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Date debate


Tennyson Joseph

Date debate

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The reaction of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to the common perspective by political commentators whose views were solicited on the issue, that holding of a general election beyond the fifth anniversary of the last presents a political challenge for the ruling administration, was the predictable stoning of messengers.  
In approaching an election, the fewer and less contentious the “election issues”, the better it is for the ruling administration. Significantly, on this occasion the Prime Minister has transformed the normally mundane dating of an election into a major election issue itself, and has handed the Opposition a platform issue beyond the normal policy debates. This in itself gives the lie to those who see the date debate as a non-issue.  
There are two issues that have emerged in the election date debate which this article seeks to clarify. The first relates to the “morality” of the late calling of the election; the second to the interlinked boycott of Parliament by the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).  
One colleague at the University of the West Indies suggested that the claims about the morality of the issue appeared far-fetched since, as the Prime Minister had violated no constitutional principles, no moral issues came into play.  
Whilst I disagree with the notion that constitutionality is synonymous with morality, I was quick to remind the colleague that where I had raised the issue, it was only in reference to the possibility of the Prime Minister committing the country to an annual programme of revenue and expenditure days or weeks before an election, merely to prolong a parliamentary term for its own sake. Other commentators may apply their own usage to the term. I speak for myself.
In this regard too, the view by some apologist commentators that the date is a non-issue is reflective of a type of intellectual laziness, which holds that constitutional “facts” are insulated from political analysis. Our radio commentators should be made of deeper stuff. But alas, the politics!
On the related boycott of Parliament by the BLP, there too, the debate hinges on the morality of the date. If the date is immoral, then the boycott is legitimate. Once again, the partisan politics seem to be determining the stand on the issue.
It was interesting to note that the Prime Minister’s response to a newspaper headline that he was “outfoxed” (a headline, not the utterance of this commentator) was that he had decided upon the date nearly three years ago.  
In a context where the date has now become a central issue, this admission by the Prime Minister confirms the accusation of “inflexibility”, single-mindedness, and political clay-footedness levelled by his detractors. The lawyer’s instinct of winding through loopholes has triumphed over political wisdom.  
A less rigid predetermination to cling to the last minute would have denied the BLP this ready-made launching pad.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]

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