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Is a 2012 election now out?

Harold Hoyte

Is a 2012 election now out?

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And Happy New Year, politicos.
By this you can guess I have pretty well given up on the possibility of a general election taking place this year.
Today being the 18th day of November, we can almost certainly kiss goodbye to my earlier notion that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart would take the initial legal step to put in place a 2012 poll. This election is constitutionally due, at the very latest, by mid-May, 2013, but March, April and May are not on the cards given the need for the Annual Estimates to be prepared and approved by March 31 each year.
Time has almost run out for an election to be comfortably held before Christmas activities are with us.
It was my contention all along that Stuart’s latest 2012 option was to visit us with an election during the first week of December. I chose Wednesday, December 5, but it could conceivably have been any day in that week or up to December 14.
The House of Assembly meets on Tuesday, at which time Stuart is likely to lay the long-looked-for Waterman Report on the Alexandra School. Although he would be cutting it close, Stuart has the option of laying that report as some type of trump card and fulfilling his obligation, and then announcing his election date to be December 13 or 14.
If he goes beyond that date, he will be delaying it at great risk to his party’s chances of re-election.
My observation and experience as a keen election watcher for half a century pointed me to a preferred December call rather than late January, Stuart’s only other realistic option if he wants to avoid the embarrassment of running the life of the House of Assembly into the last couple of weeks of its legitimate existence – the first time ever in our history.
Having met for the first time on February 12, 2008, Parliament’s life comes to an end on February 12, 2013 – five years thereafter. That’s the law. Of course, the Prime Minister has another 90-day option after the end of the life of the House of Assembly, during which he may choose to go to the polls. That would be another historic over-reach and trespassing on extra time in circumstances that cannot really be legally justified.
It would also be a politically risky move since, according to the September CADRES/NATION public opinion poll, a high number(65 per cent) of respondents called for elections to be held. Asked if the “time is right for an election”, 696 of the 1 070 people polled replied in the affirmative. Only 18 per cent said “no” and 16 per cent were unsure.
Further, his Government received a 4.8 overall performance rating compared with the Opposition’s 5.2. Therefore, for Stuart to crave the indulgence of these voters for an additional six or more months would be to invite their wrath and his and his party’s dismissal.
This past week presented Stuart with his best “December” chance to have visited Government House to advise Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave to prorogue Parliament by proclamation.
Section 61, Subsection 3 of the Barbados Constitution provides: “Subject to the provisions of Subsection (4), Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date of its first sitting after any dissolution and shall then stand dissolved.” (Subsection 4 speaks to the conditions on which Parliament may be extended by the Governor General – the condition of war.)
If he had done that, in order to have held an election by December 9, counting backwards, we would have needed at least 14 (and not more than 21) calendar days after Nomination Day. Sundays and public holidays, in this case Independence Day, November 30, would count. Assuming a minimum of 14 days, Nomination Day would have to be Monday, November 26.
Another ten or so days are needed prior to Nomination Day to put in place the legal documentation for elections. Ten days before Nomination Day would put us at November 16 – two days ago.
But if Stuart chooses to make the announcement on Tuesday, we are looking at Nomination Day around November 29 and elections on December 13 or 14.
The Barbados Constitution provides that once the Governor General dissolves Parliament, with the stroke of a pen he is required to issue writs under the Public Seal and send to each returning officer of each of our 30 constituencies. That procedure can take up to two days.
Then writs have to be published for each constituency. It is at this stage that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission takes over. It has three days after the writs have been issued to publish what is known as “a preliminary list” of electors.
Afterwards, the commission must publish not later than 21 days later, an official register of voters (the final revised one) which has to be used in the election.
All of this takes time and is what gives us those extra days after the dissolution of Parliament and before Nomination Day. It can be rushed in seven days, but usually takes as many as ten.
