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Political retirement with dignity

Published: Sep 19, 2013

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The Bahamas is a new independent democracy. Having already celebrated 40 years going it alone, our traditions, though rooted in the British system, are still evolving.

One tradition that has not really developed yet is what to do with our leaders when they retire from frontline politics.

We have only had one prime minister permanently retire thus far. Sir Lynden Pindling bowed out in 1997 after his Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) suffered an overwhelming defeat to Hubert Ingraham and the Free National Movement (FNM). This was the second consecutive time Ingraham beat Sir Lynden in a general election.

Sir Lynden, however, was suffering from terminal cancer during that last campaign in 1997. He died a few years later on August 26, 2000. So in the case of the only prime minister of an independent Bahamas to retire, there was no real retirement, as he was in a battle for his life when he went away, a battle he sadly did not win.

Ingraham has retried but as long as he is alive there will be rumors of his return. Perry Christie’s career is nearing the end. Both entered the House of Assembly in 1977. The former law partners each won seats in each general election since. Christie also served a term as a senator before becoming a member of Parliament.

Former leaders should not be discarded. The United States has a beautiful bi-partisan tradition. When the new president is elected and an issue of national importance arises, former presidents are called into service.

Former Democratic president Jimmy Carter has embarked upon many missions, under Democratic and Republican presidents, to free Americans held by hostile regimes.

President George W. Bush called upon his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush Sr. and Clinton raised money for the recovery cause.

After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, President Barack Obama called on Clinton and Bush Jr., the president he succeeded, to lead fundraising efforts.

This tradition in the United States demonstrates great political maturity. It also is smart. Former leaders have great connections, capacity and lots of unused energy once retired.

Here in The Bahamas there are many initiatives a former prime minister could lead. Education reform, the Haitian migration issue, tax reform, reform of the criminal justice system and healthcare reform are just a few of the areas a retired leader could focus on, developing a plan for the country to address the particular issue under study.

For this to happen, however, that former politician would have to learn to be apolitical. The prime minister who asks the former prime minister to lead a national initiative would also have to be mature enough to set aside whatever hostilities he might have had with that politician when he was still active.

We should not relegate our retired politicians to the rubbish heap. They still have much to contribute after they officially retire.

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