by Shawn Cumberbatch
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has boxed himself into a corner and now virtually has no choice but to call elections either in the middle of next month or February.
That’s the assessment of political scientist and pollster, Peter Wickham, who is “convinced” the Democratic Labour Party leader is “blissfully unaware” that he has fumbled practically all of the politically strategic objectives available to him.
And in the wake of yesterday’s credit rating downgrade by United States-based Moody’s Investors Service and other factors globally, he said even the smallest chance of an economic revival to help Stuart and his administration’s at the polls had surely evaporated.
Speaking “frankly” today during an interview with Barbados TODAY, the Director of Caribbean Development Research Services, whose opinion polls have accurately predicted the outcome of previous general elections in Barbados, said he felt the Prime Minister had not delayed calling elections based on economic considerations, but “because he just doesn’t make decisions unless he needs to”.
He therefore believed Stuart would announce the general election date in the middle of next month when “his time will psychologically run out”, or near the end of the second week of February when “his time will run out and he will be forced to dissolve Parliament”.
“And my feeling is that any discussion we have around election dates have to revolve around those two because the Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in exploiting any kind of strategic advantages that he may have, he has literally boxed himself into a corner now. Quite frankly, he has no wiggle room, and he will be forced to act very soon and we are in a global environment that is not great,” Wickham asserted.
“So I think that right now his political outlook is not very bright and it seems to be growing dimmer with every day that passes, but I am certainly convinced that the Prime Minister is blissfully unaware of these realities.”
The political researcher said he also believed Stuart had made a series of strategic mistakes in not using two major advantages available to him under the Westminster system of government that Barbados practises.
These were the element of surprise in calling an early election, and using the ruling party’s parliamentary majority to amend the island’s electoral boundaries.
“This is the first occasion since Independence where a government is seeking to go into a second term without changing the boundaries — on every previous occasion they have. It’s perfectly legal, there is no reason why they shouldn’t and I think this Government had ample time to do it and they have chosen not to,” he stated.
“And I don’t know that this helps the situation any, so I think if you look at all of the strategic options that the Prime Minister had, he has exercised none of them and it demonstrates that he has no interest in playing that kind of politics.”
Wickham said his concern was that realistically “there is no other kind of politics to play because if he wants the economy to improve to win the election I think he has another thing coming because that’s not anything that he can control”.
“His options have been reduced, time isn’t on his side, but I don’t think that he is convinced of either of those realities. I don’t think that he is comfortable with the argument that time is not on his side and that he is out of options basically. I don’t think that realisation has come to him yet; he is still convinced he is doing the right thing,” he noted.
The political scientist also said that based on the results of the last public opinion poll done by CADRES, and his observations of what had or had not happened since, the DLP’s chances of retaining the government “aren’t good”.
While saying Stuart “may very well have information that I don’t have access to, that may be telling him something different”, Wickham also said up to now he had seen no signs that the ruling party would have a highly organised re-election campaign.
“My feeling right now is that it is not likely to be highly organised because I think it will be focussed in several different places by several different people. That seems to be the trend that I am seeing, if you look at a disorganisation that has demonstrated itself and manifested itself in relation to various other government activities,” he said.
“I am not even sure that he (Stuart) himself knows what kind of campaign it will be there. But he promises one that will be a successful campaign, he promises one that will win and I am sitting patiently with great expectation to see what the Stuart strategy will be when it is revealed.”