By E.J. Rolle
The 2022 political campaign has officially begun.
Two years out and both the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) have already come out of the blocks in hopes of making it across the finish line first, to claim the coveted trophy – the running of The Bahamas for the next five years.
Leaders of both parties have seemingly forgotten that parts of The Bahamas are still reeling from the devastation of the strongest hurricane to ever hit The Bahamas and the third strongest in Caribbean history.
After accusing Prime Minister Hubert Minnis of using the guise of a town meeting to launch his 2022 campaign, Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis officially launched his bid for Prime Minister, during a full-blown PLP rally at the Columbus Primary School days later on February 10.
Davis laid out every reason he could think of to put forth his case for the office of Prime Minister, including his own rags-to-riches story, similar to that of present Prime Minister Dr. Minnis, who, himself, grew up in poverty and had to shine shoes to make money.
“For most of my young life, I lived in Rolle Avenue, so when I talk about our over-the-hill communities, I know what I’m talking about,” Davis told the crowd of PLP supporters, during a recent rally where he also launched his bid for prime minister.
“There was no silver spoon for me. I have worked and lived among you my entire life. I know what it is to go to work, mixing mortar in the heat of the day, hoping and praying to get an honest pay at the end of the day. I know what it is like to have one good pant and busted shoes.”
Similar words to what Dr. Minnis used on his campaign trail for the 2017 election. We’ve all heard the story of how Minnis grew up poor, went to school barefooted, shined other people’s shoes for money, etc.
It’s what some psychologists call “the use of empathy and relativity.” In other words, both Minnis and Davis are trying to send the message that, “I can relate to what you feel struggling in The Bahamas, because I went through it. So, that means because I can relate to you, I understand what it is that you need to improve your life and so I will fight for you as your leader.”
It was one of the reasons why the late Sir Lynden Pindling was so successful as prime minister for 25 years. People wanted someone who could relate to their issues, their pain and their struggles. Whether or not that strategy still works today is questionable.
“We really voted for Minnis because we were tired of Christie,” was one of the popular reasons by voters following the win by the FNM at the polls in 2017.
Yet, even during his official campaign launch on January 22, 2020, Minnis went right back to the strategy of empathy, telling supporters that because he grew up poor, once re-elected, his objective will be to “uplift the poor and all who have been left behind.”
Then Minnis reminded FNM supporters about what his party has done since taking office in 2017. Davis, on the other hand, could only talk about what they plan to do if given the chance to govern again.
In a world of social media platforms such as Instagram, the internet and youtube, voters are really not concerned about whether or not a candidate has been through the same struggles they’ve been through. In fact, some millennials have flat out and said they “don’t care.” All they want to know is what future can a candidate or a party promise them and what a candidate is able to do for them right now.
Although it would be unfair to suggest that all millennials have succumbed to such shallow thinking.
Jermaine Simms, a student at the University of the Bahamas, says he’s not impressed with either political party at this point. He said he voted for the FNM in the 2017 election, and even as he is preparing to leave the island to further his university education, Jermaine admits that he’s disappointed in the Minnis administration.
“I know it probably takes some time to implement some things, but when the FNM increased Value Added Taxes right away, I knew right then, that things were gonna go downhill,” Simms said. “They had spent so much time on the campaign accusing the PLP of stealing the VAT money and saying that what the country got from VAT could have made a big difference.
“Yet, when they got in, they didn’t let us see what they could do with the VAT money at the rate it was, but they immediately increased it. That was a concern for me. They didn’t give it a chance.”
Asked if he intends to come back home to vote in the 2022 election, Jermaine said he would, but quickly added that he was not sure who he would vote for.
And the election campaign will not be short of its smart quips and sing-song lines and slogans.
Minnis said that the FNM’s “victory train” is on the move, while Davis is putting all his hope in the “SS PLP ship”. It will be just a matter of time before the slogans begin to be spewed from campaign offices – all in hopes of grabbing voter’s attention and admiration.
