THE WHITE FILE For The Punch – 28 February 2011
We often speak of how more than half a century ago, when we were a budding teenager, we used to sit almost at the feet of our mentor the late Cyril St. John Stevenson, and listen to his myriad tales of political revolution and evolution in The Bahamas.
Today we often reflect on how much of what he recited had gone before had a definitive bearing on the existing state of political affairs in the colony.
Back then we were not sitting physically at Stevenson’s feet, but moving about in the print shop of the Nassau Herald on Lewis Street as he banged away on his portable typewriter with its lost “e” key, as he typed scathing editorials condemning the Bay Street demagogues.
He spoke of how sitting House of Assembly politicians like Dr. C. R. Walker and Bert Cambridge could have brought about radical political change had they adopted different political tactics.
Walker and Cambridge were the two members of the House of Assembly for the Southern District of New Providence back in the late 1940s, and were prominent parts of the Citizens Committee, which was organised in 1950 to protest Bay Street’s banning of the movie, No Way Out, which featured Bahamian actor Sidney Poitier for racial reasons.
That grouping had attracted the support of quite a number of the black Bahamian middle class, like the late Justice Maxwell Thompson and could perhaps have made a significant difference in the political outlook of the masses, except that the middle class was prepared to go only so far.
Successive elections, Stevenson used to say, such as the polls of 1949, could have gone dramatically in a different direction, if the will of the masses had been marshalled and directed differently. Stevenson ran for reelection as an independent. The PLP shifted Pindling from New Providence to Andros, where he defeated Stevenson.
Years later, long after he had quite the front line political scene, and when he was getting on in years, we sat quietly with Stevenson as he recounted election after election, attaching special significant to each.
We agreed that perhaps the most celebrated – and most wrenching for many – of all general elections held in the modern Bahamas were the historic polls of 1977, when the electorate was stretched in three political directions. But let us historically backtrack for a spell.
Following the 1967 general elections which ushered in majority rule, the Progressive Liberal Party went on to a landslide victory on 10 April 1968 in an election occasioned by the death of Shirlea Member of Parliament Uriah McPhee.
Not long after that, however, things in the PLP began to sour politically, in fact as early as the PLP’s 1969 convention. Even from then careful observers could detect that St. Agnes MP and cabinet minister Cecil Wallace-Whitfield had his eye on the political crown in the party.
By 1970 premier Lynden Pindling had already fired two cabinet ministers, Warren Levarity and Arthur Foulkes, and at that year’s convention Wallace Whitfield announced that he had resigned from the cabinet. He went on to lead seven other MPs and a number of PLP dissidents in what was known as the Free PLP.
By 1972 there came into being the Free National Movement, which comprised the PLP dissidents, former members of the dismantled United Bahamian Party, and former members of Paul Adderley’s National Democratic Party. Later that year the FNM went into campaign battle against the ruling PLP under the theme, “All Together”.
Fevers ran high in that 1972 campaign, and the FNM contracted public relations experts from Jamaica who had successfully delivered the election in that country for Michael Manley. However, the main issue during the campaign was that of independence the following year, and the PLP, understandably, pushed that emotional issue to the hilt.
That was in September of 1972, and when the votes were counted, the FNM had been defeated dismally. Most dismal of the whole defeat was the fact that every single one of the original eight dissidents – Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Dr. Curtis McMillan, Dr, Elwood Donaldson, Arthur Foulkes, Warren Levarity, George Thompson, Maurice Moore, and James Shepherd – had lost his seat.
The blow was severe, but a new FNM candidate, Kendal G. L. Isaacs, had won the House of Assembly seat for Fort Montagu. He subsequently became Leader of the Official Opposition. At least for a time, there was peace in the Opposition.
Inevitably, however, by about 1975, there came the famous split in the Opposition, and Cecil Wallace-Whitfield was once more at the centre of it all, surrounded by many who had been with him from the days of the Free PLP.
The other side was formed into the Bahamian Democratic Party. When the 1977 elections were called, both sides offered complements of candidates, some very familiar political faces.
Contesting the election with Whitfield on the FNM side were Bazel Nichols, Frank Watson, Charles Hunt, Clayton Taylor, James Wood, Granville Bain, Audley Kemp, Sterling Quant, Bernard Mortimer, Rudolph Knowles, James Shepherd, and Emerick Knowles.
Additional FNM candidates were James Thompson, Chester Thompson, Peter Galanos, Lucius Moree, Basil Neymour, Oswald Munnings, Warren Levarity, Garnet Levarity, Maurice Moore, Giles Newbold, Edwin Brown, Bill Facquharson and Wideon Pyfrom.
Meanwhile on the BDP side the slate included Geoffrey Johnstone, Roland Symonette, Basil Kelly, Tommy Robinson, Orville Turnquest, Arthur Foulkes, Henry Bostwick, Janet Bostwick, Fred Ramsey, Edmund Moxey, Godfrey Pinder, Clifford Cooper, Edward Barrett, Peter Christie, Erwin Knowles, Norman Solomon, Geoffrey Brown, George Baker, Cyril Tynes and Michael Lightbourn.
In the lead-up to nominations, Whitfield’s political right-hand man, Bazel Nichols, ran shuffle diplomacy between the two sides, resulting in tacit agreement that in places such as North End Long Island the FNM would not mount an opposition candidate. The same was to happen in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera, where the BDP did not send a candidate. The FNM also nominated no candidates in Shirlea and Crooked Island.
Additionally, the BDP sent no candidates in Pine Ridge and High Rock, Grand Bahama; in Inagua; in Kemp’s Bay and Mangrove Cay, Andros; and in South Beach and Grant’s Town in New Providence.
During the campaign, from the political platforms, both the FNM and the BDP carefully aimed their cannons at the PLP, carefully and sensible avoiding any criticism of each other.
In the meantime from his own political platform, the wily PLP leader, Lynden Pindling, poked fun at the severed opposition, noting laughingly that, “they were all together, now they are all apart”.
Otherwise in the opposition camps, some races were extremely painful, because they saw close personal friends opposing each other, because they were running as part of opposing political slates.
Such was the case, for example, of the Delaporte constituency, where close friends Arthur Foulkes and Bazel Nichols were representing the BDP and the FNM respectively. Both were defeated by the PLP’s Philip Pinder. In another such case the FNM’s Frank Watson found himself facing the BDP’s Clifford Cooper, with Paul Adderley as the PLP’s candidate.
Mr. Adderley, who as a PLP was first elected to the House of Assembly in 1961, triumphed in the 1977 polls.
Those 1977 elections had proven not only that at the time the PLP under Lynden Pindling was practically an invincible political fighting machine, but that a fragmented opposition, no matter how astute the leadership, would forever fail in The Bahamas.
For a few years following those elections, there were a few other political spin-offs from the mainstream opposition, but by the 1982 elections, the opposition was once again all together. Seat-wise, there were some gains in 1982, but, most importantly, Janet Bostwick, as an FNM candidate, became the first female ever elected to the Bahamian Parliament.
There were even greater gains in 1987, and eventually, in 1992, the Free National Movement triumphed at the polls, with Hubert Ingraham as the party’s leader.
Interestingly, during those historic 1977 elections, Hubert Ingraham was chairman of the governing Progressive Liberal Party.