May 24, 2012
Former Prime Minister and Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Hubert A. Ingraham made several strategic moves in the months leading up to the May 7 general election in an effort to stave off the political onslaught of the Progressive Liberal Party's (PLP) Gold Rush in Grand Bahama. The FNM's six candidates in the 2007 general election were able to win five of the six seats that were up for grabs that year. Sensing that the tide in Grand Bahama was turning against the former governing party, the leadership of the FNM decided to make several significant changes to its slate of candidates on the island.
The former governing party's slate of candidates that would contest the May 7 electoral contest was called the "Take 5 Team". This group of candidates was touted as being the best fit to revive Grand Bahama's economy as Ingraham's leadership did before. During the campaign, this team reminded Grand Bahamians that the FNM government gave minimum wage to workers; provided free medication for chronic diseases; and some $25 million for the education of Bahamian students.
The FNM government also introduced the unemployment benefit program and the national job readiness and training initiative in order to cushion the blow of the stagnant recession. There were other things that the FNM government did, such as the construction of the $19 million government complex on Mall Drive and the multimillion dollar upgrade to Rand Memorial Hospital. But obviously the FNM's message was not resonating with the majority of voters in Grand Bahama. This is due to the fact that thousands of Grand Bahamians are jobless.
A few days before the May 7 election, campaign workers of the then opposition party were all over Freeport handing out anti-FNM flyers. The flyers read "We Deliver?" Of course, this title was referring to the campaign theme of the then governing party. These political propaganda flyers listed 27 businesses that had closed down under the Ingraham administration in Freeport. Some of these businesses include: Consolidated Electric, Miniature Golf Course, Redwood Inn, Casa Bahama, Ice Cream Palour, Pusser's Pub, Island Palm Resort, Stone Crab, Royal Palm Resort, Food World, Perfume Factory, Reef Village at Our Lucaya, Ferry House, The Columbian, Fenestration Glass Company and Kay Shell Furniture. Obviously, the closure of these businesses meant the job losses of hundreds of Grand Bahamians.
Such a negative campaign spelled disaster for the FNM and its Take 5 Team. As far as the FNM was concerned, something had to be done. Ingraham was counting on this team to win all five seats. Considering the fact that the FNM had won five seats in 2007, anything other than this would obviously be considered a let down.
Another issue that undoubtedly played a factor on the election outcome was the Hannes Babak debacle. His work permit was not renewed by the Ingraham administration in December of 2009. He was the chairman of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA). This controversial decision obviously caused a friction between the FNM government and the GBPA. In fact, there is a school of thought that says that Babak allowed several of his businesses to go belly up in order to get back at Ingraham. This action by the Austrian born investor had caused scores of Grand Bahamians to be placed on the jobless line. Obviously, the FNM suffered a voter backlash from these people and their family members. In addition to the Babak fiasco, the residents of this island have had to contend with outrageous electricity bills from the Grand Bahama Power Company. There have been reports of families living without power because of their inability to pay their light bills.
Late last year, the controversial decision was made to drop Kenneth Russell, former member of Parliament for High Rock and housing minister, and Verna Grant, former representative for the constituency of Eight Mile Rock. Ingraham would go on to fire Russell as his housing minister after he openly voiced his disapproval of being dropped from the ticket by the former prime minister.
Former Chamber of Commerce president and businessman Peter Turnquest received the nomination to run in Russell's place. Turnquest was able to win East Grand Bahama because it is one of the two remaining strongholds of the FNM on the island. As for Grant, her seat was eliminated by the boundaries commission. Ingraham chose journalist Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe to run in that area instead of the former Eight Mile Rock representative. Some political analysts saw this as a move by Ingraham to kill two birds with one stone.
The former prime minister wanted to retire Obie Wilchcombe in West Grand Bahama and Bimini by running a popular and attractive journalist against him. Like Wilchcombe, Parker also hails from west Grand Bahama. Ingraham also wanted to place the community of West End in the win column of his party by joining it to the community of Eight Mile Rock. West End has been represented by an FNM MP for only one term, between 1997 and 2002. Judging from the beating Parker received on May 7, the plan to eliminate Eight Mile Rock, an FNM stronghold, had obviously backfired.
The Eight Mile Rock constituency was formed in 1987; and has always been won by the FNM. Before then, it was a part of the West End constituency. Had Eight Mile Rock remained a separate seat, it would have more than likely remained in the win column of the FNM even with Grant as the standard bearer. Many Grand Bahamians have probably missed the significance of Wilchombe's win on May 7. He is the first PLP to represent the community of Eight Mile Rock in 25 years.
The move to join Eight Mile Rock to West End and Bimini reminds me of Aesop's famous fable entitled 'The Dog and its Reflection'. In the fable, a dog carrying a stolen bone looks down at a crossing stream and saw a reflection of itself in the water. Mistaking the reflection for another dog with a better bone, it opened its mouth to snatch at what it thought was another bone. In the process, it lost the bone that it had. Obviously, the moral of the story is that in its attempt to capture the seat of West End and Bimini by joining it to Eight Mile Rock, the FNM ended up losing both. In any event, the series of moves that were made in that area by the FNM were disastrous, to say the least.
In another move that raised many eyebrows, Ingraham moved former Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing from Marco City to an area in New Providence, and nominated veteran educator Norris Bain to run in his place against the PLP's Gregory Moss. Both Laing and Bain lost their contests by impressive margins. The former Marco City MP has recently been named to the Senate for the opposition party. Moss' victory in Marco City did not come as a surprise to me at all. I had written on several occasions that the FNM was in grave danger of losing that seat. Apparently, the leadership of the FNM was also aware of this. That is why the party made the decision to run Laing elsewhere. However, there are some who are beginning to question the decision to move Laing. According to these people, he stood a better chance at being reelected in Marco City.
Many political observers were expecting a dead heat between the FNM's Kwasi Thompson and the PLP's Dr. Michael Darville in Pineridge. But that was not to be. Thompson was obviously a very good MP. That is why the FNM decided to run him again in that area. He ran on his own merits as a good, productive representative. But he received a thrashing at the polls by over 800 votes. Surprisingly, that contest wasn't close at all. Perhaps the unfriendly reaction to the former prime minister's visit to the Garden Villas community on the day before the election should have served as an indication that Thompson was in deep trouble. Pineridge has for years been considered a safe seat for the FNM. Yet the way the residents in that area carried on when Ingraham visited them, you would think that the former prime minister was visiting the PLP's bastions of Bains Town and Grants Town, Englerston, Nassau Village or Centreville.
Thankfully, the FNM's Neko Grant was able to stave off his main opponent in Central Grand Bahama, the PLP's Julian Russell. No reasonable analyst expected differently. That area in Grand Bahama has many middleclass and rich constituents who have more in common with the conservative FNM than with the PLP, a grassroot political organization. However, the thing that should concern the FNM is that the PLP is gaining ground in that area. Grant's margin of victory wasn't all that impressive.
The election results have taught me that the Grand Bahamian base of the FNM has eroded significantly. Grand Bahama is no longer FNM country. While the PLP made a good showing at the polls in its bastions in New Providence, the FNM has struggled to even hold on to the two seats (Central and East Grand Bahama) that are considered to be its strongholds. The next five years must be used to rebuild its base on this island. The FNM must also identify its candidates much earlier than it did in the last campaign cycle.
- Kevin Evans
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