Prime Minister Philip Davis (left) receives his instruments of appointment from Governor General Sir Cornelius Smith on Saturday during a ceremony at Baha Mar. Photo credit Ahvia J. Campbell.
NASSAU, The Bahamas--Now that the campaign dust has settled, the bright lights of virtual and drive-in rallies dimmed and a winner has emerged, there is understandable euphoria on the part of supporters of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
After a resounding rejection at the polls under the leadership of Perry Christie in 2017, the PLP is again assuming the mantle of governance.
Voters rejected the scare tactics employed by outgoing Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who called an election at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, eight months before one was constitutionally due.
Minnis, who is said to have appeared increasingly desperate and unstable in his position over the last few weeks, warned voters that newly sworn-in Prime Minister Philip Davis would lead the Bahamas back to a dark past, and the PLP would erode economic gains.
Meanwhile, one of his ministers, Elsworth Johnson, repeatedly told rally-goers that a number of PLP candidates were accused child molesters.
The widespread angst toward Minnis was evident. His administration had long lost favour with the Bahamian people.
Davis becomes the fifth prime minister of an independent Bahamas as voters, many of them angry over and disillusioned by the Minnis administration’s management of the people’s business, have decided to do what they have done for the past nearly two decades: change government.
The Free National Movement (FNM) is now left with determining how best to pick up the pieces, settle into opposition and decide on the leadership question.
This defeat falls squarely at the feet of Minnis, whose perceived disregard and disrespect for the Bahamian people in many instances, and whose approach to governance was seen as heavy-handed and arrogant, had long sealed his fate and that of his party.
Minnis rose to the prime ministership, not because he had been widely viewed by the electorate as competent, inspirational or visionary, but because the people had had enough of Christie, who had missed all the cues that his political stock had plummeted and it was time to exit the political stage.
In the term in office that just ended, many voters who had supported Minnis and the FNM in 2017, felt duped that they had bought into a fraudulent campaign.
Much of what was promised was not delivered – electoral reform pledges like a fixed election date, a term limit for prime minister and a recall system for Members of Parliament (MPs) never materialised; neither did local government for New Providence, any meaningful rejuvenation of Over-the-Hill or lower taxes.
The Minnis administration’s handling of Hurricane Dorian relief efforts and its apparent lack of compassion for the survivors and unpopular manner in which it handled the remains of the dead, hurt the government considerably.
The perception that the competent authority was dictatorship-like in his reign during the pandemic, with an apparent lack of regard for health professionals and an uneven application of protocols, dealt a further blow.
As the PLP’s 2017 loss was due to a rejection of Christie, the FNM’s 2021 loss is largely attributed to many Bahamians being unable to stomach the thought of another five years, or even four years, of Minnis.
The Minnis era is now over and many are feeling a sense of relief, even if they do not fully buy into the PLP’s “new day” pledge.
In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s vote, people kept saying, “I don’t know who I am voting for; but I know who I ‘ain’t voting for.”
That is usually bad news for the governing party, as it has proven to be.
Headache of governing
The PLP’s victory comes during unprecedented times. There can be no honeymoon. Far from a jubilant occasion, it will now take on the near-daunting task of governing under conditions that are more challenging than what was faced during any other period in decades.
Yes, the PLP has a plan, but Bahamians ought not be fooled into thinking they will soon begin to see and feel a new day.
When they formally take over the management of the public purse, Davis and his Cabinet, in particular his minister of finance, will have to confront the realities that the coffers are empty.
Davis entered a sweetheart deal with the unions a few weeks ago, which blew up in his face, but the umbrella unions and their affiliates will come knocking at his door.
They will be expecting movement on their labour issues, many of which require expenditure on the government’s behalf.
With a US $1.3 billion deficit, a national debt that has exceeded $10 billion and an economy that is barely above flatline, governing will likely be more difficult than Davis, his deputy Chester Cooper and the other PLPs who sought power and won it ever imagined.
The economy shrank by 14 per cent in 2020 and is expected to grow only by 2.5 per cent this year.
Davis and his team will have the trappings of office, but they will more significantly have the headache of governing at a time such as this.
The PLP promises free testing for COVID-19, improved contact tracing and beefed up healthcare capacity, but all of that is easier to put on paper and say than to actually make happen.
As Minnis did, Davis will likely bank on increased vaccinations to help address the problem, particularly as it relates to a collapsing healthcare system.
But the new prime minister may be forced to put in place restrictions aimed at bringing the COVID crisis under control and easing the back-breaking burdens faced by our healthcare system.
While many people have returned to work with the reopening of tourism, joblessness remains widespread. Many people are hurting. The daily struggle to survive will not magically go away in the next few weeks and months due to a PLP win.
Davis, his administration, and Cooper will have a lot of heavy lifting to do. They must temper the expectations many Bahamians have now that the PLP has promised a new day and has once again secured the trust of the Bahamian people.
The PLP must be ready on day one. Bahamians are not likely to have an appetite for hearing “things are much worse than we could have imagined” or the “cupboard is bare”. They are looking for their new government to deliver on the solutions the PLP claims it has.
Voters have delivered their verdict. They are taking their chances with Brave Davis and the PLP.
Whether Davis’ new day is the start of many good days to come remains to be seen. ~ The Nassau Guardian ~