Anyone who listened intently to one of the main arguments presented by the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) during the 2013 general election campaign would have rightly concluded that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart was on a mission to clean up politics in Barbados, especially as it relates to the language politicians use to engage each other and occasionally members of the public.
Night after night, as he traversed the length and breadth of the island seeking to convince Barbadians at DLP public meetings that he was the better choice for Prime Minister than former Prime Minister Owen Arthur who was then leading the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), Mr Stuart frequently made reference to Mr Arthur’s sharp tongue to make a contrast.
Brutal criticism of opponents — for example during his wrap-up of the nationally televised annual Budget debate in the House of Assembly – had become a defining feature of Mr Arthur’s style with which many Barbadians were most uncomfortable. And because of the strong objection raised by Mr Stuart in relation to these kinds of personal attacks, Barbadians would have been led to believe that with him as Prime Minister, he would lead by example and the spectacle of politicians tearing into each other as if they were dueling gladiators, would be a thing of the past.
Sad to say, many Barbadians have reason to feel disappointed today after Mr Stuart’s caustic attack over the weekend on Dr William Duguid, the recently chosen BLP candidate for Christ Church West who is making a comeback after bowing out of elective politics three years ago and serving two terms as the representative of the constituency. A fired-up Mr Stuart launched the attack on Dr Duguid, labelling him a “political renegade”, during a speech at a DLP event in the constituency on Sunday. It was not the first time Mr Stuart had attacked critics in a brutal fashion.
Dr Duguid, who can be equally as brutal in his use of language as he showed in an exchange during a House of Assembly debate some years ago, immediately responded to Mr Stuart. “All Stuart does is pick on people who are just a simple candidate,” he said. “I am sure that when he comes to his senses, he will realize that he spoke out of turn.”
Apart from providing comic relief for die-hard party supporters who take delight in witnessing the humiliation of opponents, such personal attacks really add nothing of value to the national discourse or assist in any way to advance the search for solutions to problems standing in the way of Government’s ability to deliver a better quality of life for citizens.
We feel that in this our 50th year of Independence, it is really about time that our political leaders up their game as a reflection of our nation reaching what would normally be considered a stage of maturity in its development.
It is this kind of acrimony which is turning many citizens, especially young people, away from politics, and promoting a kind of cynicism which our country can do without.
There are many citizens with good ideas and outstanding track records of accomplishment in various fields of endeavour who would not mind making a contribution to national development. However, as the political process remains the principal vehicle for doing so, they are not keen because, as they quite rightfully say, politics happens to be a nasty game. It does not have to be so, however, but many politicians who know better and can do better, choose to make it so.
Constitutionally speaking, the next general election is less than two years away. Hopefully, what was witnessed on Sunday is not a sign of things to come during the height of campaigning.
Ironically, the past sometimes has a way of repeating itself. The DLP won the 2013 general election essentially by making the personality of Mr Arthur the focus of their platform. If it worked then, there is no reason to doubt that some may very well believe it can work again.
Focusing on personalities in an election campaign, however, can have the effect of diverting attention from more pressing and important issues.
Given the many vexing social and economic challenges facing Barbados at this stage of our development, it is our hope that the political debate will focus more on an examination of solutions to these issues than on political personalities. There is a need for Barbadians to be better informed about the choices before us as a nation. If they are, they will be in a position to make better decisions in relation to charting a course for a better future.
This country can do with more wholesome political debate.