Belle, Wickham don’t see early election on cards
DON’T COUNT ON an early general election in Barbados, say two political strategists.
They reasoned that though conditions may suggest this possibility, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart was unlikely to make such a bold move.
“If he were a daring politician, I think he would chance an election anytime now,” said Dr George Belle, retired dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.
He added: “There are some negative projections in relation to what the prospects might be in the near future, and on that basis you could say, ‘If I take a chance now I may lose two years but gain five’. That is a calculation I think a daring politician would take. But Freundel is not a daring politician and therefore I would not expect him to do so.”
Regional political pollster Peter Wickham had similar sentiments. He said: “I frankly cannot understand why anyone would think that Stuart would behave so entirely out of character to call an early election . . . . If we look at the two elections he has called, he ignored any strategic benefits of going early and virtually let both elections call themselves.
“I am therefore expecting that unless Stuart loses the confidence of a majority of MPs, he will continue on merrily towards the last possible day of this term, which Prime Minister Kamla Persaud-Bissessar demonstrated was 63 months after the first sitting of the last Parliament. This puts us around June of 2018.”
However, several grassroots political watchers on either side have suggested otherwise. Essentially, they suggest the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government will use the year-long 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations to whip Barbadians into a nationalistic fervour and, with emotions at a high, call the election for sometime between November and early January 2017.
“The optimistic talk has already started. They’re talking about more jobs coming, projects starting soon, Chris [Sinckler] now promising people tax returns by March and relief in his upcoming Budget. So they planning something,” said a well-known Barbados Labour Party (BLP) stalwart.
A senior DLP politician was more direct.
“There are a number of things that could catspraddle us. Both unions seem serious about getting more money for civil servants though the economy can’t afford it yet. But no matter how long we draw that out, we can’t say no to them after six years of no increases.
“The other big thing is those statutory corporations that are haemorrhaging. They are largely responsible for the high deficit. To make those right means sending home people. We have been talking about it but can’t seriously do this [jubilee] year with only two years remaining,” he said.
“At the same time we have to do things to keep Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s from downgrading us again. [Can you] imagine what that would do to people’s psyche this year?
“So my vote is for us to go to the polls. We are doing a good job in the circumstances we find ourselves in,” he contended.
Strategically speaking, Wickham believed the Dems should call an early poll too “since there are some factors in the current political environment that could mitigate their performance, which leaves much to be desired.
“The BLP is having some challenges and there is something of a feel-good factor relating to the 50th anniversary. In addition, there is some amount of safety regarding the pensionable status of all DLP MPs, except [Mara] Thompson, who is unlikely to lose her seat regardless. On the other side, however, is the reality of Stuart’s record [and] he is the only person who can call an early election,” Wickham said.
Belle added that the DLP membership itself would prefer going the full term rather than having a snap poll, because having survived the international financial crisis since 2008, they feel things can only get better. And come 2018, voters would say though they suffered, at least the party delivered on what they were trying to do.
“That kind of narrative might be impressing a large number of members in the party to say, ‘Let’s hold on. We made it to the pension period and we could as well keep going, and we could have as great a chance as we had of getting back another five years’,” said Belle.
However, he cautioned that such thinking could result in the DLP losing any advantage it presently has if the volatile international economy worsens.
“In other words, what they expect to be a positive may turn out to be a negative because they have demonstrated no skill in dealing with the difficult periods.
“They have demonstrated an ability to hold [on] rather than an ability to intervene and bring things around to the advantage of the population,” said Belle, warning that the present gains now being enjoyed, like the bumper tourist season, could be negatively impacted by international events within the next two years.
“In other words, even if they, in their calculations, make a statement that they have demonstrated that the return will eventually come, they cannot convince people it was because of them. And secondly, they would have hurt the people they laid off, the people that can’t go to university, they’ve hurt people with taxes, and so on.
“Unless they can reverse those things by giving people wage increases, give back tax returns and those kinds of things, then people will carry that into the election. And then that is where all they could do is hope for the best,” said Belle.