Well done, team DLP
THE RULING Democratic Labour Party (DLP) is to be congratulated on its victory at the polls on Thursday. It has obtained the endorsement of a majority of the voting population in the closest and most exciting general election in the history of Barbados.
Both Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and campaign manager Robert “Bobby” Morris must take credit and be respected for this outcome which defied the odds which the CADRES public opinion polls consistently showed were stacked against the party.
I had several doubts about some of the strategies employed by the DLP, particularly leading up to the announcement of an election date, but I must confess the result means I must concede to their superior approach. Hence, I have no hesitation in saying “well done” to this DLP team for sticking to their game plan and for executing a ground game that was the best I have seen from the Dems and about which general secretary George Pilgrim forewarned us.
In addition to recording a second successive victory over the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), the DLP enjoyed a larger slice of the popular vote by rallying its substantial base. History shows that when the DLP’s base is motivated, it wins elections.
It was able to increase its majority in a number of seats like St Philip West (Dr David Estwick).
The DLP would be concerned about a couple of matters though. It lost two sitting ministers in George Hutson and Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo and a minister of state in Patrick Todd, while three parliamentary secretaries – Harry Husbands, Jepter Ince and Irene Sandiford-Garner – failed to capture their ridings.
None of its six new candidates won, even though Patrick Tannis in St Michael South-East came very close to clinching his first outing.
This meant that in all the ridings where two new candidates faced off, the DLP failed to penetrate those BLP held constituencies – St Michael South-East, Christ Church West and St James North.
The DLP successes in St Philip and Christ Church, where it claimed all its previously held seats, were significant attainments. Equally important was the fact that the Dems were able to hold on to four St Michael seats which were under threat because of the narrow 2008 results that saw them with margins of three per cent or less.
Some of the increased votes recorded by DLP winners impressed.
All of St Philip showed it was DLP territory. In the North Michael Lashley increased his by 333 votes; in the West Estwick moved up by 554; and in the South, Adriel Brathwaite topped his 2008 tally by 349 votes.
In Christ Church, the DLP expansion was less impressive except for Stephen Lashley in West Central, who added 865 votes to his 2008 result; in East Central Ronald Jones notched up an additional 77; Dr Denis Lowe in the East extended his tally by another 120 votes and in the South John Boyce overcame his 2008 number by an additional 52 votes.
The St Michael successes like Michael Carrington (West), James Paul (West- Central), Steve Blackett (Central), Chris Sinckler (North-West) and Richard Sealy (South-Central) served to resist an anticipated BLP onslaught that was needed by them to carry the election.
I suspect the St Michael ground game was superior and emphasized for all, winners and losers, this important aspect of electioneering.
But the DLP has its disappointments. The biggest was not just the loss by Byer-Suckoo in St George South, but the margin of 687 votes to newcomer Dwight Sutherland.
This means the Dems now have only one female MP, Mara Thompson (St John). Having stated in its 2008 manifesto that by the 2018 election
it hoped half of its candidates would be women, there is much to be done in recruiting promising female prospects in short order.
As much as the DLP did well in the south and east, its performances in the north and the west were uninspiring. The decline of Denis Kellman’s tally in St Lucy should, for starters, be noted.
He slipped 334 votes to record a lower total than 2008 as well as 2003.
Add to that the fact that the DLP has lost St Andrew for a fifth successive time and having underperformed in St James Central (George Hutson) and failing to upset St James North (Harry Husbands), its foray in the north of the island needs re-examining.
The BLP was not disgraced by this result and came as close to winning as any party in a contest that sought to create a one-term government.
The party will want to examine the reasons for its loss, having benefited from positive swings in all the polls prior to election day.
There were weaknesses in the BLP’s approach to the campaign and it clearly lost its way in the ground game on the day in the urban corridor.
It will glory in the fact that of its 12 candidates who had never won before, five – Santia Bradshaw (St Michael South-East), Jeffrey Bostic (Bridgetown), Sutherland (St George South), Maria Agard (Christ Church West) and Edmund Hinkson (St James North) secured seats.
It would be relieved that its candidates in St Joseph (Dale Marshall),
St Andrew (George Payne) and Ronald Toppin (St Michael North),
who all won by about one per cent in 2008, secured their seats with increased majorities.
It will welcome back Trevor Prescod (St Michael East) and Kerrie Symmonds (St James Central), the only two recycled losers from 2008 to win back seats.
The BLP’s 14-person minority is a blend of youth and experience who should feel buoyed by the support some candidates like Sutherland, Bostic, Hinkson and Agard received. And be thankful that Bradshaw scraped home.
Parliament’s female contingent now goes upto five, a proud record.
The BLP will recognize that others like Lynette Eastmond (St Philip West), Anthony Wood (St Philip South), Jerome Walcott (Christ Church South), Joseph Atherley (St Michael West), David Gill (St Michael South Central) and Noel Lynch (St Michael South) should now be put out to pasture, making way for new blood.
The BLP has to look at its St Michael and Christ Church candidates going forward because too many of them failed to deliver as anticipated.
On the occasions when the DLP has lost elections, in 1994 and 1999 in particular, it has been because of a demotivated base. This was not the case in 2013, even in the face of prognoses of possible defeat.
This time around it was full of self-belief and remained firm in its own convictions.
Even though the statistics emerging in the final CADRES poll led me and others to believe the DLP would narrowly lose because of the stated seven per cent swing against it, I believe Peter Wickham and his team need not be overly defensive about its work, given the outcome and the plus or minus five per cent margin of error it uses to protect its numbers.
CADRES has an enviable record of predicting election results here and in the wider Caribbean. To the extent that it undershot this high water mark should not be an embarrassment.
I believe in the integrity of CADRES and know they relied on the information they gleaned in their polling. I said from the outset that I make my predictions entirely on their data and that if they fell, so would I.
When CADRES said the DLP had narrowed the gap, I conceded it would be a 16-14 or 17-13 result either way. When the gap appeared to have widened, I anticipated the BLP had nudged ahead.
Since that snapshot last weekend turned out not to be the reality last Thursday, it meant the BLP and the DLP were in a neck-and-neck finish, which it turned out to be.
This close finish presents its own challenge for governing when the House is in the committee stage of a bill. This is a serious problem. Parliament must elect a Speaker, presumably from the benches of Government.
It must also elect a Deputy Speaker and a chairman of committees in that order from the 16 elected DLP MPs.
The Speaker cannot participate in a vote at committee stage. Assuming all MPs are in the country and in their places at the committee stage of a bill, with the chairman of committees in place to carry out the presiding function, the governing party would have a maximum of 14 members. As would the Opposition.
The chairman has a casting vote, but I am sure readers will agree it is an untidy situation which could lead to deadlock from timeto time.
This challenge notwithstanding, Government must govern. It must go ahead with the programme which the people of Barbados have endorsed with barely a working majority of 16-14. Such a narrow margin of seats will make for some interesting parliamentary debates, but the BLP should be careful not to use the tenuous advantage which Stuart now has to frustrate the deliberate will of the people.
Let us now all get back to work to ensure the country, which both Dems and Bees dearly love, is afforded every opportunity to grow and expand, offering hope to all by getting more people employed, retaining civil service jobs, reversing the economic decline of recent years, stabilizing the cost of living and securing the social, health and education entitlements which we jealously guard.
This Barbados is all we have. Let us work to retain it as the gem of the Caribbean.
• Harold Hoyte is Editor Emeritus of THE?NATION.