Two leading political scientists are questioning the timing of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s announcement that he intends to complete the process of decolonization with the establishment of a republican form of government “in the very near future”.
Such a move, which would essentially remove the Queen as this island’s head of state, replacing her with a Barbadian president, would require two-thirds majority support in Parliament.
However, pollster and political scientist Peter Wickham has suggested that it was simply an attempt to “divert public attention away from current hot-button issues” of the day.
“I think that before Stuart begins a conversation about republicanism, he needs to commence a conversation on CLICO, about income tax returns, about unemployment in the country, about the extent to which public trust in Government is at an all time low,” Wickham said.
“There are several of those issues which need to be placed ahead of a conversation about becoming a republic which he knows very well is controversial and cannot be approached in a situation where the [ruling] DLP does not have a two thirds majority.”
Wickham was equally dismissive of Stuart’s suggestion that the process would be completed by the time the island marks its 50th anniversary of political independence from Britain on November 30, 2016.
In fact, he said “the idea that Stuart has announced that we are going in that direction is a political nonsense”.
“I think that he really needs to get the conversation back to things that the people need to start talking about,” Wickham stressed, while cautioning members of the media not to fall victim to Stuart’s tactic.
However, Dr Tennyson Joseph of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies said he was not prepared to go as far as his colleague political scientist to suggest that the move was simply a “ploy”.
“What I would say though is that it is an important issue to raise because, in a context where there is not much happening for the country economic wise, I think that some focus on political development would be a kind of interesting way to gain at least support across the political divide,” said Joseph, while noting that the issue of republicanism had previously been raised by the former Barbados Labour Party administration.
However, in the wake of the Stuart Government’s decision to stop paying tuition fees for UWI students, Joseph pointed out that a critical aspect of the party’s legacy, and in particular founding father Errol Barrow’s legacy of free tertiary education, had been reversed since the DLP’s return to office in 2008.
“They reversed aspects of the post colonial reality of Barbados and they have mainly undone things, rather than done things,” Joseph said.
Therefore, “republicanism is the kind of issue that a Government facing this kind of record can wrap itself around,” he argued.
In making the announcement before a gathering of party faithful at the weekend, the Prime Minister said: “We cannot pat ourselves on the shoulder at having gone into independence; having decolonized our politics; we cannot pat ourselves on the shoulders at having decolonized our jurisprudence by delinking from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and explain to anybody why we continue to have a monarchical system.
“Therefore, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow decolonized the politics; [former BLP leader] Owen Arthur decolonized the jurisprudence and Freundel Stuart is going to complete the process.”
He also promised Barbadians that the process of decolonization with the establishment of a republican form of government would be completed “in the very near future”.
Speaking at a DLP St George South constituency branch meeting at St Luke’s Resource Centre as he addressed a gathering that included Minister of Education Ronald Jones, Minister of Housing, Lands and Rural Development Denis Kellman, Barbados’ Ambassador to CARICOM Robert Bobby Morris, several members of the Senate and heads of Government statutory boards and agencies, Stuart did not give a timeline for the move.
However, he indicated it would be soon.
“We respect [the Queen] very highly as head of the Commonwealth and accept that she and all of her successors will continue to be at the apex of our political understanding. But in terms of Barbados’ constitutional status we have to move from a monarchical system to a republican form of government in the very near future,” the Prime Minister explained.
Stuart pointed out that for all practical purposes, Barbados was already a republic.
“A republican form of government stipulates that those who run the people’s affairs should be chosen directly or indirectly by the people themselves. We already do that. We have been doing that continuously since 1951 when we got universal adult suffrage. Under republicanism, the persons who administer your affairs can serve during your pleasure. In other words, they should only be able to stay as long as you want them to stay. That’s what the people of St Philip South said to me in 1999. So Barbados satisfies that requirement as well,” he said.
“The third requirement Barbados has to satisfy is that there are people in the administrative structure of the Government, and in this case we are talking about the members of the judiciary, . . . continue to discharge the functions of their office as long as nobody can point a finger at them and accuse them of misconduct, and that misconduct turns out to be true. So once you are appointed or elected directly or indirectly, the people have a right to recall you.”