NASSAU, BAHAMAS — For all its worth and as gun violence in the capital continues to escalate, the September 16 General Election was a shotgun wedding.
The Bahamian people were forced to the polls by former Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis under the gun of not only the emergency powers and the authoritarian, opaque regime and socioeconomic crisis that accompanied it but amid a deadly new peak in the COVID-19 crisis. In this scenario, Minnis played both the indignant father, unceremonious priest and bewildered lover — a truly stunning feat. Voter turnout plummeted some 20 percent to see just 65 percent of registered voters risking it all amid unclear COVID protocols to cast their ballots.
Notwithstanding that the snap election robbed Bahamians of eight months to register, update their records and deeply consider the political offerings, it is important for the incoming administration to realize that the entire country is still holding its breath over this recent flip. A vote that was driven by a national crisis, or a desire to oust an administration, specifically its leader, is not a clear mandate but a hostage situation.
It is no secret that as the competent authority, Minnis made the general election about his stewardship of the country through its deepest crisis to date — and was rejected. In some quarters, rumors persist of his current machinations to remain on as leader; however, for a country at the dawn of a new administration, and hopefully, a new course towards recovery, the Free National Movement’s hunger games are virtually irrelevant.
The eyes of the nation are fixed on Prime Minister Philip Davis and his incoming Progressive Liberal Party administration in what will likely be an unprecedented level of scrutiny of governance.
Davis has promised to take a consultative approach to leadership, spending his campaign stump dismantling Minnis’ leadership style as one of isolation and arrogance. In his victory speech, he acknowledged the impact of voter disenfranchisement, suppression, and COVID-19 fears on voter turnout but went even further to speak to voters who were unconvinced by his party’s message.
“To those who voted PLP today, I promise to work hard to justify your faith in us,” Davis said in an emotional speech that endeared him to Bahamians far more effectively than his linkages to rural subsistence farmers.
“For those of you who voted for a different party today, I pledge to work hard to overcome your doubts,” he said.
The FNM left a lot of easy promises on the table that Davis can pick up with ease to shore up confidence: Freedom of Information, Independent Boundaries Commission, the Integrity Commission, campaign finance, or local government reform.
In today’s Speech from The Throne, Bahamians are looking to see just how Davis will fulfill that pledge. Make no mistake, it is a daunting task to uplift a nation traumatized by an unrelenting crisis and jaded by a political class that has been historically self-absorbed and self-inflated.
In that election victory speech, flanked by loved ones, Davis went on to thank those who stuck with the party after their crushing 2017 defeat and PLP volunteers who were the driving force in mobilizing the party’s campaign at the ground level.
It will be the party’s greatest test to see whether representatives will be able to maintain their relationships with their constituents or opt to solely effect “change” from the top-down as part of the executive. Very few have been able to achieve either and even fewer are commensurately rewarded for it.
Political service is first and foremost a national service and second and utmost a thankless one.
But in the past three weeks in office, it appears Davis is certainly going out of his way to try.
“I especially want to thank those who were with us at our lowest point in the days and months after the 2017 election,” he said on election night.
“When we needed to rebuild the party and renew our spirit I want to remember those particularly shortly after May 10 2017 because together those who were there, we did something special.”
After swearing in a hefty executive, inclusive of other notable appointments within the public service, some are wondering whether Davis has taken to rewarding those who burned alongside him as the former FNM government sought to turn the PLP’s legacy into scorched earth.
While loyalty is certainly admirable, Davis must take a sobering look at his court to ensure he is not taking counsel from the same advisors that saw former Prime Minister Perry Christie paraded away naked.
Scandals don’t cease to exist simply because it’s a new day, and any attempt to rewrite the narrative threatens public confidence in Davis’ ability to put right where right is above all else.
Davis must take concerns steadfastly and respond to criticisms without ire because that is what the job demands — total humility.
According to the Manual of Cabinet and Ministry Procedure, a minister “must not solicit or accept any benefits, advantage or promise of future advantage whether for himself, his immediate family or any business concern or trust with which he is associated from persons who are in, or seek to be in, any contractual or special relationship with the government.”
Initiatives to stabilize the economy and public health, expand industries, reduce crime, and alleviate dire mental health ills will likely take center stage today; however, the Speech from The Throne should clearly speak to this administration’s zero-tolerance for corruption. To be clear, the public is not asking for witch-hunts but a clear and full-throated policy position that demonstrates full comprehension and respect for the rule of law, and a desire to raise the bar up out of hell.