Appealing to FNMs to save their ammunition for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and not waste it on each other, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis last night declared the FNM will not fracture when it comes out of convention this week.
It was the first clear signal from Minnis, who has been an embattled leader for much of the last year, that he would not move to discipline the six FNM MPs opposed to his leadership, if he emerges as leader on Friday.
“Our detractors are betting that on Friday we will end up as a fractured party, but I stamp my big foot and say, I will not let our detractors get the last word and laugh at our expense,” said Minnis on night one of the convention at the Melia resort.
“There will be no fracture. There will be no crack. There will be no split. There will only be a strong and a united Free National Movement.”
Political observers have opined that the real challenge for the FNM will be whether it is able to unite after this convention.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has urged the party to do just that. He said on Tuesday the MPs who oppose Minnis should not be punished if he wins the leadership race.
Loretta Butler-Turner, the Long Island MP who is challenging Minnis for leader, has claimed Minnis has pledged to “deal with” the MPs in question.
But in an apparent recognition of the importance of the party coming together, Minnis told delegates last night that “the only winning formula is unity”.
“If we are united no one can defeat us,” Minnis said.
“We stand united and strong, ready to do battle. And we come armed with a powerful weapon that the PLP has never known.”
The unity theme was a thread throughout Minnis’ address. The big moment of the convention is expected to be the leadership race.
The weeks leading up to the convention have been filled with vitriol, the swapping of insults between supports of Minnis and Butler-Turner, and a parliamentary team that has been split.
Butler-Turner, Richard Lightbourn, Dr. Andre Rollins, Hubert Chipman, Neko Grant and Theo Neilly (all FNM MPs) threatened to write the governor general to have Minnis removed as leader of the official opposition.
On Tuesday, Ingraham noted that they still have the ability to do just that.
“There are six MPs. They are in the House today. Whatever the FNM decides at its convention, they are still MPs,” Ingraham said.
“They have the ability to determine who is going to be the leader of the opposition, and so the FNM could be reduced to a minority status in Parliament and they could become the official opposition. That makes no sense.”
Minnis’ declaration last night has been his strongest statement to date that he would not use ammunition against those in his party who oppose him.
On Monday, when approached by reporters, he refused to say whether he would move to discipline the MPs if he is re-elected leader.
Ingraham said he was surprised that Minnis would not commit to working with them.
Minnis said last night, “Our political enemy is the PLP, not your FNM brothers and sisters whose views differ from ours, so let us save our ammunition for the PLP and not waste it on one another.”
He said if the FNM is serious about rescuing Bahamians from the PLP “then every single FNM must speak together with one voice”.
“The very lives and future of all Bahamians depend on it,” Minnis said.
“From here on out our one purpose, one mission. Our one obsession must be defeating the PLP.”
Minnis told FNMs to save their anger for the PLP.
“If we are angry, let us direct our anger at the great wrongs committed by the PLP and not at each other,” he said.
“If we are disappointed and frustrated let us direct that frustration on focusing on the failures of the PLP.
“If we must do battle let us do battle on behalf of the thousands who cannot find work because of bad PLP policies rather than battling one another.
“It is time to stop fighting each other. Instead, we must continue to fight for each other and fight for all Bahamans.”
Minnis also appealed to other opposition forces — the Democratic National Alliance, the United Democratic Party, the Bahamas Constitution Party and Gatekeepers — to join forces with the FNM “to take back our country”.
“I am convinced that when we speak with one voice, when we all move with one purpose and when we follow one vision and one leader, no one can defeat us,” he said.
Minnis said democracy demands that FNMs “respect the wishes of the convention as expressed at the ballot box”.
“And on Friday night, when I emerge as leader, we must put aside animosity and do what is best for the people of The Bahamas,” he said.
“Friday must be a time of healing and forgiveness. We must commence our journey of taking back the government and rescuing the people from this nightmare.”
He insisted: “We will be strong, united, packed with passion, filled with purpose and ready to do battle and slay the PLP dragon. There will only be a strong and a united Free National Movement party.”
While Minnis appealed for unity, he ended his speech by saying, “Fellow delegates, on Friday night remember to Roc Wit Doc and it’s always sweeter with Peter.”
Those are the slogans of the Minnis and Peter Turnquest camp heading into the leader and deputy leader race.