|Election 2012 part 3: The gold rush|
Published: Jun 18, 2012
Why did the Progressive Liberal Party win the 2012 election? It’s simple. They gave the Bahamian people hope. That’s right, “Hope.” Don’t insult Perry Christie, Brave Davis, BJ Nottage and all the PLPs who worked hard, very hard, by suggesting that a band of young upstarts called the DNA robbed the FNM of victory. I don’t buy it. If there were no DNA the PLP would still have won this election, albeit with a smaller number of seats.
Why? Because 15% percent unemployment, four record murder rates in five years, 6,000 households living in darkness, 8,000 households making less than $5,000 a year in annual income, $6 per gallon of gas, and higher taxes spell regime change, plain and simple. To say nothing of the ridiculously frustrating three years that two thirds of the population has spent driving through dust and being re-routed and delayed by road work. The FNM ought to have lost under these circumstances and the PLP, who have always had a larger and more loyal base of support, ought to have won. All they had to do to win was offer the people hope. “Help and Hope” are their mantra. And hope came in the form of sleek, evocative images, bold promises and imaginative plans.
In this paper, on September 12, 2011, in an article entitled “Christie’s Keys to Success, Part 2” I wrote, “Given that some of the sitting MPs in the PLP are a liability in terms of swing voters, it may seem ironic but I think Christie should try to move the discussion away from the head to head comparisons with Ingraham and focus on the PLP’s team instead. If he can’t dump the undesirables, his best bet is to hide them, the way Ingraham hid Symonette during the 2007 campaign. The FNM know he can win his seat, but they also know he hurts you on the national campaign trail. The PLP should also not be afraid to let new team members do a lot of the talking during this campaign, to avoid the Christie-fatigue voters are feeling.”
“In the end, the PLP has to guarantee their base support and work hard to lure some of the swing vote their way. They can do this most effectively by leaning heavily on the NDP’s “Bahamians first” messaging, which struck a chord with the nation. They must also give their new faces heavy play at the rallies.”
The party’s strategy wasn’t far from this. It’s only real blunder was allowing Leslie Miller to get into a low-blow grudge match with Tommy Turnquest. But other than that the PLP sold its fresh faces and de-emphasized the Ingraham vs. Christie dynamic. The commercial that shows Christie and Davis chatting with Kendal Major, Andre Rollins, Khaalis Rolle, Gregory Moss, Renward Wells and others, presumably about the challenges we face, is a prime example. Older, baggage-heavy PLP candidates were nowhere to be found. The party was selling youth and by doing so, selling the notion that with youth comes new ideas, innovation.
The PLP put ordinary people on their billboards, not their leader as the FNM did. And those intimate, engaging photographs challenged viewers to imagine a country where Bahamians truly could feel like the chief beneficiaries of their economy. “Believe in Bahamians,” “Invest in Me.”
And with 20,000 more registered female voters than male, the PLP’s billboard campaign seemed specifically tailored to fill the hearts of single
mothers struggling to make ends meet. Larger than life, glossy, saccharin images of children dressed in the garb of various professions with the words “Invest in Me” emblazoned across were highly evocative and caused the FNM to scramble and produce their own images of ordinary people on billboards, praising the FNM. But it was too little too late. Many FNMs were not feeling like praising the FNM, so imagine everybody else.
Promises and plans
The PLP’s Charter for Governance is arguably the most ambitious and comprehensive document of its kind ever produced. It is certainly the most arresting from an optical standpoint. Many of the campaign promises uttered at rallies and headquarters openings are to be found within its pages. A brief rundown of some of them:
• Mortgage relief.
• Lowering the cost of electricity.
• Urban Renewal 2.0.
• Project Safe Bahamas.
• A referendum on gambling.
• The establishment of a Council of Economic Advisers.
• A review of our tax system.
• The establishment of a task force on Grand Bahama tourism.
• Doubling the nation’s investment in education and training.
• The establishment of a Ministry of Grand Bahama.
• The re-establishment of a Ministry of Financial Services.
• The introduction of an Employees Pension Protection Act.
• A 120 day moratorium on foreclosures.
• Introduction of liquefied natural gas.
• Buying back majority ownership of BTC.
• Reinventing the Bahamas Development Bank.
And in a simple and direct manner, they addressed accusations of Christie’s procrastination. They promised they would be “Ready on Day One” and they promised a number of actions that the nation could expect within “the first 100 days.” It all worked.
In winning, the PLP have inherited a stagnant economy, an empty treasury, an infuriatingly stubborn road improvement project and a brutal crime wave. The state of the Bahamian economy and the society itself is much worse than it was in May 2002 when they inherited a post 9/11 Bahamas. The situation is bleak but the expectations of those who voted PLP are extremely high. This could be a recipe for trouble if the PLP does not communicate effectively with the people every step of the way.
Leadership is still an issue. Brave Davis outshined Perry Christie on the campaign trail and he carries himself like a man who fully expects to be Prime Minister in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, there are already signs that Perry Christie may still not have the appetite to run a disciplined ship. The peculiar utterances of Keith Bell would not have been fathomed in an Ingraham government, for instance.
Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that Christie’s style can be a tremendous benefit to the Bahamian people. I’ll say it again: tremendous benefit. Christie allows his ministers to shine; he gives them the closest thing to autonomy I’ve ever seen in our politics. And he is not threatened by his equals; rather, he empowers them. Thanks to this, we can be assured that Fitzgerald in Education, Johnson in Youth, Mitchell in Foreign Affairs, Davis is Works, Maynard-Gibson in the Attorney General’s Office, Wilchcombe in Tourism and Nottage in National Security will have great latitude. I am especially optimistic about the collaboration between Fitzgerald and Sears where The College of The Bahamas is concerned. Unfortunately the government will have serious financial constraints over the next two years.
Another interesting thing is happening in the PLP and that is immovable MPs. Men and women who have built such a base of support that they really and truly don’t need the leader to bless them with a nomination. They are scandal proof, recession proof and Christie proof. Mitchell, Wilchcombe, Gibson, Gray, Hanna-Martin, Nottage, Davis: these candidates can practically die in office. In one very crucial way, this bodes well for our democracy. I believe we need to get to the place where MPs are no longer beholden to the leader and can vote their conscience. We’re not there quite yet, but the strength of these MPs should give us comfort that the PLP is no band of blind followers, serving a one-eyed king. Christie is neither a dictator nor a micro-manager and as such he is a breath of fresh air in the office of prime minister.