Taking our country back
PHILIP C. GALANIS
Published: Aug 12, 2013
In the annals of contemporary Bahamian political history, this past week will perhaps be recorded as the start of the campaign for the general elections of 2017. In a very real sense, the American bug of the perpetual campaign has infected our local politics, although the jury is still out as to whether or not that is a positive development. If the American strain of this infectious perpetual campaign is any indication, it cannot be. But we are not be surprised at our propensity to adopt – hook, line and sinker – things that have become commonplace for our northern neighbors. This week, we would like to Consider This... what did the leader of the FNM really mean when he proclaimed that “we are going to take our country back?"
Following Dr. Hubert Minnis’ charges against the prime minister during the stem cell debate and allegations about Perry Christie’s “cozy” relationship with Peter Nygard, the speaker of the House of Assembly instructed Minnis to either corroborate his accusations or withdraw his remarks. Minnis refused to do either and, after the speaker’s repeated admonitions to the leader of the opposition and latter’s intransigence to do so, Minnis was expelled from Parliament for two consecutive sittings.
After hearing the speaker’s decision, Minnis refused to leave the chamber, so the speaker suspended the House and instructed the police to remove the opposition leader during the brief break. Some opposition members who were obstructing the police from carrying out the speaker’s directive had to be physically removed. Following vociferous exchanges of words, belligerent behavior by opposition members and the deputy leader of the opposition’s abortive attempt to physically park herself between her leader and the police, the official opposition walked out of the chamber, holding a press conference outside Parliament during which the FNM leader maintained that his refusal to withdraw his claims was motivated by his duty to defend our democracy. With the exception of Edison Key, the FNM member for Central and South Abaco, his colleagues declared that they would not return to Parliament until their leader did.
The opposition’s behavior was a blatant demonstration of disregard for the authority of the chair. How can they, our lawmakers, expect the average citizen to observe the laws of the land when MPs so easily ignore the laws that govern the House proceedings? Is it any wonder that crime in our society is so rampant? If the lawmakers ignore the rules, how can the average citizen be expected to be law-abiding? Those opposition members who thwarted the speaker’s directives conducted themselves in a manner that was unbecoming of legislators and unbecoming of those who are expected to set the bar for civilized behavior in our nation.
The speaker’s decision and its consequences
Arguably, the speaker’s expulsion of the opposition leader from Parliament will have unintended consequences. Just because one has the power to expel does not mean that one has to exercise that authority. The opposition leader’s expulsion has re-invigorated what has thus far been a lackluster and politically ineffective opposition that, in spite of its new leader’s inaugural promises to the contrary, seems to have adopted a policy of opposing just for the sake of doing so.
Taking our country back
A political rally was held on Wednesday night at FNM Headquarters on Mackey Street to demonstrate the support of the party faithful in light of the day’s parliamentary developments. At that rally, those who heard his speech observed that one of the most surprising comments of the official leader of the opposition was that “we are going to take our country back”. What did he mean by that? Did he mean that the FNM was going to ignore the will of the people who elected the PLP in 2012? Was it a promise to take us backward? Or was he suggesting that we had lost our country and they needed to reclaim it? If that was the meaning, then to whom have we lost it?
In the absence of an explanation of his comments, which was not offered during the televised broadcast, it is very difficult to understand what he was saying or what he meant. It was left to the imagination of those in earshot of his utterances. The opposition leader has to understand that his words have meaning and that the full significance of his references to “taking our country back” was lost on those who heard him.
Politics is an art to be mastered. It requires a vision, the acumen to articulate it and the ability to persuade citizens to buy into that vision because of its appeal to their most basic needs, hopes and aspirations. The actions by the official opposition this week suggest that it has not mastered that art and has neither formulated nor articulated a vision that is marketable to the majority of Bahamians.
The opposition leader also has to explain to those whom he would wish to lead why he has flipped-flopped on his position on stem cell research and treatment in The Bahamas. It is duplicitous of him to oppose a regulatory regime that the government is now seeking to implement, when his government did not proffer any regulations for the stem cell operations that the Cabinet in which he served as minister of health approved while in office. It is equally disingenuous for him to suggest that stem cell legislation is being promoted by the government for a single, interested party if that party will be subjected to the same regulatory scrutiny as all participants engaged in this activity.
The FNM decision to sit out
That all but one of the opposition’s members decided to relinquish their responsibility to their constituents to attend the proceedings in Parliament during their leader’s expulsion is equally disquieting. It would be interesting to ascertain their constituents’ sentiments on this matter. If the intention of the opposition leader is to defend democracy as he has stated, should he not insist that his members attend every session of Parliament to ensure that the opposition’s views are on the House record for debates that will inevitably ensue during their leader’s absence from the House? As Hubert Ingraham was fond of saying: “The opposition will have their say, but we (the government) will have our way.” If they are absent from the debates, the opposition will not even have their say; their voices and the voices of those who elected them to Parliament – as well as those in their constituencies who may not have voted for them but who must depend on them for representation – will be quieted. These actions are not a defense of our democracy; they are an assault on and an abdication of it.
As he continues his misguided and confusing rant about taking our country back or backward, it is also crystal clear that Minnis has as many detractors within his own party as he does on the outside.
He should walk the political treadmill thoughtfully, ever mindful that there are many operatives working from inside his own organization in eager anticipation that he will stumble. Some of the wannabee leaders walk with him every day, adeptly advising him where to position his footsteps to best serve their goals, not his and not the people’s.
Equally, he should never lose sight of the fact that there are others waiting in the wings, planning, plotting and skillfully scheming to pave the way for Ingraham to once again be drafted by the FNM. But more about that in a future article.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.