Wickham suggests Freundel Stuart government must take note of Antigua result
The punishing results of yesterday’s general election in neighbouring Antigua and Barbuda for former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and his United Progressive Party (UPP) signal that the “writing is on the wall” for the Freundel Stuart administration, says political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham.
The director of the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), whose organization accurately predicted the outcome of yesterday’s election in St John’s, said Barbadians should sit up and take note of the poll that swept the Gaston Browne-led Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party into office after ten years in the political wilderness.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Wickham contended that there were distinct similarities between the leadership style of Prime Minister Stuart and his former Antiguan counterpart Spencer that ultimately resulted in the UPP leader losing power after two terms in office.
“So questions of communication, questions of addressing issues, questions of slowness to act . . . I think [were some of] the greatest concerns of Baldwin Spencer and his style of leadership, which is not very different from Prime Minister Stuart,” explained Wickham.
“Spencer is perhaps a little speedier, but it’s the same general approach to life. Nice people, but one often wonders if the pace at which they move is consistent with the wider population.”
In terms of yesterday’s vote, Wickham explained that in the 2009 poll, the UPP had narrowly won as Antiguans and Barbudans opted to give the government a second chance to address unfulfilled promises which he said it failed to adequately respond to.
“I believe that the signal the electorate sent in 2009, the UPP did not get it and I am thoroughly convinced the signals that the electorate sent to this Government in 2013 in Barbados, the Freundel Stuart administration has not started to get the signal yet, and certainly given the opportunity I think the result would be different from what we saw in 2013,” argued the pollster.
“When it [Barbados Government] faces the poll in another three years, the writing will certainly be on the wall, especially when you consider the response of the Antiguan population in 2009,” he added.
Wickham further suggested that the “inordinately long period” Spencer took in calling the elections may have hurt the UPP’s chances.
The party only retained three of the 17 seats in the St John’s parliament and Wickham felt that the delay put the government in a position where it could not defend the state of the economy and niggling concerns about prevailing water shortages.
“I thought it was scandalous that a government could go into an election and people would be able to report that a major problem was a drought,” said Wickham, who noted that “a drought is something over which the government has no control”.
However, “certainly the government has control over the timing of the election and I felt had they called the election late last year the results may very well have been very different . . . because you were in the tourist season, the drought had not kicked off in the way it has now, but essentially [the UPP] waited until June when the tourist season was over, [when] there are a lot of Antiguans who are at home not working any more and then you have niggling problems like water shortages”.
However, he noted that Prime Minister Gaston Browne will have his hands full since Antigua and Barbuda is due to take up the chairmanship of CARICOM in July.
“I think that would be a diplomatic opportunity for him of tremendous proportions so that will be interesting to see how he handles himself.
“He is the youngest ever leader of Antigua and Barbuda. I think he will be a person who will probably make decisions faster than Baldwin Spencer would have, and I think that it is the main thing that Antiguans will like.”