There can be no doubt that the 2022 election will be a very pivotal one in Bahamian history, simply because the country is in a vulnerable state. So much has happened in the past two years and so much continues to go on, not just locally, but internationally, which, all considered, could have some bearing on how voters will be thinking once they go to the polls.
Hurricane Dorian, the economy, high crime and even the United States elections are all mitigating circumstances that have left the mindset of many Bahamians weary when it comes to politics.
Many are disappointed in what they felt the FNM has not done during its time in office thus far and some are still mad at the PLP since 2017. That disappointment has caused disillusion among voters.
So much so that many people have already begun talking about abdicating their right and responsibility to vote in the next election. There is the mindset that it is pointless to even bother to vote.
Like Jermaine and other UB students, the mental battle of whether or not to vote in 2022 is quickly becoming a hashtag theme that could soon be popping up on social media. A number of FNMs have already said that they have no plans of voting in the next election.
“The FNM messing up and doing a lot of foolishness, I can’t vote for them,” says Carolyn, a long time FNM supporter, who is patiently waiting for The Grand Lucayan to reopen. “But I can’t vote for the PLP, so I’m just not going to vote. If I don’t see any changes in Grand Bahama by the time election comes around, I’m not wasting my time going out there and voting.”
While there are no conclusive data to point to, listening to the conversations on a daily basis suggests that there are many disillusioned FNMs walking around and many unsure PLPs busy going about their daily lives.
Devin Joseph, a long time PLP supporter says he feels his party can win the next election, but admits that as long as Davis remains the leader, there are lots of PLPs who will not give him their vote. “They talk about getting fresh, new talent, but as long as Brave remains the main face of the PLP, we ain’t going nowhere. They got rid of Christie, they also need to get rid of Brave. That’s just my opinion.”
But perhaps we’re missing the big picture in terms of the launch of the political campaign. The question that has surfaced since both parties made their announcements are – has the political campaign been launched too soon? Is this a good time to launch an election campaign?
In Grand Bahama, even the thought of an election right now sounds insane. For a lot of people, it’s the farthest thing from their minds. They’re too busy trying to get their lives back together, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019.
When you have an island of people still having to tote potable water to cook with and brush their teeth, and when people are still living in the dark in Abaco five months after the storm, perhaps a political campaign right now is really a terrible idea.
Independent Members of Parliament Vaughn Miller and Reece Chipman recently appeared on the “Beyond the Headline” Talk Show with Clint Watson where they questioned both parties’ decision to launch their election campaigns while Grand Bahama and Abaco are still reeling from the devastation.
“It’s insensitive for either the government or the Opposition to be launching a political campaign two years out, with our country’s number two and number three major economies in shambles,” said Chipman.
“It sends the wrong message. Yes, I know that the campaigns will eventually have to be launched, but is it necessary to start it this far out, given the circumstances we find ourselves in with Dorian? Abaco, in particular, is in a very devastating state right now. Do you think it is right for candidates to go there talking about holding political rallies? It’s wrong.”
However, as Watson interjected, while many Bahamians, particularly those in Abaco and Grand Bahama may feel that way, in reality, Nassau was not adversely affected by the storm and so many Nassauvians are indeed ready for the campaign to begin.
“Yes, all of that is well and good, but if we call ourselves one people, then if one of us is hurting, then that should be a concern to all of us,” said Miller.
Perhaps the question of whether it is the right time or whether it’s too early to start a political campaign does not factor in at this point. Both party leaders have officially launched their campaigns. There will be those who can’t wait to get on either the “victory train” or the “SS PLP,” while the people in Abaco and Grand Bahama continue to try and put their lives back together.
Only time will tell if it was a mistake to launch the 2022 political campaign at this stage of the game, given all that’s taking place in the country. The hope is, however, that the hurricane recovery and restoration does not become a part of the campaigning and that the help that has been given and will be given is not used as a pawn in a chess match between Minnis and Davis.