Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), Barbados has eventually called the long-awaited date for general elections in his country and the citizens go to the polls on February 21. Amidst continuing political turmoil, with a government virtually under siege from its own elected members for the better part of its five-year tenure, Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has surrendered to the inevitable, and has announced elections for February 19, the last elections having taken place in July of 2008.
And in the federal state of St Kitts and Nevis which last had general elections in January 2010 that gave the St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party six seats to two for its St Kitts opponent, deepening turmoil in the ruling party suggests the possibility of an early turn to the polls, as the government with only a 6-5 majority if the Nevis seats are included, shows increasing internal fragility.
In the case of Barbados, it had begun to seem that the prime minister and his party were continuing to feel unready for elections, even as the statutory date for holding them was coming uncomfortably close. The increasingly difficult fiscal situation, leading to something approximating to a war between the island’s central bank Governor and the IMF, as well as a second downgrading by the international assessor, Moody’s, has consistently given the government pause.
There has been some sympathy for Stuart’s prediction given that he was an unexpected successor to a David Thompson who, as he took over the helm of government in 2008, seemed set for a long tenure. The Barbados Labour Party had seemed so demoralised by defeat after 15 years of rule by Owen Arthur, that it had no compunction in selecting Mia Mottley as a successor. But fate has proven to be on Arthur’s side, in the sense that the dominant reason for the DLP’s trailing in the opinion polls has been the persistence in the decline of the economy to which the electorate has not been accustomed in recent times.
Stuart’s political personality has not seemed to lend itself to the kind of aggression and quick-footedness that characterised the party’s campaign under David Thompson in 2010, exposing the ostensibly independent central bank Governor to be the leading advocate for the defence of government’s policy. And in turn, Owen Arthur has been able to make something of a recovery as the currently most well known political exponent of economic policy, as the Barbadian people have become increasingly desperate for signs of economic recovery.
Outside of Barbados, it may have been noted in recent years that Stuart’s government has given less attention to the country having the lead responsibility for the implementation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy, and there may be some sense that the government has been less sympathetic to sustaining an open-access policy on Caribbean immigration. But this is unlikely to find much resonance as an election issue, given the preoccupation of the Barbadian electorate with economic survival at this time, and really, little difference between the parties on it.
Grenada has had minimal respite from domestic turmoil since Prime Minister Tillman Thomas’s assumption of office in July 2008. He led a party, the National Democratic Congress, that was a combination of a majority from the post-revolution Grenada National Party of the late Herbert Blaize and certain persons from the then defunct People’s Revolutionary Government. But the depressed character of the Grenadian economy, now like others, dependent on the vibrancy of the tourist trade, has meant that Thomas has been continually fighting at the margins to maintain budgetary viability; and in turn, this has meant little hope in the electorate of any early economic upturn.
The split in the party and government that has occurred, with some of the departing members forming an alternative party, has now provided Keith Mitchell’s New National Party with another opportunity to hold the reins. There does not seem to be much jubilation over the possible return of Mitchell, who prior to the last elections, and obviously in search of financial sustenance, had attempted an adroit, but eventually politically unsuccessful, switch from diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to China. But it seems likely that the Grenadian electorate, faced with the choice of an unviable alternative party, will return his NNP to office.
In the last few weeks we have seen the evolution of a muted dispute within the ruling St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party explode into the open, with one of Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas’s close associates and Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor, insisting that the Prime Minister has turned to running a veritable personal autocracy. In this he has been joined by former foreign minister and minister of agriculture Dr Timothy Harris, in opposition to Douglas.
Douglas and his party have led the government since 1995, replacing the People’s Action Movement led by Dr Kennedy Simmonds. The St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party was itself led by Bradshaw with an iron hand, partly through his control of the dominant trade union in the country. It appears that Douglas’s internal opponents are fearful that he is determined to carry on the Bradshaw tradition. It seems unlikely that they will seek to join the PAM alternative. But on the other hand, Douglas will be aware that if they succeed in splitting the SKNLP vote, his party’s chances will be at risk, given that the government has had only a one-seat majority since the PAM and the two other parties in Nevis hold five of the 11 seats in the present Parliament.
We cannot, however, give excessive weight to the purely political conflict in St Kitts, since the country has descended into serious economic depths over the last few years, with a substantial and persevering debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio. Effectively, St Kitts, like Grenada and Antigua is in the hands of the IMF, with the government having electoral power, but no power over the decisions now being made in respect of economic policy, given their desperate need for IMF financial resources and its seal of approval for any requests that they wish to make to other institutions.
In Grenada, and in St Kitts and Nevis, and even in some measure in Barbados, political power may go to this or that party, but economic decision-making influence seems fated to rest outside of the country. And they will be aware that this is the uncomfortable situation that both major political parties in the much larger Jamaica have found themselves in for some time now. (Stabroek News)