Tell me it's not true
BY JOHN MARQUIS
WHEN the PLP was toppled at the polls in 2007, everyone expected the ousted prime minister, Perry Christie, to be jettisoned by the party as the scapegoat for its defeat. Incredibly, he survived the post-election flak to beat off all other contenders for the party leadership and seems set to lead the PLP into next year's election.
SOON after the 2007 general election, when the PLP were unceremoniously dumped into what we all hoped would be the garbage bin of history, I wrote an INSIGHT article saying the party couldn't possibly seek the public's support again with Perry Christie at the helm.
If memory serves me right, I wrote something like this: "The one certainty in the election aftermath is that the PLP can't go into the 2012 campaign with Christie as its leader."
There was nothing particularly original about this statement. Nearly everyone was saying it.
At about the same time, I suggested that Bernard Nottage - Olympic sprinter turned medical doctor - was "the last man standing" in the tussle for the PLP leadership and that his comparative commonsense and rationality would be a godsend to a party on its knees.
Nottage, whatever his faults, appeared to offer quiet maturity, a measure of gravitas and something by way of cool judgment that his fellow contenders seemed to lack.
If there was one thing the PLP needed badly, it was a level-headed action man ready to grapple with the multitude of problems facing the party at the time.
By the late summer of 2007 it looked an odds-on bet that Dr Nottage would pick up the mantle and offer a thoroughly discredited party a fresh start. However, it was not to be. By the time I left Nassau two years ago, Nottage had become nigh invisible on the political scene.
His fans said he was biding his time. Critics felt he was scared to commit himself.
Whatever his reasons, his indecision gave Christie precious time to dig in for the long haul. Miraculously and incredibly, Christie is still in place.
Condemned as indecisive by his critics, as "a study in still life" by The Tribune, and a vacillating invertebrate by the cruellest of his detractors, he has somehow managed to survive four years of leadership wrangling with his status intact.
While conspirators, naysayers and sceptics have been whispering behind his back, the genial ex-premier and fabled junkanoo dancer has shimmied and shuffled his way through the raucous throng to emerge once more as the only contender with enough grassroots support to carry the day.
He reminds me of something an American newspaper editor once told me about his early days in journalism. "I worked out very quickly that so long as I could stay sober, all other contenders for the editorship would fall down drunk around me," he said.
In his own way, Christie has done just that. While pretenders like Obie Wilchcombe, Frank Smith and Paul Moss have come and gone (nothing to do with booze, incidentally), he stands as immoveable and inscrutable as those famous stone faces on Easter Island.
No matter how much buffeting dear old Perry takes from the sundry windbags around him, he seems to remain admirably unruffled and intact.
Judging from afar - and I confess four thousand miles of ocean do blur one's perspective - I now see Philip "Brave" Davis as the only possible leader-in-waiting, the sole heir apparent to Pindling's tarnished crown.
There are, however, one or two impediments to his progress.
According to his critics, Davis's acknowledged skills as a courtroom advocate do not translate well into the political arena.
Just before I left Nassau in 2009, he was described to me by a political observer as "less charismatic than a BEC light-pole" with an oratorical style guaranteed to send you to sleep quicker than a boxful of mogadons.
If you're looking for a bit of zest and razzle-dazzle, Brave Davis is emphatically not your man, the observer said.
If you want to light up the night sky at big political rallies, better to buy a box of fireworks than rely on Davis to deliver any verbal pyrotechnics, he added.
So, with the election less than a year away, Christie appears to be the only PLP politician with enough support and survival savvy to lead the party into the fray.
Lamentable as he was as a prime minister last time around, he's the best the party has.
Doesn't say much for the PLP, does it?
The biggest fear for those, like me, who have real concern for the future of the Bahamas is that any suggestion of a vacuum at the top of the PLP in the future leaves the way open for the Marley's Ghost of Bahamian politics, Fred Mitchell.
There is no doubt that madcap Fred has entertained notions about leading the party ever since he sat on that hillock as a boy and fantasised about being prime minister. Over the years, his every move has been carefully choreographed to achieve that aim.
At first he was seen by the late Sir Lynden Pindling as a real prospect. Then The Chief saw the light, changed his mind and saw him for what he was shaping up to be, a political liability of mammoth proportions.
On Mitchell's own admission, Pindling told him in his early days in politics that he had a personality disorder, a damning put-down that the indignant young politician felt inclined to reject. Those observing from the sidelines found themselves nodding in agreement...with Pindling, that is, not Mitchell.
In the dust-up that followed, both men threatened to reveal details of each other's private life, establishing a new low for political debate in the Bahamas and sparking speculation in every bar-room from West End, Grand Bahama, to Mathew Town, Inagua. Unfortunately, neither delivered on his threat, leaving Bahamians in a state of suspense wondering what the heck they were talking about.
