By Ian Strachan
The Bahamas braces itself for the eighth election in its 39-year history. It promises to be just as close as its last, in which less than 4,000 votes separated the two major parties. So far it has been testy. Familiarity breeds contempt, and the two major combatants in this struggle, the Free National Movement’s Hubert Ingraham and the Progressive Liberal Party’s Perry Christie, know each other very well; too well. Ingraham and Christie are former law partners, godparents of each other’s children and former cabinet mates under the late Sir Lynden Pindling.
Both men found themselves cast out of the PLP prior to the 1987 general election and ran as independents in that election because they had called for Pindling’s resignation in the wake of allegations of corruption.
Christie returned to the PLP while Ingraham joined and led the FNM, ending Pindling’s 25-year reign in 1992. Christie eventually succeeded Pindling and led the PLP to victory in 2002, only to be bounced in 2007 by a rejuvenated FNM. These two square off probably for the last time on May 7.
There is a sense that the country is undergoing a historic election, and indeed, at every turn “history” is being evoked. Each leader has accused the other of being the worst Prime Minister in history. And both men have claimed the title of “heir” to the legacy of Pindling.
During a mass rally on April 26, Ingraham played a portion of Pindling’s farewell speech in Parliament, during which he called the FNM leader “his most illustrious protégé to date.” And Christie, of course, could not possibly have succeeded Pindling without Pindling’s blessing. He has invited Pindling’s wife, Dame Marguerite, to the campaign platform in each of the last three elections to summon or conjure up the “spirit” of the father of the nation.
All of this is quite ironic when we consider that both Christie and Ingraham called for Pindling to step down after the 1984 Commission of Inquiry into links between the government and drug traffickers.
The FNM is running on their record. They claim they maintained a steady course for the ship of state during the roughest economic storm in a generation. They point to a number of projects that they completed which were left incomplete or never even started under Christie. They are hanging their hopes on the slogan “Proven Leadership” and are displaying larger-than-life images of Ingraham all over the capital. The FNM argue that they “Deliver;” whether it is a new national stadium, a redesigned national airport, a deepened harbor, or improved roads and water supply.
The mantra brings with it a fair share of risk of course, since their opponents are now telling the populace they also delivered record murder rates in 4 of the last 5 years, high unemployment, higher taxes, unsustainable debt, and a road improvement budget that is $100 million over budget (and climbing).
The PLP, it would seem, have the easier row to hoe. There seems to be no stopping the crime wave and no stopping the suffering of thousands who are unemployed, who can no longer afford electricity, whose homes are up for sale and who are the victims of armed robberies, house breakings and assaults.
Despite increased social welfare efforts on the part of the FNM, the anger and frustration in the country are palpable. The question is, could the PLP really have done any better, or are we talking about forces too great for any government to offset in the short term.
What resonates most with the public, may not even be the issue of crime, or unemployment or tax increases; what may resonate most is the matter of “believing in Bahamians,” which is the PLP slogan this time around.
Bahamians feel increasingly marginalized and locked out of the greatest benefits of their own economy due to globalization and due to the choices of successive governments where land, development and privatization are concerned. But again, a deeper analysis of the voting record of the PLP while in opposition and of Christie’s policy choices while in power between 2002 and 2007, makes it clear to any objective observer that he and his PLP colleagues are not quite as nationalistic as they profess to be.
The biggest and most recent example would the PLP’s decision to vote in support of the importation of 8,000 Chinese laborers to construct the Baha Mar resorts, courtesy of a Chinese Export-Import Bank loan. Christie’s PLP is not the PLP of Pindling, whose default position was to lease rather than sell.
Into this stew comes the Democratic National Alliance led by former FNM cabinet member, Branville McCartney. McCartney and the DNA promise to bring “real change for one Bahamas.”
McCartney, who was wildly popular during this his first term as an MP, decided he would not wait in line for a chance to take Ingraham’s place in 2017 but instead has opted to challenge for the whole kit and caboodle this time around. He has fielded a full slate of candidates (38) and is working tirelessly to change the course of history.
The DNA’s position is that Christie and Ingraham are far more alike than different and that if the nation wants renewal, wants a new direction, the DNA can make it happen now. His party’s problem is they have only been in existence for roughly a year and they are up against two well-oiled machines with 100 years of experience between them. It is a steep climb, to put it mildly. They have neither the talent nor the money to be a viable challenger but they will gain votes; perhaps as much as 20% of the popular vote. The big question is, who this will hurt more: the FNM or the PLP.
I believe swing voters aren’t sold on Christie and will vote DNA. That makes this a battle of the base and whichever party is able to get their people mobilized best and carry even a modest percentage of the swing vote will prevail. If the FNM wins, it will spell the end of Christie and it will prove that the PLP still prefers to lose than to bring shame to their leader (typical personality-cult politics). If the PLP wins the battle for the future of the FNM will be a bloody affair (figuratively speaking). FNMs care most about winning, but those who score high in terms of pedigree and pecking order (men in their 50s) will have to wage war against the “Johnny come latelies”; men who can achieve mass appeal but don’t have the battle scars or stripes (men in their 40s). Who will prevail is anyone’s guess.
Ian Strachan is Associate Professor of English at the College of the Bahamas.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.