In 2008 the hiatus between the announcement of the election and Nomination Day was 12 days. It was the same number of days in 2003, the announcement coming on December 20 while Nomination Day was December 31. In December 1998, Arthur announced to the media: “I have advised the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.” That was on December 26, Boxing Day. Nomination Day was set for January 5, giving the commission 11 days to do its paperwork.
If the election is announced Tuesday, giving ourselves ten or so days before Nomination Day, it would have to be held on November 29 and election would then be held 14 days thereafter. That bears down rather closely on Christmas.
In other countries in this region, elections have been held closer to Christmas. And this year Bermuda is holding its poll on December 17.
The 2012 yearend election calendar in the Caribbean suggested four possible poll determinations: Barbados, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands and Grenada.
In the Turks and Caicos Islands they went to the polls on November 9 after Britain’s Overseas Territories Minister, who determines election dates, kept his word and chose a 2012 date. A narrow one-seat majority divides their elected parliament.
Also on November 9, Bermuda announced it would be having an election on December 17. There, Prime Minister Paula Cox is under pressure and took the decision to have the election in circumstances where there is an internal DLP “Eager 11” type of rebellion (or a BLP “Fervent Four” one) against her leadership.
If Cox’s party, the Progressive Labour Party, wins, she is unlikely to command the support of the majority of elected MPs. In the last election held in December 2007, the party had a comfortable 22-14 majority.
In Grenada, Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has an outside date of October 2013 to call elections, having won a mandate in the first quarter of 2008. His government has, however, suffered internal dissent and resignations and he is under pressure to hold elections since he has adjourned Parliament indefinitely in order to forestall a no-confidence motion against him.
That leaves us with just Barbados.
There was much talk in some political circles that Stuart was likely to call the Barbados election shortly after the results were known about the United States election once President Obama had won.
Eleven days have now passed since that momentous result and therefore much of the gloss associated with it has worn off, meaning it is hardly any longer a “feel good” factor for Stuart’s consideration.
But he had some positive words to say on Sunday about the United States election result and the prospects in Barbados. He noted that both his Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and Obama’s Democratic Party were efficiently run political institutions and Obama’s victory was assured by his party’s reputation; and similarly his party’s own record would ensure the DLP’s.
That analogy seems to ignore the fact that both efficiently run Democratic Labour Party (and Barbados Labour Party) administrations have lost previous elections. Efficiency alone does not win elections, although Obama’s wonderful “ground game” was unprecedented. It is up to the DLP not just to covet that strategy, but also emulate it.
Earlier in the year there had even been talk that Stuart would have opted for an Independence election which would have allowed him to invoke the spectre and residual sentiment for late Prime Ministers
Errol Barrow and David Thompson. But that time frame has long passed.
What then will be our date with destiny?
Our last two elections were held on January 15, 2008, and May 21, 2003. In 1999 we went to the polls on January 20. Therefore, two of the last three elections were held in January, one won by the BLP and the other by the DLP. That is the type of date Stuart may now have to contemplate. If that is so, it looks as though Stuart is going to be caught somewhere between those January dates – 15th, 20th or, in the case of the 1991 election, the 22nd.
For the 2008 election, then Prime Minister Owen Arthur announced his January 15 date on Thursday, December 20, creating unnecessary stress five days before Christmas. Arthur went further and chose Nomination Day as Old Year’s Day, December 31.
This meant that on the day when we were “ringing out the old”, candidates were processing their papers for the election, wondering if they, too, would be going out with the old.
He announced the 1999 election on Saturday, December 26, 1998, making a mess of the plans of politicians for Old Year’s Night activities.
Likewise, I suspect any date chosen by Stuart around this year’s holidays may create quite a ruckus.
If it means we are on to Christmas, clearly Red Plastic Bag would tell us that like the mythical Maizie, Stuart is making movements with Santa Claus.
His popular Christmas calypso states:Maizie, in all honesty,
Why not under the Christmas tree?
Maizie, I am vex because,
Yuh making movements with Santa Claus.
Maizie, where is the reindeer?
Maizie, I ain’t see nuh sleigh . . . 
If there is no political reindeer and no political sleigh, we the voters may have to wait until after Christmas to say which political party we think has been naughty and which has been nice.