By Arinthia S. Komolafe
The wind of change that ushered out the Free National Movement (FNM) and brought in the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) left behind some realities. The party must not only come to terms with its devastating loss at the polls, it must adapt to its new role in opposition, redefine its philosophy and create a new identity while seeking to rebuild in a Post-Ingraham era. More importantly, the FNM must find a new voice, re-energise its supporters and make them hope again.
A Brief History of the FNM
The history of the FNM dates back to the early 70s. Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, former Minister of Education in the Pindling cabinet announced his resignation at the 15th National Convention of the PLP held in October 1970 citing totalitarianism among the party leadership as a cause. Following this occurrence, Wallace-Whitfield along with seven other PLP Members of Parliament joined forces in the House of Assembly with six United Bahamian Party (UBP) members and backed a motion by Sir Randol Fawkes to move a vote of “no confidence” against the Pindling-led PLP government. The vote was defeated by the PLP with a count of 19-15.
History records that the newly formed party was initially known as the “Free PLP” (FPLP). Consequently, the FPLP upon merger with the remnants of the UBP became the Free National Movement. The party however would experience occasions of dissidence, re-mergers, and multiple change of leadership that failed to garner the attraction needed to defeat Lynden Pindling and the governing PLP. However, following the entrance of a former PLP Chairman, Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister into the party’s ranks as leader, the FNM finally got its chance to ascend to governance in the 1992 general elections.
The Ingraham Factor
The rise of former Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham to the leadership of the FNM is well documented and there is no doubt that he energized the party. Ingraham’s impact on the FNM and his success in leading the party to three non-consecutive victories in 1992, 1997 and 2007 perhaps explains why he has become almost synonymous with the party. This automatic equation of Ingraham with the FNM explains why he was compelled to come out of retirement and returned as its leader to contest the 2007 general elections following the FNM’s demoralizing defeat to the PLP in 2002.
Fast forward to 2012 and the aftermath of Ingraham’s failure to return the FNM to power, several questions and uncertainties abound. In spite of assertions that the FNM had been decimated by this excruciating loss at the polls, the party can take solace in the fact that it gained more than 40% of the votes cast. Conversely, the 2012 general elections in which the PLP won 29 of the 38 seats offers bragging rights for the PLP who command an overwhelming parliamentary majority in both chambers.
It is no news that the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) under the leadership of former FNM Member of Parliament for Bamboo Town, Branville McCartney had an impact on the 2012 general elections. The DNA which fielded a full slate of candidates garnered 13,000+ of the total votes cast and it is argued by FNM supporters that their presence affected a positive
outcome of the general elections in favour of the FNM. The FNM suffered a similar fate during the 1977 general elections in which a split created the emergence of the Bahamian Democratic Party (BDP) and affected the opposition’s chances of defeating the PLP. Even more devastating, the FNM returned only two members to the house of assembly and lost its opposition status to the BDP who won six parliamentary seats.
McCartney, carrying on the tradition of splits and dissidence in the FNM party had resigned his post as Junior Cabinet Minister from Ingraham’s cabinet. Not surprisingly and in what appears to be a repeat of the FNM’s history, the exit of McCartney and emergence of the DNA threatens the FNM’s political relevance and its ability to rebound from the devastating loss of 2012.
Leadership and Philosophy
The recent change in leadership in the FNM with the Hon. Dr. Hubert A. Minnis being elected as leader unopposed and the Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner becoming the first female to ascend the deputy leadership of the matter is commendable. The task ahead for the new leadership is great as they seek to distinguish themselves from the overpowering leadership style of Ingraham while establishing identities of their own. They must expand the FNM base and attract new parts of the electorate. They must come to terms with the reality that their message does not resonate with the grassroots and simultaneously establish a clearly defined and articulate political philosophy which resonates with the Bahamian people.
Arguably, the FNM’s alleged right-wing philosophy was accidental and came as an automatic result of their dissidence from the already established and governing left-wing PLP combined with their merger with conservative UBP members. The disadvantage the FNM faced however is that at the time of its formation, the country was still in the early days of governance by the PLP government who had won the hearts of the black majority. Further, the PLP had already established itself as the party for the small man, an ideology that is still promoted today and one which resonates and solidifies its grassroots support over and above the FNM.
Looking to the future
The FNM is not only in need of rebuilding and retooling, the party is in serious need of rebranding and a clear identity going into the future. It must distinguish itself from the history of dissidence upon which the party was founded and subsequent claims of totalitarianism and cronyism during its years of governance. Over the years, the many factions and mergers of the FNM has placed a question MARK on its perseverance and ability to remain united. The dissidence of followers of the BDP, DNA and others will continue to haunt its track record of being a viable alternative for consistent governance in the future. The challenges of the future for the FNM are enormous, its leadership has a tough road ahead and the party must find its way through unfamiliar territory without the benefit of a prospective Ingraham comeback.
Arinthia S. Komolafe is an Attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at firstname.lastname@example.org