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The PLP’s hurdle

Convention message must set course for true reform
  • Members of the opposition, Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin (seated, left); Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP Philip Brave Davis (seated, right); South Andros MP Picewell Forbes (standing, left) and Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper (standing, right) at a press conference at the House of Assembly in May. FILE

  • Philip Brave Davis.

  • The PLP is struggling to find its footing and shape a message months after its election defeat and the resignation of Perry Christie as leader of the party.

CANDIA DAMES
Managing Editor
candia@nasguard.com

Published: Aug 30, 2017

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As PLPs try to figure out how to be an effective opposition four months after a crushing general election defeat, their progress will likely depend on whether they have truly come to terms with the loss.

At this juncture in its history, the PLP must find its raison d'être.

When they meet in convention in two months, PLPs should understand that they are not speaking to the 37 percent that supported them at the polls.

Their message must be geared toward elements of their base that were so disturbed and disheartened over the manner in was managing our affairs that they abandoned the party.

The message must be targeted toward the more than 60 percent of voters who voted for the Free National Movement or other parties and candidates.

This is the challenge for the PLP.

It has a high hurdle to cross.

It will need to strike a balance between defending the parts of its record that are reasonably worth defending, and demonstrating to the electorate that it is serious about reform.

If convention speakers are myopic in their approach, if they continue to wallow in their delusion and insult those who supported the Free National Movement by suggesting — as they have been — that voters were somehow duped, then those speakers will risk further alienating the party rejected by so many voters in May.

There ought not be any more arrogant and insulting call-and-response speeches like the now infamous ‘That’s where the VAT money gone!’ speech delivered by Michael Halkitis, the former minister of state for finance, who is chairman of the approaching convention.

The Progressive Liberal Party must craft a message that is relevant, one that is consistent, that is worth touting.

The PLP has long strayed from its progressive roots.

In the recent election campaign, PLP leaders cast the party as the one best equipped to govern The Bahamas.

But for many voters — some of whom felt no connection to Sir Lynden Pindling and the other founding fathers who led the political revolution and ushered in a social resolution in the post-majority rule era — the PLP was the party of avarice and arrogance.

As we have opined repeatedly in the months since the election, the PLP will be challenged to shape a new message because it has at the helm the same people who were members of an administration that was roundly rejected and even despised.

The five-year term of the Christie administration were bad years for the PLP and for The Bahamas, which was teethering on the brink of economic disaster.

The PLP’s name became stained, and the trust that so many Bahamians had placed in the party was eroded by scandals and perceptions of corruption.

Those feelings about the PLP remain pervasive.

This is why the tone of the PLP’s post-election convention in October must be notably different from the tone back in January when the party blindly touted its record, but ignored its failure to deliver on key promises like a sustainable National Health Insurance plan with a clear funding mechanism, driving down violent crime, getting control of a burgeoning national debt and getting the economy moving.

Its failure to deliver on the big-ticket items was only one part of the reason why voters so strongly rejected the party at the polls.

The PLP’s refusal to demonstrate respect for the electorate, its failure to be transparent and accountable, featured prominently in the decision of so many people to vote against the party.

The list of scandals and missteps by the former administration is long.

We have opined on them extensively in this space over the years.

It was clear that the party did not learn from the mistakes of the first Christie administration, despite the fact that former Prime Minister Perry Christie started his last term claiming he had learned the lessons of the past.

Despite the fact that the economy was stable and unemployment was in the single digits in May 2007, the party still lost.

The post election survey it commissioned concluded that scandals took their toll and Christie’s refusal to deal with compromised members of his Cabinet ultimately led to the loss.

The party commissioned another survey after the May 2017 defeat.

It has not been made public, but it will likely present no surprises to anyone.

Once again, scandals, arrogance on the part of PLP leaders and the sense that they were more concerned with power than they were with doing right by the people will be the key reasons.

 

Accountable

But even a bruising at the polls has not been enough of a wake up call for the party, it appears.

Its leaders — those who remain — continue to behave as though they are entitled to power, and that their plan for The Bahamas was always the best one.

Bahamians everywhere feel as if the FNM’s victory means that The Bahamas has finally been rescued from those whose actions were destroying it.

We are a long way off from another election, but if FNM ministers stay scandal-free, if they remain humble and demonstrate an unwavering commitment to transparency and accountability, then it appears they would be poised for another term.

The Christie administration lost the public’s trust because they kept Bahamians in the dark on so many matters.

Yesterday marked three years since the Christie administration signed an agreement with Cable and Wireless Communications to get back some of the shares the Ingraham administration sold in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company.

That agreement was never revealed to the public.

The Bahamas Power and Light management agreement signed in February 2016 was also kept secret.

Minister of Works Desmond Bannister committed yesterday to tabling it when the House of Assembly meets on September 13.

So many other documents that ought to have been placed in the public domain in the interest of transparency and accountability were also kept from the public.

Again, we have spoken about them ad nauseam.

We won’t get much into it again here. Those who have been paying attention over the years are familiar with these matters.

Transparency and accountability are important in keeping the public’s trust and in making members of the electorate feel respected by their government.

Being transparent and accountable are important in a government showing that it respects the Bahamian people and has a sincere commitment to servant leadership.

In office, the PLP behaved otherwise.

It was this attitude and culture that led PLPs in large numbers to shout, “One leader!” at their convention in January.

Unless people were bowing and kissing the ring of Emperor Christie, they were met with a chilled reception in PLP circles.

It appears — so far, at least — that the FNM and Dr. Hubert Minnis have learned from the PLP and Perry Christie how not to run a government.

In addition to remaining scandal free, transparent and accountable, the new administration must, of course, deliver on some important items too.

If it can energize the economy; create jobs; pull Grand Bahama out of its perpetual state of depression; have a positive impact on fighting the high level of violent crime; effect energy reform, once and for all, and fix the problematic New Providence Landfill, it would probably be well on its way to a longer time in government.

Those are not small tasks, and the plan to achieve these things has yet to be laid out.

Still, the deeply wounded and widely fractured PLP is up against a government that enjoys tremendous goodwill from an electorate that has long stopped believing in the PLP.

And so, the PLP faces daunting realities in trying to shape an image in opposition.

It will be interesting to see whether there is any shift in the party’s tone at convention or any signs that it ‘gets’ why it is in the political wilderness today.

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