|Election 2012 part 1: Dead serious|
Published: Jun 04, 2012
On September 5, I wrote an article in the nassau guardian entitled “Christie’s keys to success part 1.” In that piece I made the following assertions:
“Logic would seem to dictate that in this long season of discontent, in this season of record unemployment, in this season of record bloodshed, in this interminable season of frustrating, confusing, infuriating ‘road work’, in this season of collapse for many homegrown businesses, in this time of rising fuel and food prices, logic would seem to dictate that the Progressive Liberal Party, under Perry Gladstone Christie, will be swept into office and the Free National Movement, will be emphatically swept out.
“Logic would seem to dictate that the FNM will be hard pressed to secure seats in New Providence other than those held by Brent Symonette, Dr. Hubert Minnis and Loretta Butler-Turner.”
My only mistake was that it would be Richard Lightbourne not Brent Symonette and Hubert Chipman not Loretta Butler-Turner carrying the banner for the FNM in Montagu and St. Anne’s. The only doubts I expressed on September 5 about the PLP were, I thought, significant ones. They had to do with Christie’s credibility and the credibility of some of his senior mates, and with whether the PLP could craft the right message. Clearly my doubts were unwarranted.
The PLP gained 75,000 votes, 29 seats and 48 percent of the total votes cast, compared to the FNM’s 65,000 votes, nine seats and 42 percent.
What have we learned from this election? What have we learned about our democracy? About our electoral processes and about our electorate? Are we showing greater maturity and greater integrity? Or is it business as usual in the land of ham?
Out and stay out
The first thing that strikes me is that the Bahamian electorate is now solidly, unabashedly, triumphantly addicted to regime change. Think about it. I consider Hubert Ingraham’s first two terms as one block. I think it’s fair too, since in both elections the people had to say no to Lynden Pindling getting a seventh term. In ‘97, the FNM defeated Pindling’s PLP by nearly 20,000 votes and won 35 of 40 seats. This was the PLP’s worst election result since 1956 when they gained only six. It was-an emphatic “out and stay out” message.
So we have voted to keep the powerful out of office five straight times. In 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2012.
If I were a betting man, I’d have to say the FNM are already favored to win in 2017.
The people clearly believe that they give themselves the best chance at a better life if they keep firing people. And that’s the other thing: these elections feel more about who Bahamians want out than who they want in.
I don’t think the PLP’s campaign was especially good, but people were angry and frustrated with the FNM. I know many people who admit they think Ingraham is a better leader than Christie, but they just don’t feel like they got a fair shake under the FNM administration and they voted PLP in the hope of changing their luck.
In 2007, the FNM had no overarching vision for the country; their pitch was, “Ingraham is better than Christie,” period. Both elections were about getting people out.
To those at the bottom of the barrel looking up at the proud and powerful, election day is a dream come true because they get to change the actors on the stage – even if they can’t change the plot.
Wipe every tear from their eyes
The second crucial point is that the Progressive Liberal Party has a far larger and more loyal base of support than the Free National Movement and probably always will, for reasons that have everything to do with history, class and color.
Consider this: since universal suffrage (post 1961), the PLP has contested 12 elections, losing only four times. In one of those losses, (1962) they won the popular vote but were robbed of the government by UBP gerrymandering, so they really only lost three times. In all three of those they lost to Ingraham’s FNM (Ingraham who was a former chairman of the PLP and Pindling Cabinet minister). Only in one of those three losses did the PLP fall below double digits in terms of house seats and that was the 1997 election.
The PLP have the powerful, lasting advantage of being the party of the social revolution and of national formation: people are born into the PLP families therefore, at a faster rate than the younger FNM (almost 20 years younger in fact). People don’t so much swing PLP as “return” to the PLP. In fact, in the ‘68, ‘72, ‘77, ‘82 and ‘87 elections the PLP never got less than 50 percent of the vote. Even in the ‘97 FNM “landslide” they gained 42 percent of the popular vote.
Additionally, the marriage between the Free PLP and UBP will always haunt the FNM. FNM’s see themselves as the more inclusive party in terms of class and race and anyone who attends their rallies can see this. But they are easily labeled the party of white money. Without transparency in electoral campaigning, that stigma will never go away.
If FNMs are not happy with their party or are even ambivalent about their government’s performance, they seem more likely to boycott or vote PLP. I know of many young voters who voted FNM in 2007 who simply didn’t go to the polls this time because they were disappointed in the FNM and were unimpressed with everybody else. Some of them voted DNA yes, but a lot of went D-N-A (Did Not Act).
Few PLPs switch. And PLP MPs are also scandal proof (1987 should have taught us that). Their supporters remain loyal to them regardless of rumors, accusations, speculation, hearsay and innuendoes: just consider the resilience of Shane Gibson, Obie Wilchcombe, Kenyatta Gibson, Vincent Peet, Picewell Forbes and V. Alfred Gray in 2007 and of the same (minus Kenyatta and Peet) in 2012. Even when these candidates seemed to turn off swing voters, their support remained rock solid in their constituencies. Some PLPs considered Leslie Miller a liability but the man won his seat by 900 votes.
In New Providence, the FNM have only three truly safe seats and all those seats are mostly high income and mixed race. Historically Bamboo Town was FNM but since Tennyson Wells and Branville McCartney’s defection, Bamboo Town (like Marathon, Golden Isles, Mt. Moriah, Pinewood and Carmichael) is now a swing seat.
The long and short of it is this: the FNM will always be playing catch up in general elections; the key to their success was the fact that Ingraham was as working class as you could get in terms of his style and sensibilities; and he has always won by painting the PLP as corrupt. The Bahamas has never had a Prime Minister who, as a member of parliament, did not represent a marginalized community (think about it). The FNM will always need a cross over leader, a man or woman who can count on middle class support but can also gain the trust of those at the bottom by convincing them that he/she will look out for them when no one else in this big, bad world will and the storied PLP has again strayed from its illustrious history and mission. It’s always been a tough sell because Bahamians generally view all politicians as corrupt, so it’s a non-issue for most voters. Most voters want to know what’s in it for them not what their candidates are into.
Foolishness as usual
This election was in most respects nothing new. It was politics as usual. Which means it was politics dumbed down. There were no debates between candidates. In fact, Ingraham dismissed such a thing as “foolishness”.
Instead we were treated to the politics of the mob, of the night time fair. Festival politics. A color contest. Door to door harassment. “Do you need anything” campaigning. And the usual pimping and prostitution.
The FNM offered us an election budget as per usual, replete with elegantly disguised and timed bribes (cash advances to buy shares for instance). And the PLP promised us that just because they could say the word “jobs” they’d actually be able to create them and that just by saying there were “too many murders” they actually would or could do anything about them.
Tina Turner didn’t show and neither did R. Kelly. Pindling did not appear via hologram, but Lady Pindling appeared in the flesh. And she was really, really mad at Hubert (again, nothing new).
And most of all; most of all; we still have absolutely no idea how much money was spent, whose money it was, or what they got or are going to get in exchange for bankrolling this race to control to the purse.
Next week, a closer look at the FNM.