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No April election

Political Scientist Peter Wickham

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart effectively has until April next year to call a general election, but it would be “unwise” for him to choose that option.

Political Scientist Peter Wickham, who expressed that view today, said it was better for the Democratic Labour Party political leader to seek a new mandate “sooner than later”. “Effectively …the prime minister does have the capacity and the right and privilege indeed, if he feels so inclined, to move all the way down to April,” the pollster noted.

“It would be unwise bearing in mind that that April outside date has always been treated as though it were an extreme circumstance arrangement and normally prime ministers don’t do that.

“I don’t know of many instances in the Caribbean where prime ministers have gone into that discretionary period, hence we are looking at February, which is the assumed deadline by which a prime minister would call an election,” he added.

Wickham said a February 2013 election date “presents some interesting challenges”, since while it would not be a bad time in relation to the traditionally strong tourist season, the fact that campaigning would likely have to take place during Christmas 2012 would be a concern.

“I think that’s the challenge that many people face, that Christmas is not an ideal time for campaigning and if you ring a bell in December it basically means you have a campaign going on through Christmas and into January, and this was probably one of the cardinal errors that was made by Owen Arthur on the previous occasion when he rang the election bell just after the Christmas festivities had started and called an election in January,” he noted.

“And because of that peculiarity this is the reason why many are suggesting it would make sense to have it before, out of the way by Christmas, or alternatively have it after, which would be well into February and perhaps even March, but when you go into March you are looking at discretionary period.

“It is probably better for him and the Democratic Labour Party that he goes sooner than later, but I acknowledge that that is his right and his right alone and he will decide what is best for him and so on,” he added. Wickham said he understood the prime minister had the option of calling the election five years after the first sitting of Parliament after the last general election which “would be the time at which would automatically dissolve if it is not dissolved before that”.

“So under normal circumstances a prime minister would want to dissolve Parliament within five years of the time that it would dissolve itself, and the assumption is that if you allow it dissolve itself then essentially it means that you have lost control of that option,” he stated.

“The only person who can make that decision of course is the prime minister so when we hear reference to the date in January or February I believe that has a lot to do with the last sitting of Parliament.” (SC)

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