An early general election?
Could Barbadians be going to the polls much earlier than the first quarter of 2018 when the next general election is constitutionally due? From our reading and analysis of a few recent developments within the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) camp, it seems that the issue of the timing of the next general election is already engaging the attention of the leadership.
Most Barbadians today are so caught up in a daily struggle to make ends meet, it may have escaped their attention that the incumbent administration, the author of much of their current pain, is now at the halfway point of the DLP’s second five-year term. This milestone was reached last Friday, August 21, a day before the DLP opened its 60th annual conference.
Considering that the odds are stacked against the DLP, going for a snap election, instead of taking it down to the wire as was the case last time, makes sense from a strategic standpoint. Firstly, in a worst-case scenario, it could help to contain the scale of damage in terms of loss of seats. Secondly, in a best-case scenario even though this seems highly unlikely, the DLP could scrape home if the Opposition is caught by surprise and does not put up an effective fight.
For sure, calling an early general election would take many by surprise. The widespread perception of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart as laid-back and hardly ever in a hurry gives him an aura of unpredictability which he can use to the DLP’s advantage. But there are many Barbadians who expect Stuart –– as he did last time –– to take the next general election down to the wire.
In planning for the next general election, the Opposition therefore should rule out no possibility and be prepared for any eventuality.
The first sign that the DLP was moving to get its house in order for the next general election was the rather interesting choice of theme for the observance of its 60th anniversary this year. At face value, the statement “It’s all about members” may have little significance. However, the minute the theme is properly contextualized, the reason why the DLP would wish to give its members this reassurance at this time becomes quite apparent.
It is no secret that DLP rank and file members have been complaining bitterly about neglect by the party’s hierarchy. In fact, there are many die-hard Dems who readily express the view that the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) treats its members so much better and that is why BLPites always seem more committed and motivated to fight to advance their party’s cause.
The 60th anniversary theme, therefore, represents an attempt by the DLP hierarchy to mend fences and rally the disgruntled and demoralized political base whose support is always crucial in a general election. The theme is saying to foot soldiers that they are important. Which explains why emphasis during the 60th anniversary observance has been placed on recognizing, albeit in token form, ordinary rank and file members.
The second sign that the DLP hierarchy is getting into election mode was the recent Cabinet retreat which was shrouded in customary DLP secrecy. In essence, the event involved a political/administrative interface between ministers responsible for coming up with public policy and senior civil servants who perform the vital function of implementation. The objective was to discuss more effective delivery of service to the public.
There is an obvious political dimension. Improved delivery of service is an important yardstick by which voters evaluate a Government’s performance. After the harrowing belt-tightening experiences of recent years, the timing of the retreat does suggest that the DLP Government is contemplating stepped-up public sector activity over the next two years.
Such a retreat, however, would have been more valuable before the implementation of austerity measures. Had it occurred, perhaps some of the headaches which so many people had to endure might have been avoided.
The third sign of DLP election thinking was a rather interesting statement coming of the said retreat suggesting a new-found commitment to “improving Government’s communications with the public”. Considering that the DLP has behaved all along as if communication with the public does not matter, it seems the administration, having reached the mid-point of the current term, suddenly had a “Eureka” moment.
Having repeatedly spurned calls from Barbadians for improved communication on critical issues over the last two years, the DLP may discover, much to its chagrin, that its new zeal for communication may be a case of “too little, too late”. It is like a man in a strained relationship with a woman.
The woman keeps imploring the man to engage her in a heart-to-heart conversation but he stubbornly refuses. When the man eventually realizes that he has to talk or the woman may move on, he painfully discovers that she is no longer interested. The DLP may discover Barbadians feel the same way too.
The fourth sign that the DLP is thinking general election came in a profound statement made by Stuart on Saturday evening at the opening of the annual conference. It suggests a desire by the party to repair a broken relationship with the people of Barbados. Stuart asked delegates –– and his choice of words is rather interesting –– to help the leadership come up with an answer to the question: “What is it that remains to be done by the Democratic Labour Party in Government to touch and heal every single household in Barbados?”
He is seeking to give the DLP a unique selling point. In the same way that Errol Barrow captured the hearts of Barbadians through his all-embracing policy of universal free education which his current political successors have dismantled, it seems the DLP is fishing for a similar policy to bolster its re-election chances. Prime Minister Stuart speaks of healing but, as the Dems will painfully discover, there are some cuts which never heal; and they inflicted quite a few in the last few years.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, the Dems may change their approach. However, the die is pretty much cast for the DLP because it does not have a wide range of options. If a snap election is called, it most likely will be in the first or early part of the second quarter of 2017. The aim will be to piggyback on any favourable momentum which the DLP will most likely seek to generate out of the 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations next year.
Independence is firmly etched in the public mind as a DLP/Errol Barrow project. Aware of this, the Government is likely to place emphasis on a celebration that seeks to tap into the great love Barbadians still have for Barrow and to stir up the strong emotion of patriotism to create a “feel-goodism” among the masses.
To help create this upbeat national mood, it is very likely that Government will bring on stream a few major projects to stimulate economic growth, create jobs and put some money in the people’s pockets to make them happy. Oh yes, politicians still believe the people have short memories. It behooves Barbadians, therefore, to always keep
their eyes and ears open, and their brains fully engaged.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)