Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who served three non-consecutive terms as the top elected leader of the Bahamas, said Tuesday he was "shocked" at his Free National Movement party's defeat in national elections.
"I gave it the best I could and now I've been rejected by the public of the Bahamas," Ingraham told The Miami Herald shortly after handing over the country's leadership to longtime political rival Perry Christie and his Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). "We had no indication from the general public they would go that way."
At his swearing-in, Christie said the results of the election were heard "with great thunder and awesome power."
"My colleagues and I will leave no stone unturned in our common pursuit of a brighter future for all of you," he said.
Christie promised that his government will make reducing joblessness and crime his top priorities.
"We have scores of young men, women who have no work. There is no cash in the economy," said Fred Mitchell, a Christie ally who previously served as foreign minister. "We have to find the mechanisms to put people back to work. That must be a priority; it cannot be allowed to continue."
Christie took office shortly after 4 p.m., only hours after exit polls from Monday's election revealed that unhappy voters in the tiny Caribbean nation - less than an hour from Miami - became the latest country in the region to return the opposition to power. In December, Jamaican voters elected former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her People's National Party after a five-year absence. Months earlier in Haiti, voters rejected the presumed candidate of then-President Rene Preval.
It was the first time that the Bahamas had invited international observers to its elections, and in a statement the Caribbean Community said the preparations for the election were "exceptional" and that workers were well trained.
The results, the 10 members of the mission said, "reflected the will of the Bahamian people."
Local media say exit polling shows Christie's party won at least 29 of the 38 seats in Parliament. Election officials were still finalizing the tally, but everyone had accepted the results, including Ingraham, who said he was calling it quits after 35 years and seven elected terms in parliament.
"I accept my fate and I am grateful to the public for having had the opportunity to serve," said Ingraham, who was re-elected to parliament but said his party must now find a new leader. "I am going to go back to my little law office and enjoy life with my family."
In 2007, Christie lost power to Ingraham amid an international scandal that involved former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith and allegations that Christie's then immigration minister had fast-tracked her application to live in the island. Five years later, the former law partners and friends were back at it again. This time, Christie used the campaign trail to highlight the FNM's failures in office: 34 percent youth unemployment, nearly 500 murders in five years and lack of new investments. Overall, unemployment is at almost 15 percent.
Mitchell said he wasn't surprised by the results, recalling the leadership change he personally witnessed in December in Jamaica.
"When the economy is in the tank and government is insensitive to that, they are going to have problems. That is why the Bahamian electorate responded to it," Mitchell said. "It's the economy coupled with the crime issue. We have to tackle those right away."
Ingraham said a number of reasons factored into the loss, including the dramatic increase in young voters.
"I represent the establishment," he said.
Refusing to dwell on his political legacy, he said, he returned to politics in 2007 out of "obligation to the party and the people who asked me to serve."
"I felt an obligation to carry them into this election," he said. "We didn't win and so the party will have to find a new leader...I have no regrets. The Bahamian people have been very kind to me, very supportive of me. They are tired of me now."
Maybe so, said Mitchell, but he'll believe Ingraham's departure from the political scene, "when I see it."
"I don't believe it," Mitchell said.