PURELY POLITICAL: Stuart narrows poll options
SOME PEOPLE HAVE BEEN RELENTLESS in their pursuit of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to make two crucial political decisions amidst Barbadians’ celebrations of their most favoured time of the year, the Christmas season.
While Barbadians were engaging in frenetic preparations for the Yuletide season – amid understandably cautious spending by some because of the recession – Stuart would have been having two important conversations with himself.
First, he would have been giving careful consideration to the choice of candidate by the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to fill the vacant St John seat following the October 23 death of David Thompson, the late prime minister, who would have held sway in the constituency since 1987.
By the latest count at the weekend, according to senior DLP officials, so far at least 12 people have indicated a willingness, either formally to the party’s secretariat, or through other channels, to be the candidate, while there had been an initially intense, though now apparently waning, lobby for Thompson’s widow, Mara.
Holding the seat
The thinking behind the Mara lobby may have been influenced somewhat by a so far unconfirmed suggestion that Thompson had made a deathbed wish that she contest the ensuing by-election after his passing and “hold” the seat for one of his daughters.
Stuart’s choice of candidate after extensive consultations with the St John constituency branch, whose nominee he does not have to accept, will speak loudly about his influence in, and control of, the party and its administrative machinery.
The second major decision facing the new Prime Minister, of course, is the selection of a date for the by-election itself, with the compass about which he spoke within the last few weeks placing a likely date very close to the observance of the Errol Barrow bank holiday on January 21 chosen by Barbadians to honour the memory of the revered late prime minister, Father of Independence and National Hero.
Though Barbadians would have been caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, some of them with their eyes on the election clock, others, supporters of the DLP, would also have been anxious about Stuart’s timing of the election day call.
Would he make that call in the lead up to Christmas Day? Or would he wait until after its passage, and remind Barbadians in the midst of their celebrations that there was important work to be done that could not wait until their gastronomic pleasures had been sated?
Stuart has made it clear that if nothing else, he is a student of politics and history and he would therefore been keenly aware of the importance of timing in political decisions.
He would no doubt recall the severe lambasting former Prime Minister Owen Arthur received in the dying days of his third term when after more than a year of goading and intense public pressure from the David Thompson-led DLP Opposition, he chose December 20, 2007 – five days before Christmas –
to announce the date for the next general election.
Not only that, but for the superstitious, and those who “believe”, he also announced December 31, traditionally associated with “ringing out the old, and ringing in the new”, as Nomination Day for the January 15, 2008 poll.
Not unexpectedly, the timing drew a firestorm of criticism from the DLP – essentially on the grounds of interrupting Barbadians’ observance of the birth of Christ – which had been clamouring all year for Arthur to call the election, as well as from leftwing elements, who in the tradition of Karl Marx have said in their hearts that there is no God far less a Jesus Christ.
Stuart would have had to be wary as he mulled over his selections of the inevitable accusations, first, of pandering if he were to choose the widow; secondly, hypocrisy if he interrupted the Christmas observances; and third, if by delaying the timing
of his choices he created the impression of taking for granted the St John electorate whose loyalty to the DLP has been unquestioned for more than half a century.
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, now again Leader of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), would be able to empathise with Stuart
as he pondered his decisions.
Arthur, possibly at the height of his popularity with Barbadians voters, on Boxing Day (December 26, 1998), took a calculated gamble on two fronts by unexpectedly breaking the Christmas festivities and calling a poll for January 20, 1999 – the day before the Errol Barrow bank holiday.
For his chutzpah, and what his supporters called enviable political instincts, he carted off the twin jackpots of an unprecedented third term as prime minister and inflicting the worst electoral defeat on the DLP (26-2) in its history – some pundits even said putting paid to Thompson’s dreams of becoming prime minister – while confounding the political theory that third term governments usually perform poorly at the polls.
But then as if he had a political death wish, Arthur did it again, choosing the early afternoon of December 20, 2007 – five days before Christmas when perhaps all most Barbadians had uppermost on their minds were presents, ham, baked pork and peas and rice – to announce in a terse two-minute statement broadcast to the nation from Government Headquarters that an election
would be held on January 15, 2008.
While lauded by some of his supporters,
who had begun to see some Errol Barrow rather than Sir Grantley Adams, the patriarch of the BLP, in his approach to politics – including paying for the erection of a statue appropriately in Independence Square – he was immediately excoriated by the DLP which had grudgingly acknowledged the gesture as transcending party politics.
Thompson blasted the manner in which
the 2008 election date was announced, calling
it an abomination against the country’s
“It is abominable that the Prime Minister would’ve cut right into what is really one
of the most important events for persons who practise the Christian faith, which is Christmas,” Thompson said. “And, to my mind, this is another manifestation of a tyrannical leadership by the Barbados Labour Party.”
He went on to describe the announcement as “insensitive to the thousands of Barbadians who would have come home for Christmas to spend time with their family and friends”.
He dubbed the choice of date as an attempt by the Government to short-circuit political debate leadingup to the election.
“The period for which you’re going to be able to actually debate and discuss issues on the political platform and otherwise will probably be between January 2 and 14 – a 12-day campaign.”
The DLP leader said his party therefore would not undertake any heightened political activity “until the Christmas and holiday season is over”, and urged his candidates and supporters to take part in church-based activities and make
“In deference to the Christian community, that is what we view as the kind of political activity that should take place and we will start our campaign after the holiday season,” Thompson said.
The DLP under Stuart now faces the dilemma that Arthur confronted and lost.
But so far, he has declined to even hint at which of the dozen or so prospective candidates will be selected and has been keeping the poll date close to his chest.
“No hints as to the who,” he told the media
last week Saturday during the annual Christmas party for his St Michael South constituents,
held this year at Ilaro Court, the Prime Minister’s official residence.
“But even that we can’t conceal for too much longer because, quite frankly, we are operating within a time zone.
“In another few days, I will have what I have to say about that.
“We have a time frame in which to call the by-election. That time frame is 90 days from the date of the death of the late Prime Minister . . . . We have to conduct the election within a 21-day time compass.
“So we are on a countdown and in the very near future, I will make known to the country what is going to happen in St John and when.”
It is now Christmas, and if Stuart has not announced his decisions since this was written last Wednesday (because of the short work week), then he could have considerably narrowed his options to possibly a 12-day campaign his predecessor and late MP for St John deprecated.
Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year to all.
• Albert Brandford is an independent, freelance political correspondent.