Formation – Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield – Founding Leader
In a dramatic vote in the House of Assembly in 1970, eight parliamentary members of the Progressive Liberal Party voted no confidence in Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling thus initiating a series of events that led to the formation of the Free National Movement. They came to be known as the Dissident Eight.
They were; Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield, Sir Arthur A. Foulkes, Warren J. Levarity, Maurice Moore, Dr. Curtis McMillan, James “Jimmy” Shepherd, Dr. Elwood Donaldson and George Thompson. The Dissident Eight initially identifying themselves as Free PLP held meetings at Spring Hill Farm in Fox Hill, the home of Mr. Shepherd. The FNM officially became a political party on 20th October, 1971, with Sir Cecil as its founding Leader.
Members of Other Political Parties Join
The other group, the United Bahamian Party was one of the main political parties in the Bahamas and had governed the country since the advent of party politics in 1958 as a party, until it lost the 1967 general election by a paper-thin margin to the Opposition PLP.
The UBP leadership was predominantly white while blacks made up the vast majority of the citizenry. Once out of power, the UBP, then under the Leadership of Sir Geoffrey A. D. Johnstone, decided that the party’s time was at an end. They looked to the Free PLP to form a new party and to become the Official Opposition.
The Dissident Eight called on all parties in opposition to the PLP to disband and for their members to join a new party – the Free National Movement. The UBP disbanded and most of its members joined the FNM. The National Democratic Party, led by Paul Adderley, refused to disband, however, some of its members, most notably Sir Orville A. Turnquest joined the new movement. In fact, immediately after the vote of no confidence, Sir Kendal G. L. Isaacs and Sir Orville identified with the Dissidents and came to be known as Number Nine and Number Ten respectively.
Period of Turmoil (1972 – 1979)
After the loss of the 1972 general elections Sir Kendal became Leader of the FNM as Sir Cecil was not re-elected to the House of Assembly. Sir Kendal, Sir Arthur, Sir Orville and Mr. Norman Solomon represented the Official Opposition at the Independence Constitutional Conference in London, England in December, 1972.
The party grew in part by attracting mainly independent middle-class voters and the old UBP voter base as well as a considerable following of working-class Bahamians. However, these were heady days for the governing PLP, which led the country to independence in 1973, and the FNM failed to gain much more than 40% of the vote in a string of general election defeats.
Just prior to the 1977 general elections there was a disastrous split in the movement with two opposition entities contesting – the FNM, led by Sir Cecil and the BDP (Bahamian Democratic Party), led by John Henry Bostwick.
Period of Re-Unification & Stability – Sir Kendal G. L. Issacs – (1980-1990)
However, after laborious negotiations, the movement was back together in 1980 under the FNM banner in time for the 1982 elections. Sir Kendal led the FNM in that election when the party won 11 seats in the House, up to that time its best performance against the PLP. Sir Kendal also led the party in the 1987 when the FNM won 16 seats in an election with gross irregularities.
Soon after the elections of 1987 Sir Kendal resigned as Leader and Sir Cecil resumed leadership of the FNM. He died in May 1990.
Period of Preparation & Governance – Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham (1990-2001 & 2005-2012)
Hubert A. Ingraham was then elected to the Leadership. The FNM attacked the governing PLP on corruption charges and published a Manifesto. Mr. Ingraham infused the FNM base with a considerable number of working-class or “grassroots” voters.
Mr. Ingraham led the party into the General Elections of the 19th August, 1992 when the FNM defeated its rival, the PLP, by wide margins, winning 32 of the then 49 seats for the first time becoming the party in government. The FNM Government privatized the government-owned hotels, which had fallen into decline since they had been nationalized in the mid-1970s. Private radio stations were allowed to operate, ending the government’s broadcast monopoly. The FNM also introduced local government and encouraged inward investment to grow the economy. Mr. Ingraham again led the party into the general elections of 1997 when the FNM was re-elected in a landslide, with 35 of the 40 seats in a reduced House.
After Mr. Ingraham decided not to seek a third term in office, O.A.T. “Tommy” Turnquest was elected to the Leadership of the party at a one-day Special Call National Convention in August, 2001. The party lost the 2002 general elections.
At the FNM’s 2005 National Convention Mr. Ingraham was returned as Leader of the Free National Movement. The FNM went on to regain the Government in the elections of 2007.
The FNM lost the 2012 general elections. Outgoing Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham announced his retirement from politics following the defeat. He had served in Parliament for 35 years, winning re-election seven times, including 2012. Mr. Ingraham told supporters, “I gave it the best I could and now I’ve been rejected by the public of the Bahamas. … We had no indication from the general public they would go that way.”
The Minnis Years and Preparation (2012-2021)
On the 9th May, 2012, Dr. the Hon. Hubert A. Minnis, MP, was unanimously elected as Leader of the Free National Movement by the Central Council. At a special call, one day, National Leadership Convention, on the 26th May, 2012, Dr. Minnis’ election was confirmed unanimously. He was re-elected in a contested election at the one-day Party’s National Convention on 21st November, 2014, and he was again elected unanimously and by acclamation (his opponent having withdrawn) at the full National Convention held between the 27th and 29th July, 2016.