ALL AH WE IS ONE: Date caution
Over the last week, a key confidante of the Prime Minister of Barbados, attorney Hal Gollop, sought to condition the public mind into accepting the possibility of a late election well into the 90-day outer limit provided by the constitution.
Coming in the same week when former Electoral Commission chairman and now campaign manager of the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Jimmy Serrao had stated categorically that the Prime Minister must announce the election date by January 16, Gollop was therefore engaged in a debunking exercise by presenting the constitutional means through which the government could stay in office beyond the fifth year of the life of the existing parliament.
Had the debate on the constitutionality of the election date been a mere academic disagreement between two constitutional lawyers, we could all applaud from the bleachers. However, there has been more than a hint of a suggestion that the Prime Minster fully intends to stay in office for as long as is constitutionally mandated, and in this regard, Gollop’s media effort can be seen, not only as a kite flying exercise, but more significantly, as a statement of intent.
This was particularly important given Gollop’s awareness of a pervasive “common sense” and not unreasonable view held not only Serrao, but many other commentators, that mid-February would automatically mark the end of the life of the government, and that no March Estimates could be presented without a parliament being in place.
The gist of Gollop’s argument therefore seemed to be that Estimates could be laid long before the mid-February automatic dissolution, thus freeing the hand of the Prime Minister to call the election well into the new financial year into the month of May.
If this is the intention, the Prime Minister would be well advised, that in the selection of the date, he should rely on the advice of persons whose view of politics is not confined to the narrow concerns of constitutional law. An action may very well be in conformity with the Constitution, but in effect be politically disastrous.
As argued before, there are “moral” considerations which will come into play, since the “90 day provision” was meant for exceptional circumstances which prevent an election, rather than to merely extend the life of a government for its own sake.
Further, it would violate the principles of “decency” to commit a country to a revenue and expenditure programme, a few days before a general election, and would indicate scant disregard for the voice of the people.
In addition, such a decision would portray the Prime Minister as one enjoying power with no consideration other than his own satisfaction of sitting in the chair and would diminish his aura.
It has no tactical value.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.