Politics is about contrasts and comparisons. Despite the sorry state of the governing party and the disastrous leadership of Perry Christie, the PLP’s secret weapon to keep the Opposition off balance, and to likely win re-election is Dr. Hubert Minnis. The context speaks volumes.
We are at a particular historic moment. This is our 40th year of independence. The next general election is due by 2017, the half century mark of majority rule.
An ongoing challenge amidst our successes, partial and fulsome, and failures, is to identify and cultivate the quality of leadership in all areas of national life that will help to bolster our success while mitigating and overcoming our failures.
In large measure, today’s crisis of leadership within the major parties is that neither Prime Minister Christie nor Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis possess the vision and imagination or the capacity and complex of skills required to lead the country in meeting considerable challenges and leveraging notable opportunities.
“Behold” also extends our longstanding brand as a country of exquisite natural beauty and hospitality. Such is the fare of which tourists’ dreams are made, and which has contributed to the making of many Bahamian dreams.
Yet, there is a greater dream and a more compelling rebranding required: Our image of and vision for ourselves. We know well how we want tourists to view us.
But how do we wish to see ourselves and have the world view us positively in areas like educational attainment, human rights, cultural expression and other measures of human development?
The question in another form: What is our Bahamian brand? Branding is a broader concept beyond the world of business. Thinking through our Bahamian brand involves more than economic considerations.
Articulating our national brand must be within the context of the ongoing structural adjustments in the global and national economy and the horizon of our Golden Jubilee of independence in 2023. This is the purview within which our political leaders must set their proximate and longer-term aspirations for the country.
Future prime ministers need possess the wherewithal to marshal the politics, persona, policy considerations and public communications necessary to articulate and advance critical national goals, marrying a compelling vision with core values.
Consequently, this is a big moment for the country. It is a defining moment for a new era of progressive politics and policy, especially in light of the significant anniversaries of independence this year and in 2023, and of majority rule in 2017.
Glaringly, neither Christie nor Minnis are up to the challenge or fit the moment as evidenced by various events including the disastrous performance of both relative of the recent gambling referendum poll.
Seemingly, Christie is a spent force and quasi caretaker head of government who may muddle through until pensionable as prime minister in approximately two and a half years, unless the law is changed to make him eligible sooner. If he departs before the end of his term, there will be a scramble for a new party leader who will then become prime minister in the lead-up to the next election.
The referendum similarly showcased Dr. Minnis’ inept and incoherent leadership in terms of his persistent weaknesses in the areas of policy formulation and articulation, political thinking and public communication.
Even before the government formulated the referendum questions, he “indicated that he would vote in favour of legalization of the numbers industry”, and stated, “I have nothing against individuals gambling in terms of lottery, buying numbers etc.” He was like an inexperienced poker player showing his opponents his hand at the outset of the game.
Then he indicated that the FNM would not tell Bahamians how to vote, thereafter followed by the party doing exactly that. Throughout the referendum debate, Minnis seemed more like a bull in a china shop than a steady hand. His dizzying zigzagging meant that he consistently wasted opportunities to take greater advantage of the Christie administration’s flip-flopping.
And this is precisely the FNM’s sad predicament and conundrum under Minnis: An inability to seize at least four major opportunities because of his critical and glaring leadership deficits.
The opportunities include the historic moment alluded to, as well as the PLP’s referendum disaster. Another opportunity, internal to the FNM, is to marry the dreams and philosophy of the party’s founders with the legacy and record of three terms of successful governance during the Ingraham years.
The fourth opportunity is also a duty: To perform effectively and aggressively the constitutional role of Leader of the Opposition. Chance and opportunity favour the prepared mind and capable leadership.
Because Minnis does not possess the quality of political mind and the requisite leadership capabilities, the FNM will continue to flub and miss numerous chances and opportunities.
These four opportunities and others are directed towards the grand prize for a political party -- the opportunity to govern. For a party to gain the electoral confidence of voters its leader must be viewed as a potential prime minister.
While some may wish for him to become prime minister, it appears that a majority of voters do not view Minnis as capable serving as head of government.
Being an effective communicator is critical to serving as both prime minister and as opposition leader. Frankly, Minnis has been a disaster as a communicator and as the articulator of a national vision and the party’s philosophy.
Such articulation involves more than the quality of one’s presentational and language skills, though neither are Minnis’ forte. As important is one’s ability to think cogently and coherently as well as the substance of one’s communications.
Minnis has failed these basic tests, with many cringing when he is set to speak publicly on behalf of the party. It is never good for a party when significant and numerous opinion-makers and many in the media consider the leader of a party to be unelectable as so many have of Dr. Minnis.
One of the critical arenas for an opposition leader is the House of Assembly. Unfortunately, the public and most FNMs seem underwhelmed and consistently unimpressed by Minnis’ weak performances in the House.
In response, he appears to have opted for leadership by press releases and press conferences, which he better stage-manages than House debates, during which his performance is glaringly not that of a potential prime minister.
The FNM has several opportunities to regain the trust and support of voters, and not just for the next election. There is also the opportunity, amidst the current and longstanding failures of the PLP, to inspire a new generation of voters.
But it will require a certain quality of leadership that Dr. Hubert Minnis simply does not possess. It appears that an incompetent Christie is seen by more Bahamians as a prime minister than the Leader of the FNM.
In the end, it is not about Minnis and those in the party burying their heads in the sand about what is required to renew and rebrand a great party that has an obligation and the opportunity to help the country to seize the future.
If the party fails to elect a more capable leader, it will yet again march with its eyes wide shut into political suicide as it did before in earlier times.