To change or stay the course?
2018 will see elections being held in Barbados. What do the global trends in elections over the last few years suggestwhich direction Barbados should follow?
First, Canada. In 2015, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper called an election with a protracted campaign period by Canadian standards. By all accounts, the candidate with the best chance of winning the election was the former leader of the New Democratic Party, Thomas Mulcair, with former Prime Minister Harper nipping at his heels.
Mr Mulcair failed to energize his base and produced a platform which failed to, among other things, promise to engage in infrastructure spending as a stimulus. He did promise a balanced budget approach much like Mr. Harper. This was an odd place to be for a party considered by many to veer to the far left. Mr Harper fell victim to his own stale approach and to the notion of identity politics his campaign introduced during the campaign.
The majority of the Canadian electorate chose the left of centre Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. The younger Trudeau sold Canadians a message of hope, infrastructure spending and a refusal to be seduced by identity politics. Mr Trudeau and his party had a good read of where the Canadian electorate was at. Canadians were also wary of Mr Harper but were not prepared to go further left to where Mr. Mulcair may have taken them.
Second, the United States. After a contentious election, President Trump emerged victorious in the Electoral College but not the popular vote which was won by his opponent, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton. As with Canada, Americans demonstrated an appetite for change. Mrs. Clinton and former President Obama were of the same party. A party, as President Trump successfully represented to those who voted for him, that was out of touch with everyday Americans and incapable of helping them with the issues they held as their own. That, combined with some hefty baggage that accompanied Mrs Clinton, was enough to edge President Trump to the Presidency.
Finally, the most recent example, the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, there was a glimpse of the style of politics that President Trump embodies and the policies which he both implicitly and tacitly endorses. However, like Canada, the electorate of the Netherlands were not prepared to follow the so-called populist leanings of opposition candidate Geert Wilders and while Mr Wilders’ party made slight gains, incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party (which is also considered to be left of centre) won the election comfortably and remains in power.
What do all of these three countries have in common? The theme of populism. Canada and the Netherlands rode their own form of populism. For their respective electorates, their populist beliefs overcame the beliefs of a vocal minority. Both populations embraced inclusiveness and openness. Both embraced a progressive vision.
The United States election results would have embraced the same progressive vision as her northern neighbour and the Dutch but for the Electoral College. Mrs Clinton won the popular vote by over three million votes. However, due to the structure of the Electoral College, President Trump won the states he needed to ascend to the Presidency.
Regardless if you agree with President Trump’s beliefs and policies, it is still a victory in the vein of populism; just in a different brand from Canada and the Netherlands. All of these examples lead us now to Barbados. Which brand of populism is Barbados likely to follow?
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has been in power since 2010. Entering into an election season, experts feel that Prime Minister Stuart, in all likelihood, will slow measures to combat the fiscal deficit. Tourism will only provide a very modest boost in the economy. There may only be a few token measures taken by Prime Minister Stuart to show he is committed to economic diversity and reform.
What the electorate of Barbados must ask themselves are these questions. Is the status quo something they are happy with or do they yearn for more? Do they yearn for calculated risks to be taken? Do they yearn for economic benefits to be passed throughout Barbadian society and not just the upper class?
This sounds like populism, does it not? However, what form should it take? A populism that is inclusive like Canada and the Netherlands or a populism that is turning out to be exclusive like the United States. What, in general, can be agreed upon with Barbados is that there is a lack of innovation and inventiveness among Prime Minister Stuart, his cabinet and the upper echelons of the all too powerful Civil Service.
What can change this? When nothing changes, it can, at times, bring the worst of societies out into the open. Brexit is just one such example. Perhaps, it is time to show the world that Barbados is better than that. Perhaps, it is time to show the world that Barbados will rise above the noise. It could well be time for someone among all of you to rise to the challenge. Someone who can challenge the system, someone who can challenge the all too powerful Civil Service, someone who will do good for all Barbadians and not just for the select few.
It is time. The country awaits you. The country needs you. Barbadians are all ready for you and have faith in you in your ability to affect change. A plausible argument, as per the examples cited earlier, is that if the same path is continued as Prime Minister Stuart and his government wish to follow, that all Barbadians will continue to suffer.
The time to act is now. The time to lead is now. Barbadians should be ready to follow whomever steps up regardless of the walk of life one comes from. The future of the country is at stake and Barbadians should act together, as one, to support each other.
However, there is one note of caution. While change is good, it should not be at the risk of demeaning or devaluing those public servants of Barbados who truly work in the best interests of the country. While one can disagree with the current path or vision of Prime Minister Stuart, the personal attacks akin to those of President Trump and Geert Wilders are far from positive examples of what civil discourse should be.
There can be dignity in disagreement and debate. There can be honour when people of good intentions or different points of view come together to discuss the future of the country and their people. A leader’s compassion and humanity should never be forgotten in the quest for power.Dedication to country and to public service in this manner will serve to benefit all.
The final question the electorate must ask is who is capable of change in this manner? Can Prime Minister Stuart find it within himself to challenge even his own beliefs and his party for the good of the country? Can he challenge the powerful Civil Service? Or is it time for a new face to rise?
Will Barbadians stay the path with Prime Minister Stuart or will they opt for change in the vein of Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau? If we look at the Canadian context, especially since Canada has always been a beacon of light and good governance in the Americas and the world, perhaps change can be a good thing. It is, indeed, something to think about.
(Anand Nagin is a private investment banker)