Prime Minister Hubert Minnis’ administration had until mid-next year to try to achieve herd immunity in The Bahamas, get the lifeline tourism industry back on track and bring life back in the archipelago to as close to normal as possible but he nevertheless chose to call early general elections months ahead of the constitutional deadline and is now headed to opposition.
Bahamians voted in general election on Thursday and by midnight, it had been made clear that Minnis had made a grievous miscalculation as his Free National Movement (FNM) was decimated by voters with most cabinet ministers losing their constituency seats by wide margins. Minnis had sought to call snap elections to catch the main opposition Progressive Labor Party (PLP) off guard but his electoral gambit backfired badly.
From running the country comfortably with 35 of the 39 parliamentary seats, the FNM is now down to a mere seven as voters, angry with the level of runaway corruption, the government’s handling or perceived mishandling of the COVID-19 and a massive loss of revenues from the global shutdown during the worst days of the pandemic, chose to give Minnis and his cabinet marching orders, confining them to the opposition for the next five years.
Recent Bahamian history shows that every government since 1997 had failed to get a second term mandate. It appears that Minnis had believed that the FNM would buck that trend and would have benefitted from a sympathy vote because Bahamians were aware that nature had been unkind to the archipelago through massive economic and infrastructural devastation from mega storms Irma and Dorian in the past three years.
By Sunday, new Prime Minister Phillip Davis, 70, had already been sworn in and was moving with speed to name a cabinet, take over the handling of the lagging COVID vaccination program, get all the major resorts to reopen and function as fully as possible and to deal with persistent allegations about massive corruption in the award of major national contracts by the FNM.
“There is much work to be done,” said the PM. “We are going to listen. We are going to consult widely. And we are going to bring people together. That is the best way to make progress as a nation. No leader and no government should be isolated from the people,” said the prominent attorney turned the newest prime minister in the 15-nation Caribbean Community, Caricom.
Commenting on the effects of the storms and the electoral hand he was dealt with ahead of last week’s polls, Minnis said that he not only accepted the electoral results but pointed out that “during our term we faced the most difficult times in Bahamian history. In September 2019, Abaco, the Abaco Cays and Grand Bahama were struck by the strongest storm to hit The Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian was one of the strongest storms recorded on our planet. It caused generational destruction to our northern islands. Six months later, we were in the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout each crisis my government worked hard to assist the Bahamian people. The FNM has a proud legacy,” he said. Minnis was one of the few to retain his house seat.
More than 40 American-dollar multimillionaires, including Davis and Minnis, were among the 225 candidates vying for seats in the constituencies. Eligible voters amounted to just under 200,000. Voter turnout usually averages close to 90%, but officials say last week reached only about 65%. Elections officials blamed the pandemic in part for this.
The Bahamas is among regional nations which benefited from vaccine donation from the Biden administration but like in neighboring member states, authorities have struggled with vaccine hesitancy issues. The country is largely dependent on tourism for its economic fortunes, Cruise ships have only now begun to return as and so has the major airlines bringing vacationers.