Hubert Minnis, a former health minister whose friends call him “Doc,” was sworn in Thursday as prime minister of the Bahamas, the country’s fourth since the small island chain became independent of British rule in 1973.
Fueled by the ruling Progressive Liberal Party’s unkept promises, dissatisfaction that the government allowed Chinese investors to use Chinese labor in the Bahamas and the government’s inability to rein in double-digit unemployment amid rising crime, a sluggish economy and scandal, voters on Wednesday ushered in the opposition Free National Movement during the country’s general elections.
Of the 39 seats up for grabs, the Free National Movement (FNM) won 35 to the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) four, according to unofficial results. Among the losing candidates: Prime Minister Perry Christie. First elected to parliament in 1977, Christie had successfully defended his Centreville seat eight consecutive times — until Wednesday. It was his first loss in 40 years.
“Never ever allow the politicians to be in charge again,” Minnis told supporters during the FNM’s victory rally, which began long before the tallying of the votes had been completed and Christie had conceded. “This is your victory and you will always remain in charge.”
Darron Cash, a former FNM chairman, said the landslide victory is not only a mandate but also “a resolute declaration” that Bahamians want more accountability from their government.
“The overruling of the gambling referendum, the arrogant failure to respond to blatant violations of minimal ethical standards and a general unwillingness to know when it’s time to move on are but a few of the egregious demonstrations of contempt for the people that raised the ire of voters and led them to repudiate the Christie government,” Cash said. “Now the FNM has a chance to chart a new course. How they govern will be as important as their policies.”
Among the policies the new government should tackle, Cash said, is campaign financing reform.
This issue was also raised by the Organization of American States Electoral Observation Mission in its preliminary report Thursday on the election. It noted that there were isolated incidents that caused voting to be delayed at some polls, but mainly the mission called on the Bahamas to improve its early voting, which was chaotic, and to require candidates to declare the source of campaign funds.
The mission said observers had heard concerns about foreign money influencing the election, and five years after calling on the Bahamas to adopt several recommendations to regulate the financing of political parties and campaigns, nothing had been done.
“In order to guarantee a more level playing field and transparency in the electoral process, the mission urges the Bahamas, once more, to consider introducing legislation to regulate political-campaign financing,” the report said.
The OAS also recommended that the Bahamas consider modernizing its electoral process by digitizing registration procedures and voters’ cards to improve efficiency and security, and reduce the reduce the level of human error.
Minnis, an obstetrician-gynecologist who was first elected to parliament in 2007, has a long list of items to tackle.
During the campaign, he and his team accused Christie and government of losing touch with the Bahamian people and not being transparent. Among their targets: a beleaguered, multi-billion-dollar resort that, more than a decade in the making, still isn’t finished.
Convinced that the agreement with Baha Mar’s new owner isn’t legitimate, Minnis promised “a real sale” of the Baha Mar resort, which has been plagued with problems from missed opening dates to a bankruptcy filing. Minnis pledged that his government would also only use Bahamians to complete construction of the resort, which had used imported Chinese construction workers.
But addressing Baha Mar isn’t the only challenge facing Minnis’ new government.
In December, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Bahamas’ credit rating to “junk” status. It warned that government spending was outpacing revenues and estimated that the country’s economy would only grow by 0.3 percent in 2017, down from its 1.2 percent estimate months earlier.