EDITORIAL: The bigger picture
The upcoming by-election caused by the untimely death of David Thompson, our sixth Prime Minister, is in many respects one of a different kind. Our system does not allow for mid-term elections such as exist in the United States and, short of an opinion poll, there is no other established method of determining the popularity of a Government, or whether the Opposition has overtaken the Government in public favour.
This by-election, coming as it does some three years after the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) gained power in 2008, promises to be a “referendum” of sorts on the approval rating of the Government, since the general election is about two years away. The by-election therefore has more than parochial interest for the political parties.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since 2008, and it is fair to say that a number of major promises made by the then Opposition have not been kept. These will no doubt feature in the campaign and will be met no doubt with the answer that the economic recession has not allowed the performance of such promises and that readjustment was necessary.
On the other hand, the current Opposition will point to its dire warnings in the 2008 campaign that voters should not take chances with the economy and that the manifesto promises of the DLP could not be fulfilled because the recession was already beginning to make its presence felt on the local economy.
With an election about 24 months away, the situation is ideally positioned for something of a reality check on where public sentiment stands on assessment of the two political parties, but the constituency of St John has never returned other than a DLP candidate for over 50 years; the culture of supporting the DLP has become ingrained in that rural riding.
It would therefore be a shock of seismic proportions if the DLP candidate were to be defeated, even if the saga of the St John polyclinic becomes a lightning rod of discontent with both parties. Nevertheless, anything can happen in politics!
In this situation we venture to suggest that national issues should play as important a role as parochial in this campaign. We therefore urge both parties to debate for the public benefit the issues of the economy, the matter of affordability of health care and the matter of what has been called “social drift”, which seems to include the moving away from the moorings of our traditional values.
We think that these issues matter for the people of St John, but also for the national community, and that therefore while the battle is for the seat in St John, it is but part of a wider war, in much the same way as the by-elections in 1976 were smaller battles in a larger theatre of political warfare.
This is the ideal situation for both political parties to rise to the occasion and let the public have reasoned informative debates on the critical issues facing this country and the alternative paths to achieving economic growth and social justice for all Barbadians.
The quality of the debate and the solutions and policies provided may not have their total effect in the results of the votes cast in this by-election, but the country as a whole will benefit from such a clear statement of point and counterpoint on matters affecting this country as it stands at the crossroads.