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PURELY POLITICAL: Battle heats up

Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: Battle heats up

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I will not be pushed or made to jump. – St James North MP Rawle Eastmond, DAILY NATION, April 1, 2011.
The attention being given to the choice of candidate, and the process by which it is done, in the constituency of St James North is instructive.
It is intriguing both from the perspective of the internal dynamics of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and the implications of the outcome of this controversial exercise for the forthcoming general election which constitutionally must be held before April 15 next year.
The unfortunate troubled health condition of the longstanding St James North incumbent, Rawle Eastmond, was in clear evidence prior to the last general election and at the time legitimate concerns were raised in the BLP about his candidacy.
Time, that great leveller, has shown that Eastmond managed to win the seat he has held since 1991 but with a much reduced margin of votes.
The record shows that in the 2003 general election, Eastmond defeated the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) Austin Husbands by 2 458 votes to 1 349 (64 per cent versus 35.4 per cent). In 2008, his returns were 2 177 (53 per cent) to Husband’s 1954 (47 per cent).
In the post-2008 period, several individuals expressed an interest in replacing Eastmond.
They varied from a female candidate, business executive Sandra Husbands to attorney-at-law Edmund Hinkson and accountant Douglas Skeete.
It should be noted that the interest in the seat pre-dated the change in the leadership of the parliamentary Opposition in October 2010.
Since then, Husbands has become the nominated candidate for the sister constituency of St James South.
The race was effectively then between Hinkson and Skeete, with the former being the candidate of choice of the former Opposition leader Mia Mottley and the latter being the choice of the recent past president of the Barbados Labour Party George Payne.
In the recent past, complaints were raised about the level of mobilization of members in the branch along with the increase in the membership. These complaints were not outside of the bounds of convention in the Barbados Labour Party as represented by the nomination process in St Joseph some years ago and the more recent nomination in the constituency of St George South.
Indeed, some would suggest that there is a psychological advantage to be gained over its opponents if a party’s nomination is able to mobilize hundreds of voters in the constituency.
As happened in the St George North nomination in April of last year, the turnout was huge and prompted the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to request that a public opinion poll be conducted in July.
This poll covered four constituencies inclusive of St George North.  
The nomination process in St James North came under scrutiny in the aftermath of the deselection of the Opposition leader Mia Mottley and the attendant fallout with the then party president George Payne.
Questions have again been raised once the incumbent Eastmond, in typical politician style, ignored his previous publicly stated desire to exit the political stage.
The confluence of circumstances surrounding Eastmond’s health and public displays of outward affection apparently inspired some members of the constituency branch to propose a runoff for the nomination, notwithstanding the renewed interest he has shown.
While there is provision in the party’s constitution for someone to challenge the incumbent, it is not usually invoked. A challenge is, however, not without precedent and may not be realized as the position of Eastmond on running is being awaited.
He has indicated a willingness to take the matter to his constituency branch this afternoon, (a full week ahead of the February 5 nomination day), with what objective, I’m not sure, since the party’s clearly stated position is that all candidates must be nominated.
Indeed, political leader and Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur, after initially stating his desire to step away from the controversy, has since made it clear that as required by the party’s constitution all candidates must be nominated including himself.
“Any person opting to run, as required by the constitution of the party, has to be nominated and endorsed again,” Arthur said last week.
“There will be no feeling that because you are a former MP, that you don’t have to be nominated again. No one, not even me, should expect they will be automatically nominated again. That is nonsense.”
Some people are not happy with Arthur’s stance, even if they agree that the process has to be followed, since he had previously added fuel to the fire, when he made an impassioned plea for his chief economic affairs spokesman Clyde Mascoll to be a candidate in the next general election.
In the circumstances, it was interpreted by some that Arthur had his eyes fixed on St James North as a likely option for Mascoll. To date, that interpretation has not translated into any expression of interest by Mascoll whose last riding – St Michael North West – is already occupied.
The choice of candidate for St James North is going to be critical in a seat that was at times in the past pretty safe for the BLP, but the margin of victory has dwindled over the years.
Of equal importance is the fact that if a new candidate is chosen that person will require the support of Eastmond and if such support is not forthcoming, at the very least the person has to hope that Eastmond does not work against him.
Given the recent alliance of Eastmond and Mottley, it is more than likely that there will be a coincidence of choice. In this regard, the preferred candidate may be better served by the alliance but this may go against the grain of the branch members.
So the process used to handle the incumbent in this instance is going to be critical.
In an upcoming general election which is likely to have an unprecedented outcome, the obvious thing for the Opposition party to do is to run incumbents, but the circumstances in St James North are themselves peculiar at the personal, branch and party levels.
The incumbent has engaged in some personal affairs in the environs of the constituency that have been made public and could influence perceptions. The branch has reacted to the confluence of events in a way that questions the capacity of the incumbent to buck the trend in the two previous elections’ results.
The Barbados Labour Party is trapped between the incumbent and the branch.
Whatever the outcome, St James North will be watched carefully over the next few weeks and will become a barometer in the general election from the perspective of the process engaged in resolving the issues at the personal, branch and party level.