to office as the prime minister.
Bahamians are increasingly expressing their fears that if he is returned to office, the prime minister will believe that his behavior has been validated and sanctioned by the Bahamian people.
Some thinking Bahamians have rightly expressed concerns about the mesmerizing effect that Ingraham has had on his blind and unquestioning supporters who insist on calling him “Papa”. This is not without good reason. The last person in Bahamian memory who bore the title of “Papa” was Francois Duvalier, the president of Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971. He was better known to his people and to the world as “Papa Doc”, the demonically despotic dictator who dominated Haiti with an iron fist.
He was also a very decisive leader, who, viciously assisted by his bullies and brutal goons, the Tonton Macoutes, blatantly abused his power for his own personal aggrandizement, profit, corruption and genocide of his Haitian political opponents. Named after a Creole term for the bogeyman, the Macoutes’ raison d’etre was to extend and bolster support for the Papa Doc regime in the countryside. By 1961, although they had twice the numbers of the regular Haitian military, they never developed into a real military force but remained more of a brutal secret police and Papa Doc’s private, malevolent army dedicated to maintaining that Papa’s iron grip on his country.
As thinking Bahamians, it is our duty to continually ask the pressing questions of and to challenge our leaders to account for their actions in order to ensure that they never become too big for their britches. When that occurs, we the people must never hesitate to cut them back down to size. Most dictators are cowards who recoil into the shadows when faced with an intelligent, probing populace who is not afraid to boldly confront and fearlessly oppose their misdeeds. Whether we are talking about Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein or any wannabe Bahamian variation of the former, if we wish to stave off any vestige of a dictatorship, we must never, ever allow our leaders to believe that we have become the kind of a people who caused Adolf Hitler to say: “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”
Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Apr 16, 2012