Grenada and Barbados
As if to confirm the unity of the forces which had shaped the previous round of elections in the Caribbean, the coming elections in Grenada and Barbados show two incumbent governments confronting similar issues of re-election, revolving largely around the weaknesses of the party leaders themselves.
In the case of Grenada, an open rebellion is in motion with several members of the cabinet having resigned in public rejection of Tillman Thomas’s leadership.
Thomas’s proroguing of parliament to stave off yet another no-confidence vote indicates a desperate last bid to delay the inevitable, and it is clear that having reached this point of a collapsing government, Thomas will not have an easy ride to re-election. Indeed, a government that fails to hold itself together during its term, or is forced to an election outside of its deliberate calling by a sitting Prime Minister, always presents a strong argument against re-election.
If Grenada can be said to have one foot over the precipice, it can be surmised that Barbados, since January 2012, has been stepping back slowly, away from the edge to which it was headed with the early New Year reports of disquiet in the ruling administration.
The principal difference between Barbados and Grenada is that the Grenadian forces dissatisfied with the current leadership have been far more persistent and kamikaze in their efforts than their Barbadian counterparts. Led by St Georges MP Peter David, the anti-Thomas forces have adopted a scorched earth policy that is likely to redound to the benefit of Leader of the Opposition Dr Keith Mitchell.
Political maturity, common sense, a lack of political boldness, a realistic assessment of the electoral consequences, or the absence of a large enough or committed supporting cast, explain why the politics of the ruling administration in Barbados remains far less volatile than that of Grenada. Whilst the threat of resignation here or a leaked letter there provided glimpses of internal tension in Barbados, the actual reality of cabinet resignations in Grenada suggests a far deeper level of political rot.
Despite this, it can be argued that significant damage has been inflicted upon Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s leadership image from the events which prompted him to make his earlier “heads will roll” declaration.
Indeed, it is highly debatable whether the continuing negative images of his leadership as seen in the September CADRES poll would have been as persistent, had Stuart’s Cabinet been more genuinely resolute in his support. Further damage was inflicted by his own inaction.
In this sense, therefore, despite the relative differences in the levels of internal political tension, Grenada and Barbados are approaching elections with uncannily similar political experiences. In both cases, the 2008 crisis, leadership challenges, and revitalized oppositions, threaten to continue the trend of recent incumbent defeats in Caribbean elections.
Much depends now on the question of “timing”.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specializing in regional affairs. Email email@example.com