The country is desperately hungry for serious and competent political leadership, especially in light of the bumbling leadership of Prime Minister Perry Christie.
There is considerable and mounting anger, and severe disappointment with the PLP, not yet halfway through its term.
Unemployment is higher than during the recent Great Recession and near levels reminiscent of the early 1970s, with the country experiencing some economic fallout as a result of independence combined with the dire effects of a global oil shock.
The PLP’s 2012 general election message was essentially, “We feel your pain and we’re going to respond promptly to relieve your woes.”
There was the promise of a First 100 Days plan, 10,000 jobs in the first year, a mortgage relief plan, National Health Insurance, a doubling of the national investment in education, Urban Renewal 2.0 and other crime-fighting measures, et al.
Christie, the great empathizer, who promised to be a bridge to the future, has governed and acted as a throwback to the past. He has talked plenty, but delivered precious little.
With the economy settling into what some describe as the “new normal”, i.e. the economy remaining relatively the same for the foreseeable future, the prime minister often seems as if his head is in the clouds.
Amidst high unemployment, the high cost of living and stagnant wages, he waxed about the wonderful new world he sees on the horizon and advises that the economy has turned the corner.
Christie’s hyperbole and penchant for magical thinking are catching up with him and his party. Neither will be able much longer to fool enough of the people for the rest of the time they are in office.
The PLP won the election because of two Catch 22s, which may help to be their undoing. The PLP overpromised in order to win. Now in office, they are unable to deliver central promises made to woo voters. Voters tend to severely punish dashed expectations.
The other Catch 22 is the Christie redux. For some time the PLP has felt that it needed Perry Christie to win a general election. Yet the conundrum is that the man who can help it to win at the polls is hopeless when it comes to governance.
Just about 19 months into its term, the PLP is beset by certain internal divisions and the odor of brewing scandals. It is faltering badly, with a loquacious prime minister whose rhetoric careens from the sublimely ridiculous to the laughable to the self-adulatory.
This would seem like prime territory for an official opposition. It is. But, given the current state of affairs the PLP is losing support, but the FNM is not gaining appreciable support because the official opposition lacks the necessary leadership.
This is not just bad news for the party. It is bad news and a sad state of affairs for the country.
The adage, “Pray for good enemies”, captures the advantage one may enjoy by having an opponent who makes you look good because of some characteristic or deficit within that opponent.
Former US President Bill Clinton famously found that opponent in former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose policy extremes and egomania were such that Americans were more supportive of the sometimes roguish Clinton’s more moderate tone and agenda.
Many who saw the front page photo of Christie and Dr. Minnis sharing a meal, with the latter laughing, could not help but feel that Christie is overjoyed that he enjoys the good fortune of Dr. Minnis as his opponent.
For all of Christie’s incompetence and blah, blah, blah rhetoric, many, perhaps a majority of Bahamians see him as more of a leader and a prime minister than Dr. Minnis. This is crushingly bad news for the latter. It is even worse news for the FNM.
The FNM is a party of considerable strengths. It has a stellar record of accomplishments, helping to reform and modernize the country. The party maintains a strong base throughout the country, ready to be inspired and rejuvenated.
A part of that inspiration and rejuvenation is the ongoing necessity for the party to remind its base and others of its record, its history, its founding principles and its vision for the country.
Today’s PLP pales in comparison to the FNM’s legacy of accountable and transparent governance and commitment to the expansion of democratic freedoms from the freeing of the broadcast media to women’s rights.
There is considerable talent like Deputy Chairman Dr. Duane Sands, Long Island MP Loretta Butler Turner, North Eleuthera MP Theo Neily and Senator Heather Hunt along with seasoned veterans including a number of former cabinet ministers.
The party has at its disposal a unique political mentor in the person of Hubert Ingraham, and enjoys a cadre of advisers with policy, political and other skills.
In addition to its legacy and talent, the FNM has the predicate and the opportunity to serve as a formidable opposition and to return the country to considerably better governance than is being offered by Christie and the PLP.
But what the FNM lacks is the leadership necessary to revive the party and to serve as a more effective government-in-waiting.
The predicate for the Opposition is two-fold. Firstly, the disaster that is the Christie administration, and secondly a message of realistic hope given the new normal in which we are living.
But a predicate turned message requires a messenger and a party leader whom a majority of voters believes has the policy and political judgment required to lead the country.
Over the past 18 months Dr. Minnis has demonstrated that he is not that leader. Efforts to prop him up in his current position will continue to fail because he clearly lacks the complex of skills necessary to serve as opposition leader, much less that of prime minister.
On policy issue after policy issue he flounders badly, constantly making a mash of things. He seems oblivious about his poor judgment with an inability to correct himself.
A press statement he released on VAT some weeks ago was perhaps one of the more incoherent and poorly written statements put out by a Leader of the FNM. It was repetitive and poorly crafted, all of which demonstrates a certain mindset.
The writer of a National Review feature in this journal described the slapdash statement in the severest of tones:
“The statement Minnis came up with is stunningly shallow. It lacks intellectual rigor and shows a startling lack of vision and leadership, all of which we desperately need at this stage of our development.”
Sadly, what the writer said of the VAT statement may be applied to most of Dr. Minnis’ tenure as Leader of the Opposition. Any suggestion that he is an innovative thinker is more than curious.
Unscripted, Dr. Minnis often proves to be a disaster, though, quite often, his being scripted often seems to matter little. And little things often reveal larger problems.
The mini-debacle relating to the Official Opposition paying for a reception after the swearing-in of a new senator some months ago made the party seem petty and silly.
Dr. Minnis agreed to pay for the reception, then reneged, then wrote a letter to the prime minister which was leaked before the latter was able to respond. This is like amateur hour or high school politics. It shows an extraordinary incoherence and thorough lack of judgment.
Watching Dr. Minnis perform as Opposition Leader is a mixture of waiting for a train wreck to occur and fingernails screeching across a chalkboard.
His decision to proceed with the ill-fated Rally in the Alley was nothing short of stupefying. How could he not see that this would prove to be a spectacularly bad idea? For many this was a no-brainer.
With the photos in the paper afterward a major embarrassment to the party, and the PLP gleeful, is it any wonder why the PLP is losing support, while the FNM is failing to gain any significant traction?
Dr. Minnis has tried his best. But he lacks what is needed to unify the FNM, to marshal the party’s strengths and to competently mount an aggressive and effective policy and political response to a faltering government.
As an aside, those who regard legitimate criticism of the leader of the