Subsequently, fiery Fred set the Bahamas constitution ablaze under the fig tree in Parliament Square, sent the ashes to Pindling to protest the disciplinary action proposed by the Bahamas Bar Council against him, and threatened to "smite the hand of every enemy that dares to launch out against" him.
So seemingly reckless was Mitchell's behaviour at the time that some felt he was a compelling candidate for therapy. One group of PLPs felt he needed "a good spanking" and said so publicly.
To make things worse, his first excursion into foreign affairs led to his ill-considered suggestion to invade Haiti and topple the military regime then in power. They were the days when he headed his own political party -- the People's Democratic Force.
The scheme reflected perfectly Mitchell's grandiose notions about his own importance and infallibility, but prompted others to look askance at the young firebrand and wonder whether he was not several planks short of a truckload in the brain department.
Astonishingly, Fred felt 200 dinghy-borne marines of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force would make short work of Haiti's army, which then consisted of 5,000 troops full of ill-will who would not have taken kindly to a Bahamian assault on their national sovereignty.
Had Mitchell's plan gone ahead, it would have been the Bahamas' own version of the Bay of Pigs debacle of 1961, the ill-starred US "invasion" of Castro's Cuba which left a number of desperadoes dead on the beach and America's foreign policy in tatters.
His idea would have been a good one, his critics suggested, only if Fred himself were allowed to lead the charge on to Haiti's northern shoreline.
All this, together with his five disastrous years as Minister of Foreign Affairs, ought to have been enough to see off any fanciful notions Mitchell might have had about national leadership.
But no. He's still hanging in there, the PLP's in-house Walter Mitty, a very poor pastiche of Barack Obama who still, unbelievably, sees himself as a rising political superstar.
It's partly because of Christie's taste for procrastination and prevarication that the PLP is still burdened with Fred, an irritant Hubert Ingraham wisely refused to accommodate within the FNM.
While Mitchell was flying all over the world as the nation's foreign affairs specialist, apparently making up policy on the hoof, Christie maintained his Buddha-like silence and inscrutability.
Critics gained the impression that Mitchell was a law unto himself, jetting off at great public expense to burnish his image as an international negotiator while his boss sat bemused in his Nassau bunker wondering what he would get up to next.
It's Christie's apparent inertia that causes most concern. In the face of crisis, he appears to be overcome by head-to-toe paralysis, a pathological incapacity to slap down recalcitrant colleagues and lay down the law.
The consensus seems to be that Perry is a very nice man who lacks the cutting edge required to control a mixed bag of opportunists and liberty-takers like the PLP hierarchy.
Mavericks like Kenyatta Gibson lost patience and jumped ship.
Others wondered how long Christie could brazen it out in the face of sustained - and usually justified - criticism.
Well, now we know. As the 2012 election looms ever closer, a former prime minister who once looked doomed for political oblivion now appears set to lead the charge into next year's campaign. What's worse, some observers feel that, despite his dire showing last time around, he has a reasonable chance of winning.
For the FNM, the PLP's failure to find an alternative to Christie is a blessing.
They can think of no bigger boost for their election chances than the continuing leadership of Perry Christie, a man more hesitant than Hamlet and as dynamic as a dodo.
With the old leader still in place, it will be much easier for the FNM to convince the electorate that little has changed in a party that disgraced itself during 25 years of Lynden Pindling's rule and made a complete hash of everything during the disastrous "comeback" administration of 2002-2007.
Many of the more intelligent PLPs are aware of this and want change before it's too late. Others see ponderous Perry as the best of a bad bunch. As the next few months tick away, they will be hoping that the alleged failings of the FNM in power will be enough to see them through, especially as the new DNA party threatens to split the anti-PLP vote.
However, it would be the height of foolhardiness if, at some future date, they were to opt for Mitchell in desperation. A party whose credibility is already threadbare would have none at all if the Fox Hill fantasist were to emerge as their default candidate in the leadership race.
Not only would the bell toll loudly for the PLP itself. It would boom across the Bahamas like a signal of impending doom.
As I wrote once before, the nation would be chancing its arm to let Fred Mitchell lead a junkanoo parade, never mind a major political party.
You can, therefore, imagine my despair when I caught sight of an Internet story just a few days ago suggesting that the dreaded Fred, after three decades of disorientated rambling round the foothills of Bahamian politics, is actually positioning himself for a do-or-die crack at the top job.
This story said Mitchell still harboured a desire to fly in the face of his critics and make a late grab for power.
The man who threatened to expose Pindling's alleged peccadilloes, torched the constitution in an act of petulant rage, proposed an act of war on a neighbouring state, and flew all over the world achieving nothing as Minister of Foreign Affairs is reportedly hell-bent on turning his boyhood fantasies into fact.
Please tell me it's not true. And if it's true, please reassure me that no-one would be daft enough to support him.
Your future depends on it.
July 20, 2011