ALL AH WE IS ONE – Stuart’s challenges
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is in the unenviable position of having inherited the political kingdom, following a leader enjoying significant national popularity. Under such conditions, the new leader often experiences “political devaluation” since he is placed in a box that reduces his role to that of “continuing the legacy” of the former leader.
This carries with it a built-in basis for failure, since it places the unattainable demand upon one man to become someone else. We can label this the “challenge of national acceptability”.
Stuart also faces a challenge of internal political consolidation.
A change of leadership in midstream often imposes the necessity of replacing the inner circle. In such a process, there are always winners and losers, with the losers being the ones most closely politically aligned with the former leader, and who naturally have the greatest difficulty adjusting to the reality of new leadership.
An early casualty of this development so far has been objective political discussion, since much of the public discourse coming from that group is a reflection of what in their perspective “ought to be” rather than “what is”. Their strategy is to set themselves up as “the keepers of the old faith” against which they continue to measure the new leader, further constraining his freedom to manoeuvre.
It is partly to resolve these challenges that a new leader is often advised to “seek his own mandate”. However, such a course of action is easier said than done since a number of other considerations must be weighed in the balance.
Particularly crucial in the present context are the timing of the next Budget; the public response to the coming measures; the performance of the economy; the time required for the new Prime Minister to consolidate his own leadership; and the degree of readiness of the main Opposition party.
It is safe to assume that the more time elapses, the greater will be the pain from the measures in the next Budget, and the more acrimonious will be the public response to the proposals. The economic turnaround is also not expected to be instantaneous.
Time however serves Stuart’s need for internal political consolidation. A strong argument in his favour is the need for Barbados to settle itself as it comes out of the rapid and strange disruptive events of the September/November period, which began with the Campus Trendz deaths and ended with Tropical Storm Tomas.
The country also needs time to elect a new representative for St John and to allow the Budget proposals to sink in.
In short, the challenge facing Stuart is for the country to accept him as the undisputed Prime Minister charting his own course. Whilst a snap election may resolve this challenge in one fell swoop, it also carries the contradictory risk of compounding them. Only time will tell.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specialising in analysis of regional affairs.