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Mara makes history

Peter Wickham

Mara makes history

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WOW! The outcome of the recent by-election is the best possible outcome for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the worst possible scenario for the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).   
The DLP’s candidate won this race by a margin that was decisive, convincing and historic.  Mrs Mara Thompson therefore becomes the first woman to represent that constituency, the first wife of a representative to replace that representative in Parliament, and the first wife of a Prime Minister to enter active politics and replace that
Prime Minister in his capacity as a constituency representative.  
At the constituency level, the win is also historic since her 4 613 votes represents the single largest number of votes that the Democratic Labour Party has ever achieved in St John under any previous representative, and this includes the two former Prime Ministers (Barrow and Thompson).  
Moreover, it appears that this numerical tally is the single largest that any political party has ever achieved in any constituency anywhere in this country since the establishment of single-member constituencies.
Regardless of the fact that I consider the vote share more relevant, it is noteworthy that the closest that any parliamentarian (BLP or DLP) has ever come to Mrs Thompson’s tally is former Prime Minister Arthur in St Peter (1999) with 4 422 votes.
The numerical count is always of interest for reasons that are more sensational since it is influenced by the number of registered voters, which changes from time to time.
The vote share or percentage of votes received is, however, the more scientific measure and here also are important records that have been broken by this Thompson victory.  
Her 89 per cent share of votes cast is also the single largest share received by any parliamentarian who currently sits in Parliament and indeed the single largest share of support ever received by any parliamentarian who ever won a seat in the Parliament of Barbados since the introduction of single-member constituencies.  
Here also, Mrs Thompson has set new records, overtaking that of Barrow in 1971 (86 per cent) and 1986 (86.4 per cent) and Thompson (David) in 1987 (86 per cent). The BLP representatives who have come closest to this record would be Arthur in 1999 (83 per cent) and Mottley in 1999 (80 per cent).  
This type of win is normally only associated with party leaders across the region and puts her in the league of Prime Minister Gonsalves who normally secures approximately 80 per cent of the votes cast, although she falls slightly short of what appears to be a regional record held by Dr Denzil Douglas who secured 93 per cent of votes cast in “Number 6” in 2000 and 2004.  
Mention should also be made of Dr Keith Mitchell’s performance in 1999 when he secured 90 per cent of votes cast in St George North-East constituency, which was incidentally an election in which he won all the seats in Grenada.
This victory will provoke an interesting analysis of by-elections which I will undertake next week, but also prompts the DLP and BLP to reflect on major issues.
The Dems are naturally pleased, but need to remember that “one swallow does not a summer make”, since there are factors that contributed to this victory that will not facilitate their triumph in the 2013 election and this needs to be their major focus at this time.  
There was a 5.5 per cent swing in favour of the DLP candidate this time around. However, the swing in St John is always exaggerated (positively or negatively) and the Dems can therefore only expect a fraction of this swing at the national levelif an election were called at this time.  
This is consistent with recent public opinion polls which have projected a swing in the vicinity of two per cent.
This essentially means that the DLP is not losing ground – which is a good thing for them – but it also means that it would struggle to hold on to some of its weaker seats and one presumes that it would wish to be considerably more comfortable now.  
It has been previously noted that the DLP holds a generous number of seats, but this Government is precariously perched on a national popular vote which is only six percentage points greater than the BLP’s and this does not provide much protection against the vagaries of public opinion in an environment of economic discontent.  
A frank assessment of the current state of public opinion is that the people of Barbados consider the DLP to be doing “okay”. However, one would think that “fours” and “sixes” in cricketing terms would be more the order of the day in an environment where the BLP is struggling badly.
The BLP’s perspective is considerably more troubling. This party has had some challenges recently and this result will only serve to make matters worse.
I have already gone on record and argued that the BLP should not have contested this election since its imminent defeat would have been difficult to “spin” in the court of public opinion.
Ironically, I anticipated a slightly better showing for its candidate and now that the worst-case scenario has manifested itself, I am challenged to understand why this is better than a decision not to contest the seat.
Former Prime Minister Arthur has now recorded his second successive defeat at the hands of the DLP and his second loss in a by-election at the DLP’s hands (the first being in St Michael North-West, 1996).
Although he did win three general elections (1994, 1999 and 2003) and one by-election (2002) he will justifiably be challenged to defend his performance as he prepares for the 2013 general election.
There are several factors that have precipitatedthis outcome; however, it cannot be denied that Arthur’s venomous attacks on the DLP candidate was a strategic error, as was his approach which billed the contest as a national referendum on the Government.  
It will be interesting to see how the BLP spin doctors respond to this scenario.
 Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).