A woman as prime minister?
Guardian Associate Editor
Published: Aug 12, 2013
Last Wednesday’s events in the House of Assembly captured the nation’s attention. The leader of the opposition, Dr. Hubert Minnis, was forcefully ordered out of the House. He was also suspended for two sittings for defying the order of the speaker.
In putting together the story for the next day’s paper, as a newspaperman, I worked my way through the pictures we had looking for the one that best encapsulated the events of the day. One photo quickly stood out. It is the picture in the center of this piece. It is a picture of Minnis being protected by his deputy, Loretta Butler-Turner.
Watching the footage of the incident in the House that day, before Free National Movement (FNM) members of Parliament left the chamber, reveals why Butler-Turner has risen in profile significantly since the last general election: She seems like a fighter who is willing to defend FNMs.
Police quickly stormed in after the order was given for Minnis to leave or be removed. Several FNM MPs tried to block the way to the leader, but it appeared to be her insistence that diffused the situation. She warned police not to touch her leader or any opposition member.
“Don’t put your hand on me or him. We will leave,” she said. “You all move. Don’t put your hand on any of us.”
When Butler-Turner says don’t touch her, we all listen now. Dr. Andre Rollins didn’t in June. She slapped him in the House. The woman comes across as serious.
Getting a chance
In the last Parliament, when the FNM was in power, Butler-Turner had little presence. She gave her contributions, sat and melded into the background.
When the FNM lost the May 2012 general election the party won so few seats that the successful candidates had a chance to shine.
Minnis was elected party leader and leader of the opposition. He then seemed the obvious choice to head the party based on who else won seats. But soon after his victory the complaints started. They said he was not charismatic enough. They said he did not have the instincts for the job. His comments after the North Abaco by-election, declaring the Ingraham era “over”, did not help. He angered the one man who led the FNM to electoral successes.
While the opposition leader stumbled, his deputy shined in the House. She speaks well. She defends her party. She comes prepared. She attacks the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and does so with a hint of ruthlessness.
These elements she has shown in the House are public appeal characteristics Minnis does have, his critics argue.
The juxtaposition of the FNM leader and deputy in this term in opposition has led many to wonder if she would be a better person than Minnis to lead the opposition into the general election.
The need for a contest
A leader has no right to the positions he holds. He must fight to attain the top job; he must fight to keep it.
The FNM has two realistic choices for leader in the run-up to the next general election: Minnis and Butler-Turner. Hubert Ingraham is retired. He has given his best and should be allowed his rest. The FNM has tried having a leader outside of the House before. Tommy Turnquest was the most recent example of that experiment and it failed. He failed. Commonsense necessitates a choice between this leader and this deputy.
A simple leadership race would answer the question as to who has the support of the men and women of the opposition. If Butler-Turner defeats Minnis – and it would be a shock if she doesn’t challenge him – she would be the first woman to be leader of the opposition in an independent Bahamas. This would focus the national spotlight on her and the FNM. It would also allow the FNM a reset as an opposition party.
Thus far, in opposition, the FNM looks divided and without a spark. A divided FNM will not defeat a united PLP at the polls next time. The PLP has learned a valuable lesson in recent years – that is, despite internal divisions unite at fighting times against the enemy, the FNM.
There are many in the governing party who have all kinds of hostilities towards Perry Christie. Despite this, all accept that Christie is the party’s leader and he will leave politics when he wants to.
If Butler-Turner replaces Minnis, her greatest task would be uniting the various factions of her party in order to harness their various talents and resources against the enemy, the PLP.
Are we ready for a woman as PM?
We are. The Bahamas has problems. We have a high crime rate and low educational achievement. Many people can’t find work. Our people want to move beyond these lingering problems. We want leaders who can help us be a better Bahamas. I do not think gender would be a burden to any woman candidate seeking the post of PM.
If ‘marketed’ well, being a woman could
be a plus. We often get excited when the ‘first time’ rolls around in politics. Barack Obama was an example of that in 2008. The former slave republic was then considering a half-black man to be president. That compelling narrative drew the young and educated to the mixed-race candidate and he won by a large margin.
Female swing voters could see in a Butler-Turner candidacy their aspirations being fulfilled. A woman in the highest elected office in the land means they too can be what they want to be even more so than now.
The FNM should not feel discouraged. The PLP lost to a historic majority in 1997 and won the next general election by a landslide margin. The FNM was then able to come back in 2007, five years later, and win it right back from the PLP.
The mood of the Bahamian people now changes quickly. If the opposition is able to unite around a person with public appeal it will be in contention next time. And if that person is a woman, she has a good chance at making history.