The five types of political candidates in The Bahamas

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September 28, 2016

For a while now some people have been up and down constituencies seeking their party's nomination in the upcoming general election. They have been ingratiating themselves to so-called "generals", whose motto ever is "out with the old, in with the new". They have been approaching doors in communities with conflicting feelings of excitement and dread, hoping for smiles but knowing frowns were definitely possible. They have been holding back-to-school parties and basketball tournaments to attract young people and their parents to their cause.

Incidentally, they have been doing all of this not knowing what the boundaries of these constituencies would eventually be; especially those in the opposition parties. These aspirants, despite their efforts, may not be the candidates their parties choose, but be sure the parties will choose candidates. When the FNM, PLP and others choose, their candidates generally fall into five categories.

First, there are the greenhorns. These are the first-time candidates, often first time to frontline politics altogether. They are full of zeal but limited in knowledge. They are not limited in knowledge about civic stuff but about the nuances of frontline politics.

Veteran branch officers and party faithful drive greenhorns crazy with their constant vying for attention and position. When they feel ignored, vets report greenhorns to the party's leadership. In time the greenhorns learn to genuflect to these political royals, give a few dollars at times and report regularly to headquarters ahead of the whisperers. Soon, all is well in Tinseltown.

Greenhorns get played by constituents often. Some sad old lady says to them, "Chile, I rite here wit dese old broke up glasses wat cost $265 to replace."

Some young man claiming he has influence in the constituency invites them to a private meeting where he tries to get them to say something incriminating, like paying money for votes as he records the conversation to give to the opposite side. Invariably greenhorns take someone into their bosom who is nothing but a snake or a leech. In time, they learn to see the truth. On the day after elections, greenhorns tend to say, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" or "No man! No!"

The second is the tokens. These are the candidates parties choose to represent some segment of the voter population to whom they seek to appeal. In 1992, for example, the youth population was restless and in change mode, so the FNM selected candidates to appeal to the youth vote. They included myself, Michael Pintard and Daphne Cooper. In the same year, the FNM ticket included a fair number of females, appealing to that important segment of voters.

In 2012, the PLP believed that both its leader and leader of the FNM were seen as old and unpopular. So what did it do? It went for "new", "fresh" and "team" by surrounding the leader with a cadre of newbies to appeal to voters' disaffection with old guard leadership. Tokens often know that they are special draftees and take on this unique role with a sense of duty. Of all the candidate groupings, with the exception of one other, they tend to want to win most and take losing hardest. They can be newbies to politics or quite seasoned in it.

What matters is that they represent a segment of the population the party believes will hold sway in the election. Tokenism can be an unflattering word, but in politics it pays dividends when it taps into the anxieties of the population. Tokens wake up on the day after election and say, "We did it!" or "They caused us."

The third is the egos. These are the candidates who believe they were born to be in the House of Assembly. Often recruited because of their personal success, perceived or real, they feel that any party is lucky to have them on their ticket. The egos, while difficult to work with at times, are great for parties because their confidence, enthusiasm and resourcefulness make them less of a burden to the party to manage. They jump into the campaign and run it. They are disrupters, making old generals who love to say, "this is how we always did it" uncomfortable.

Egos are the only group who exceed greenhorns in wanting to win and will work incessantly to do so. Egos are often helpful even to the larger campaign, bringing their quick thinking, high energy and bravado to bear on the general effort. They help with the party's platform, do media appearances on behalf of the party and deliver impactful rally and convention speeches. They will fight to the very end to win. On the day after election, they wake up and say, "Boy I am good" or "They should have been better".

Fourth, there is the old guards. These are the candidates who are on at least their third run. They know the game now and are fairly comfortable about what it takes to win. Their old team is in place, or they are trying to whip into shape a new team in a new constituency as they are shuffled about from time to time. They have name recognition, as present MPs or senators, or as former candidates. Over the years they tried to keep up appearance by staying in the news, making talk show appearances or exploiting social media.

Old guards are interesting for each side of the political divide. If they are members of a governing party enjoying popularity among voters, old guards tend to sail to victory.  If they are in opposition to a popular governing party, they face an uphill journey. When the governing party is unpopular, as is the current PLP, old guards face tumultuous headwinds, as they, more than others, are seen as emblematic of the party. As is the case today, it is not unusual for a shaky governing party to ask their more popular old guards to stay on, even when they want to leave, in an effort to keep their seat in the victory count.

Fifth, there is the seasoned. These are the most mature and prepared of all the candidates. More often than not they have been around politics for some time. However, even if they are running for the first time, they come across as thoughtful, sensitive and focussed candidates who have a lot to offer to their constituency and the country. Often, they are the group from which a successful party leader chooses his Cabinet members.

The seasoned have a core set of beliefs that give them weightiness. They have clear views on the issues and come across as reasonable. They are articulate, confident and likable. They have political savvy, knowing when to speak and knowing when to shut up. They work well with others and lead with grace. They don't take winning or losing personally. People look at them and see future prime ministers, or a success at whatever they do. On the day after the election, the seasoned say, "The voters have spoken; God bless them and our nation. Time to move on."

In selecting candidates, parties have to consider many things, including the following: voter appeal, satisfying the base, managing limited resources, governing following an election win, having a strong team after a loss and making up a deficit if the leadership is weak. The mix of five candidate types aim to satisfy all of these concerns. We will only know how well each party addresses these issues in the upcoming elections once they name all their candidates. In the mean time, as they put candidates forward, you can begin to figure out what type of candidate they are.

o Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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News date : 09/28/2016    Category : Opinion, Nassau Guardian Stories

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