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FOR THE RECORD: Stuart’s handicap

Ezra Alleyne

FOR THE RECORD: Stuart’s handicap

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We in this country boast of electing Prime Ministers. We do not ever talk of selecting them as we select the players on a cricket team. We elect them.
So what does one then make of the important but little noticed statistic that of the seven men who have held that high and distinguished office, four were elected and three have come to the office through the process of selection on the death of an incumbent Prime Minister.
In 1985, Sir Harold St John became Prime Minister on the death of Tom Adams, and Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford succeeded Errol Barrow when he too died suddenly in 1987. Both Sir Harold and Sir Lloyd were selected, as it were, on the death of their predecessors in office.
History will record that selected Prime Ministers have had uncomfortable tenures. Sir Harold badly lost the 1986 general election and the fate of Sir Lloyd is now a matter of political record.
An historic no confidence motion succeeded against him in Parliament.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is the second of the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) “selected” Prime Ministers, having taken up that high office on the death of David Thompson. The current challenges that he faces are perhaps part of the bane of “selected”, as opposed to elected Prime Ministers.
British prime ministers Gordon Brown and John Major also found themselves in similar positions. They were both selected and succeeded prime ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, respectively, and they were both beset with many problems while in office.
Brown lost the next election, as did Sir Harold, and both Major and Sir Lloyd won the next election only to endure even greater problems and eventually lost power in hostile circumstances.
I mean no disrespect to those who come to the office of Prime Minister by either process. Indeed, one may argue that either way, the Governor General appoints the person who commands the support of the majority of the members of the House of Assembly.
However, the reality is that he or she who is chosen after an election campaign automatically carries the cloak of popular authority as part and parcel of the goodwill and apparel of office.
The absence of this latter essential can be a handicap to a selected Prime Minister. It proved fatal to Sir Harold’s chances of retaining the Government in 1986 when he was faced with an opponent, the former Prime Minister Errol Barrow, who carried within his back pocket the authority of 15 years of managing the economic fortunes of the country.
There are those who think that Sir Harold should have called an election shortly after Adams died in 1985 to “cash in” on the sympathy vote. Similarly, there are those who think that Mr Stuart should have called an election in January 2011 to “cash in” on the Thompson sympathy vote. Neither of these two gentlemen pressed the “real politik” of the circumstances and Sir Harold lost the election.
Like him, the fate of Mr Stuart’s Prime Ministership will soon be in the hands of the gods, for the voice of the people is as the voice of God. The intriguing aspect of this whole process is that history has shown an uncanny habit of repeating itself so far as the office of Prime Minister is concerned.
The death of one charismatic Prime Minister, Adams, led to the selection of his deputy who, admittedly, was less charismatic, if charismatic at all. The death of Mr Barrow, a leader who oozed charisma from every hair on his head, led to the selection of his deputy, Sir Lloyd. Both Sir Harold and Sir Lloyd lost power to the Opposition.
And now the historical and constitutional canvas appears ready once again to receive the verdict of the gods. Those of us who cogitate on these matters know only too well that a week is a long time in politics. We also know that it is an undeniable truth that politics is as much about emotion as it is about reason – or even more so than.
In October 2010, there was nothing more pregnant with emotion than the death of Thompson. The rational political question is: should Mr Stuart and the DLP have cashed in on it then? A similar question was raised in relation to Sir Harold’s decision.
Faced with similar circumstances, both Adams and Thompson would have pressed the green light.
So too would Mr Barrow and Owen Arthur. Sir Harold, Sir Lloyd and Mr Stuart did otherwise!