Christie’s Referendum Disaster: A Failed Prime Minister
The good Lord works in mysterious ways, his riddles to behold. Less than a year after serving as Perry Christie’s campaign manager, the Almighty seems to have had a change of heart with the referendum vote.
Lest we forget, speaking at a North Abaco by-election rally, Christie declared: “… But God has spoken. God has made me the prime minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. So do the voters. Though many are unable to divine God’s mind as readily as Christie, we can be fairly certain of the messages delivered unto him on referendum day. Whether the self-described “listening prime minister” is listening, is uncertain.
The yes vote spin-zone commenced as the scale of the resounding no vote unfolded. On Cable 12, veteran PLP George Smith hyperventilated with spin as the often high-octane Darold Miller read the results.
For the sake of Smith and Miller one was relieved that Dr. Duane Sands, a heart surgeon and trauma expert, was on hand in the event that the men were unable to catch their breath with the mounting no vote.
Former PLP MP Philip Galanis, a coordinator for the Vote Yes campaign to legalize numbers houses, glumly suggested that the no vote was not victorious as less than 50 percent of voters voted. How clever by less than half. Imagine Galanis’ gleeful spin had the yes vote prevailed.
There is also the tailspin of Christie’s prime ministership. The no vote contains messages for various groups, none of which should be overestimated or underestimated. Incidentally, the apathy, cynicism and/or indifference of those who did not vote, also telegraphed various messages.
Though church leaders remain influential, they should refrain from gloating as the vote was more complex and nuanced than they may realize. It was not an absolute victory for their beliefs or viewpoint. Indeed, most Bahamians may not have an absolutely prohibitionist view on all forms of gambling.
While the FNM enjoys more breathing room because of the PLP’s failure, this was not as shining a moment as it could have been for the former, somewhat moribund after two electoral defeats and because of the inept and incoherent leadership of Dr. Hubert Minnis, who displayed the art of zigzag.
As for Christie, the message is pointed and profound. This is a personal defeat and something of a referendum on his prime ministership. “Everybody vex with Christie”: PLPs and FNMs, Cabinet colleagues and the PLP’s merchants of greed, numbers’ players and bosses, and various church leaders.
Christie has hit the jackpot of derision and recrimination. He is among the biggest losers of the no vote – and not just on this issue. The defeat will have repercussions for his authority and legacy.
This is a disaster mostly of Christie’s making, though numbers bosses and PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts played leading roles alongside various PLPs who preferred to remain behind the scenes. Those not making an appearance included certain colleagues who seemed content to let him fail – spectacularly.
Christie’s disaster resembles a sort of Shakespearian tragicomedy worthy of a collaboration between Ian Strachan and Michael Pintard, with narcissism and hubris as central themes.
The back-story: Giddy with victory after May 7 last year, Christie ascended to cloud nine, seemingly forgetting that he had clay feet and Achilles’ heels, and that his party failed to secure a majority of the popular vote, due in large part to his failures when last in office.
With boohoo bucks for the North Abaco by-election, much of which may have come from the chums who lavished money on the PLP at the general election, Christie’s arrogance exploded: “… Do you know who the prime minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is? You could go to Hubert… You could even go to Hubert Minnis, but they all got to call me.”
Victory secured, Christie and his lieutenants conspired that they could replay the playbook of their two prior electoral wins in the referendum. Christie joked as much.
Uncharacteristically for Christie the procrastinator, he attempted a show of decisiveness and direction. It was not to be. The vote was postponed because the government may not have had the legal authority to hold the poll. Christie’s flip-flopping was worthy of Cirque de Soleil.
His statements in the lead-up to the vote were typically ill-considered, insipid and incoherent in terms of policy and reasoning, contradictory, rash, and at times just plain bizarre.
Christie’s claim of “no horse in the race” dissipated with a slew of statements wishing a certain horse well while warning voters of the consequences of not backing that horse. Bradley Roberts abandoned any veneer of neutrality, embarrassing Christie with a statement claiming that the PLP supported a yes vote. He played a critical role in driving up the no vote.
Roberts’ unfettered actions, Christie’s ignorance of a national address by Dr. B.J. Nottage and a meandering statement by Gaming Board Chair Dr. Andre Rollins acknowledging that the referendum process was botched, all showcased that the prime minister was not in control of his government, and lacks the respect and command of various colleagues.
Not only did Christie overestimate his appeal and that of his party. Within eight months he has revived in spades the very negatives which helped drive the PLP from office after their last term.
At the dawn of 2013, Christie is back where he was by the end of 2007, except this time, it is worse. He has reinforced his image as incompetent and not in command.
There is more: He has less time to recover from his mistakes. Quite a number of PLPs and independent voters who gave him a second chance are fed up. More than incompetence, he has demonstrated recklessness, jeopardizing his government and his legacy.
He has done serious damage to his brand and the PLP’s. Christie, the supposed man of the people, is seen by many more Bahamians as an agent of special interests and the greed of a few. Within months, the slogan “Bahamians First” has been replaced in the minds of many with, “PLPs First”.
Most damning for the Christie-led PLP was a statement by Bahamas Faith Ministries Head Dr. Myles Munroe urging a no vote, and available online at YouTube. It may have a devastating and lasting impact.
All of which may inspire gloating and comic relief in various quarters. But the other side of this quasi-Shakespearian drama is a tragic reality on at least two levels. The first is personal. Given another and perhaps final chance to lead the country, Christie has reverted to poor form.
He has wasted time and opportunity, squandering authority and good will even before the first anniversary of his re-election. The likelihood of him building a healthy legacy and fulfilling major promises appears remote.
It is this second tragedy that is bad for The Bahamas. While some may gloat at Christie’s misfortunes, he is the prime minister. Another failed prime ministership is not good for the country.
Instead of advancing critical policies and projects, Christie expended enormous energy and political capital relative of a doomed vote on an issue not central to the lives of the majority of voters, who yawned instead of marking ballots.
Instead of delivering a considered New Year’s policy address, he was busy ginning up reasons why a no vote would be bad for the country. Blinded by electoral success, Christie succumbed to the siren charms of the beguiling twins, hubris and narcissism.
Christie has proven that he can win elections. But, can he govern effectively? So far, the answer, like the referendum vote, is no.
Sadly, unfortunately, Christie and the country may be in for another failed prime ministership by the man who seems to have taken his second chance for granted.
Still, there is a secret weapon that may help Christie’s PLP to recover.
Author of the Front Porch column in The Nassau Guardian
gambling, incompetence, Perry Christie, PLP