JAMAICANS would have good reason to be anxious about their socio-economic future with a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), expected by year-end, possibly before they become preoccupied, like fellow CARICOM citizens, with shopping and preparations for Christmas.
In contrast, the number one political topic for Barbadians and Grenadians is what Jamaican voters had decisively settled in December last year -- four days after Christmas --namely, the timing of new elections to determine whether or not to change their respective government.
In a stunning demonstration of “ole love” for the People’s National Party (PNP), the Jamaican electorate had ensured a two-to-one defeat of the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for the 63-member Parliament, restricting it to just one term at the December 29, 2011 poll.
Fast forward to a current scenario of spreading joblessness and slow economic growth amid endemic crime, involving grotesque cases of murders and multiple rapes, with children among the victims, and what the changing mood among Jamaicans suggest seems to hold is one serious challenges for both the governing PNP and opposition JLP for stable, democratic governance in a law-and-order environment.
For Barbadians and Grenadians, on the other hand, the big political guessing game at this time is focused on how soon they may be required to trek to the polls to retain or reject respective incumbent parties -- Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC).
While parties across our Region have to contend with the vagaries of free and fair elections once every five years, if not twice when a snap poll is called, it is rare to find the level of political uncertainties at the same time for two governments as well as their leaders, as currently prevails in Barbados and Grenada.
The political challenges are quite different, but striking common features suggest that both could end up serving just one term followed also by leadership changes at party level.
Both the DLP and NDC were convincingly elected to government in 2008, within some six months of each other, by defeating incumbents that had served three terms.
In the case of the DLP, under then leadership of David Thompson, it defeated the incumbent BLP of three-term Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, with a whopping 20-10 parliamentary majority at the January 15, 2008 general elections.
For Grenada’s NDC, its leader, Tilman Thomas, had won the prize of running a government for the first time after his party severely whipped the incumbent New National Party (NNP) of then Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell with an 11-four victory for the 15-member parliament at the July 8 poll in 2008.
Constitutionally, Barbados must hold new elections not later than in April next year, while Grenada would have to do likewise by the first week in October.
Here in Barbados, Prime Minister Stuart, a senior counsel and long-standing stalwart of the governing DLP, became the country’s seventh Head of Government following the passing of David Thompson, after a battle with cancer in October 2010.
Stuart, who was Deputy Prime Minister, assumed the role of Prime Minister and de facto leader of the DLP. But soon news leaked of a surprising manoeuvre to have the cabinet endorse the flamboyant Finance Minister, Chris Sincker, as Prime Minister because of an apparent lack of dynamism and reluctance on the part of Stuart to be more publicly engaging against the BLP.
Generally, he remained quite aloof of the unfavourable image being painted of him by opponents and detractors that persisted even after his unchallenged endorsement as the DLP leader at last August’s annual convention of the party.
However, he felt obliged to offer a firm rebuke over his leadership a week ago, following the release of the results of a public opinion poll, conducted for the Nation Publishing Company by political scientist, Peter Wickham.
On the offensive
The survey revealed a six per cent swing in favour of the opposition BLP, and a 56 per cent disapproval rating of Stuart’s leadership. Having managed to avoid any rupture within his cabinet or among party executives, as well as any confrontation with the labour movement or business community, the Prime Minister chose to go on the offensive without any name-calling.
“If the personality that I have and the practices that I have pursued have brought me from a little chattel house from Marchfield in (the Parish of) St. Philip to ‘Illaro Court’ (official residence for Prime Ministers), why should I want to change that now… I am only the victim (of criticisms) for the time being. I am not worried about that. The test is going to come when I dissolve Parliament (for new elections)… and we are going to see who is who… We are highly mobilized…”
With the BLP’s leader, Arthur exuding confidence about being back in the Prime Minister’s chair, Stuart is clearly anxious to send a strong message to his opponents and so-called “unbelievers” against writing off his leadership capacity, or of the DLP being a one-term government in a country where at least two terms have become the norm.
By comparison, Stuart’s embattled counterpart in Grenada, Prime Minister Thomas, seems to be in no such position to generate optimism among either his government or party’s decision-making colleagues for a return to state power.
Having advised the Governor-General to prorogue Parliament against the backdrop of recurring internal dissension among cabinet ministers and executives of his NDC, Prime Minister Thomas felt compelled to part company at the party’s annual convention last month-end with six former close colleagues. Three were dismissed from cabinet, while another three resigned from the party, among them its General-Secretary, Peter David, a former Foreign Minister.
Since there is the strong possibility of his facing a “no confidence” motion with a divided group of NDC parliamentarians, it would not be surprising should Prime Minister Thomas advise the Governor-General to dissolve parliament in preparation for a snap general election.
Question of interest now is whether a snap poll is more likely to be announced in Barbados before one in Grenada, to occur either before or shortly after Christmas.