Over the last two weeks, there has been open jockeying for nominations in the Free National Movement, particularly among members of the old guard who have decided to voice their desires to run again in the mainstream press and on social media. I haven’t seen this many photo-opportunities, press releases, talk show and neighbourhood appearances from some of these folks in a while, leaving one with the impression that the election cycle is starting in earnest.
However, as the FNM moves forward, the right stratagem to foster institutional change and progressivism within that party must take precedence. The FNM has to take a page out of Prime Minister Perry Christie’s playbook and introduce the public to a frontline of candidates where a cadre of bright, young Bahamians make up the vast majority of its electoral offerings.
Further, since experience is valuable, the party should run a grouping of its most politically accomplished, experienced – but yet somewhat youthful – members which would provide a balance on a slate featuring young up-and-comers. Mr Christie utilised this approach twice, first in 2002 and most notably in 2012, when he surrounded himself with a younger grouping of professionals and branded them a new generation of leaders. And that is not to say that this new generation has seen the light of day, but the strategy earned him two landslide victories at the polls.
There cannot be a mass recycling of people who ran in the 1980s and early 1990s, particularly since there are young, qualified individuals who deserve a chance. Further, it cannot be said that younger folk don’t know the political ropes, especially if no room is being made for them to learn. There is a first time for everything.
What the FNM must do is not only run a new generation but feature this new generation prominently if they win the government. The party cannot be saddled with the baggage of the past. There must be a concerted, considered effort to win the government and it can only be done with all hands on deck.
Seasoned members of the party ought not to be left by the wayside or cast aside, but be elevated to becoming elder statesmen within the party, giving advice and guiding those on the frontlines ever so diligently.
Frankly, the FNM must launch its 2017 campaign on an optimistic note, selling hope and outflanking the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) by pushing policy priorities and seeking the messaging advantage. The PLP is good at selling hope: it may be utterances of air baggers who would say anything to win, but those utterances resonate with the people. The FNM must sell hope and, if elected, live up to the hype and the hope that has been reposed in them.
The FNM must build a public relations campaign around a core message – a message that is creative, strong, positive and consistent. The FNM must offer solutions that people can buy into, it must advance a people-centred agenda.
On May 7, 2012, the FNM won nine seats, the PLP 29. Since then, that number dwindled to eight with the resignation of former Prime Minister, Hubert Ingraham, and the party’s defeat in the North Abaco by-election. The resignation of Mr Ingraham as leader and the election of Dr Hubert Minnis as his successor has left the party in a state where the political fissures are obvious. The factions, once united by Ingraham, have all retreated into their various corners of the party. Minnis’ tenure at the helm of the FNM has been tumultuous.
We have seen a return to the degenerative, unproductive infighting that has infamously characterised the FNM during an era that pre-existed Hubert Ingraham’s ascension to the leadership and that reappeared, in a recent incarnation, during the leadership of Tommy Turnquest. Mr Ingraham’s much-celebrated 2005 return to the helm of the party united the schismatic rifts and resulted in the FNM victoriously returning to government in 2007.
Today, unless the party wishes to go to convention to elect a new leader so soon after re-electing Dr Minnis last November, the forces will again have to take a page from the PLP’s playbook and unite behind Minnis – as the PLP did with Christie in 2012 – with a shared goal of winning.
In order to win in particular, the FNM must place its candidates in the political vineyard now. There is no point in waiting until the last minute to send candidates out, placing them at a disadvantage and leaving them to scurry about frantically to make up for lost time. That happened the last time and ended badly. It’s time for candidates to be selected, ratified and put into the field.
During the 2012 general election campaign, the FNM ran 17 new candidates, of which nine were women. One would argue that with the exception of three – Loretta Butler-Turner, Pakeisha Parker-Edgecombe and Heather Hunt – all of the female candidates either polled poorly or were poorly received by the public. Further, only one actually won her seat. Of all the women nominated during the last election cycle, if I were leader of the FNM, I would only consider these three for nods and seek to bring in new female faces.
What’s more, the public is tired of politicians who view themselves as demigods, of being burdened with choosing the lesser evil of candidates who they view as inadequate, ineffectual, hopeless, too egotistical and unlikeable, angry and belligerent, egg-heady and out of their depth, political liabilities, poor listeners, self-serving and/or are too old or political retreads. During the last election cycle, quite a number of the FNM’s standard bearers lacked the likeability factor.
Indeed, clear demarcations must be implemented relative to boundary cuts and the FNM should agitate for the establishment of an Independent Boundaries Commission – of which average, everyday citizens should be a part – to deal with the issue of boundary cuts.
The corporate/special interest influence on local politics was evident during the last political campaign, with millions in unregulated campaign funding being pumped into the respective political machineries – particularly the electoral machinery of the PLP, where money was said to be in great quantity. The FNM should actively pursue a levelling of the playing field, pushing for the regulation of campaign finances and pressing for the future disclosure of campaign contributions and all associated expenditures.
Otherwise, the FNM could likely be at a disadvantage going into a general election where the governing party has control of the public treasury, expects large donations from a bloc of numbers men and has close, very wealthy friends in Lyford Cay who seem ready to pay to play at the drop of a hat.
The FNM cannot, yet again, allow itself to be financially outdone by the PLP – so perhaps the party, beyond tapping into its usual benefactors, should find ways of raising money and perhaps take a page out of US President Barack Obama’s book and employ a fundraising mechanism known as crowd funding.
And what about Grand Bahama? The PLP controls three of the five seats; therefore, Grand Bahama and its people and its development must be singled out. The same applies to the other Family Islands.
The FNM should re-establish, rebrand and reposition itself. Every aspect of the party’s machinery is important to its revitalisation and the input from the Executive Team to Meritorious Council Members to the average delegate to the party’s elder statesman (former MPs, Senators, etc.)
The Torchbearers have been smothered by internal politics and, at present, serve little purpose. Indeed, the Torchbearers organisation should be at the forefront of advertisements and events geared towards young people.
Now is the time – if they haven’t yet begun to do so – for the FNM to negotiate with the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and Branville McCartney in an attempt to engineer a merger. Frankly, such a merger might reinvigorate the party whilst also removing the DNA as a spoiler. When one reviews many of the seats lost by the FNM in 2012, it can be seen that the DNA contributed to those losses. Surveys show that 70 per cent of the voters who supported the DNA traditionally supported the FNM or leaned towards the FNM. Add 70 per cent of the DNA votes in a number of constituencies in Nassau to the vote count gained by the FNM candidate and today he or she would likely be in the House of Assembly.
So, what will Mr McCartney want in return for re-joining the FNM? Would he want a leadership post? That is likely.
Lastly, having looked at the FNM and the most recent happenings concerning the party, the strength, convictions and likability of Hubert Alexander Ingraham must be played up and he must, much like Sir Lynden Pindling for the PLP, be propped up and heralded for his great service to his country and the party.
Ingraham has become synonymous with what it means to win as an FNM and must be embraced as the party’s patriarch, having taken the party to three general election victories and two by-election wins (Marco City, 1990, and South Andros, 1997).
Put simply, Ingraham cannot be excluded … at all. It would be tantamount to political suicide.