Political scientist Peter Wickham is telling Barbados to take stock of the lessons coming out of the recent St Vincent and the Grenadines general election.
In Wednesday’s national poll, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves made history when he led his Unity Labour Party (ULP) to a fourth consecutive victory “with more votes than previous elections,” Wickham noted.
However, the well-known pollster said while the results have no bearing on the next Barbados election, which is constitutionally due in 2018, the issue of leadership is a key point for voters both in Kingstown and Bridgetown.
“Election in Barbados is not until 2018 and we still have a considerable amount of ground that needs to be covered. If you look at the significance of leadership, it says to me that leadership has a huge part to play in terms of a second term, third term or fourth term ….
“I am inclined to think that it was leadership that saved Dr Gonsalves from political obliteration [and] the fact that he was so much more popular than Arnhim Eustace, [the leader of the main opposition New Democratic Party],” Wickham told Barbados TODAY.
He explained that it was the same for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart back in 2013 when the electorate chose him over Owen Arthur.
“In the case of Barbados, one would argue that leadership was also what seems to have saved Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the extent to which people may have been hesitant to re-electing Owen Arthur under circumstances that presented themselves in the last election in 2013. So I guess election for Barbados is really the role of leadership and popular leadership and the extent that that can be an asset or a liability depending on how one looks at it,” Wickham said.
“I think it’s really clear that Dr Gonsalves is not only more popular but considerably more engaged than Prime Minister Stuart. As to whether that will bode well for Prime Minister Stuart again in 2018, I think that is left to be seen but I tend to think not.”
Wickham added that the outcome of the St Vincent election clearly showed that regional elections must be graded on their own merits and not lumped together.
“I think it says we need to approach each election on the basis of its own merit. St Lucia is coming up next and, of course, the question is whether or not Dr [Kenny] Anthony will be able to retain [the government]. To me, there is no direct comparisons that you can make between the two circumstances other than the fact that both countries are facing severe economic challenges,” he said.
Referring to the win for the 69-year-old Gonsalves, Wickham described it as historic, saying it had essentially stopped the winds of change sweeping across the Caribbean’s political landscape in recent times.
“This was perceived to be a change year. We had an election in Antigua and Barbuda where there was a change of government, St Kitts and Nevis there was a change of government, Trinidad and Tobago there was a change of government and on a fourth term, the environment of change has essentially been stopped by Dr Gonsalves who has been able to retain office albeit by a relatively small majority, [but] nonetheless he continues to be there.”
The outcome of the election sparked protests by NDP supporters after leader Eustace refused to concede defeat. “It’s unfortunate . . . ,” Wickham said. (FW)