ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The health and vitality of a political leader are factors more important than the age of the individual.
Political scientist, Professor George Bell, expressed the preceding opinion when asked to discuss the political future of 74-year-old former prime minister Lester Bird, who remains leader of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), despite health issues affecting his participation in several important party and national events.
While he was cautious not to comment specifically on Bird’s health and leadership abilities, the professor said, generally, the credibility of a leader is important to the party so that leader must have the vitality to take charge regardless of age.
Speaking on OBSERVER Radio’s The Big Issues programme yesterday, Dr Bell said, “People usually, in relation to supporting a party, identify (qualities) in a leader and the leader must have the vitality to lead. Therefore, if there is some question about that, there is going to be a bit of a problem.”
At the same time he said, “I don’t belong to the school of thought, however, that because somebody has aged, they can not lead and that leadership can only come from people who are less than 50 years old because some of those same 50-year-old people can also lack vitality.”
Meantime, the political scientist noted that disunity and the presence of strong factions of a party are indicators of a leader lacking vitality and effectiveness but they can also be viewed as signs of a maturing opposition.
“When a party is in opposition it is more likely for factions to be more intensely expressed Dr Belle said.
“That is to say that leadership is more likely to be challenged or have difficulties then and it is one of the signs of an opposition reaching the maturity to overthrow the existing regime.
“However, a sign is usually rare in situations where a leader is able to reduce the factions and build unity. So when you see unity crystalising, it normally suggests a strong and more effective leader. When you see the factions more intense, you usually see a weaker leader and the fact that the party is not really ready to take over the government.”
The professor carved the aforesaid conclusions based on the request of The Big Issues host to analyse the continued public wrangling among ALP members, including leader Lester Bird, and further to discuss the appearance of disunity among some members of the ruling United Progressive Party (UPP) administration.
Social Commentator Arvel Grant, who was more direct in his remarks, said the ALP leader should bow out gracefully, as his health continues to hinder his vitality on the political front.
The most recent incident where Bird’s health affected his duties was on Wednesday when he failed to return for the afternoon session of Parliament to start the debate of a no confidence motion he filed against the prime minister and which had to be abandoned.
Bird issued a statement the following day indicating he was exhausted after the long morning session and was not well enough to return.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)