Is there now a higher probability that the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) will lose the next general election following last week’s cataclysmic general election in the Bahamas that saw Perry Christie’s Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) humiliatingly suffering the worst-ever defeat for a ruling party in the country’s history?
The answer is definitely yes. What the Bahamian election result confirmed yet again is that there is a strong wind of political change blowing across the English-speaking Caribbean, and it is more likely to sweep an incumbent from office than provide an extension of its tenure. In 11 general elections held across the region over the last three years, eight governments were replaced.
Since 2015, the voters of St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St Lucia, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and now the Bahamas have opted for regime change. The incumbents were given an extended lease on life in Belize, the British Virgin Islands and St Vincent and the Grenadines though, in the last case, the election result remains hotly disputed and is before the law courts.
So, make no bones about it, there is an unmistakably clear clamour for change across the region and an analysis of prevailing public opinion in Barbados shows voters are similarly inclined, after the DLP’s lacklustre performance over the past six years in particular. With mere months to go before the expiry of its current mandate, it will take nothing less than a miracle to reverse the DLP’s plummeting fortunes which seem to have hit rock-bottom.
Compared with Barbados, what was remarkable about the Bahamian general election was the striking similarity of voter grievances against the incumbent. There were complaints –oh so familiar with Barbadians – related to alleged corruption, arrogance, ineffective leadership, poor communication, a government out of touch with the real needs of the people, and a lack of accountability and transparency.
Though well-liked on a personal level in the constituency where he ran, a high-profile losing PLP candidate concluded that he did not make it because the people saw voting for him as an endorsement of the ineffective leadership that was not making any meaningful difference in their lives. Alfred Sears, a former attorney-general who unsuccessfully challenged Christie for the PLP leadership months ago, said this response came not only from the average constituent but also from persons previously known to support the PLP.
He told a local newspaper: “As I canvassed, the refrain that I met almost unbearably is that ‘we like you, we respect you and we feel that you would be a good Member of Parliament for this constituency… but we cannot in good conscience continue with the leadership of our country for another five years.”
Aren’t many Barbadians expressing similar sentiments about Freundel Stuart’s leadership? It is quire likely, therefore, that some DLP candidates, although well-liked in their constituencies, may encounter the same challenge convincing persons to vote for them.
It is pretty clear, from all that is being said on the ground, that a significant percentage of Barbadians, with the exception of a dwindling number of die-hard Dems, are eager to see the back of Stuart. Achieving this objective through the ballot box will therefore be their foremost consideration come election day.
In relation to the two dominant parties, there were a few other striking similarities that Barbadians will find interesting. Ironically, yellow, the party colour of the DLP, is also the party colour of the defeated PLP. Red, the colour of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), is the colour of the victorious Free National Movement (FNM). Similarly, Barbados’ forthcoming general election will be a battle between yellow and red.
The PLP and DLP also have a common history. They came to prominence in the context of the struggle against British colonialism and led their respective countries to Independence under the leadership of towering political figures — the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, in our case, and the Lynden Oscar Pindling in the case of the Bahamas. Because of progressive policies pursued by both leaders, the PLP and DLP came to be widely seen as parties of the people and, as a result, enjoyed lengthy sojourns in office.
However, following the deaths of their founder leaders, the political fortunes of both parties steadily declined and, though they managed to win subsequent elections after stints in Opposition, they have been unable to regain past glory. In contrast, the FNM and the BLP were seen as the party of the well-off. The party of the “Bay Street boys” was the common description of the FNM at the height of Pindlingmania.
Going into the next general election, the odds are considerably stacked against the DLP for another reason. The DLP barely won the last general election in 2013, suggesting it was the object of significant voter ambivalence. If they could only manage to scrape home by just two seats when conditions were far more favourable than what exists today with the widespread pessimism, how can they realistically do better when considerably more Barbadians are dissatisfied with both the leadership and the party’s overall performance?
With the Dems hopelessly unable to defend their unimpressive economic management record, it was not surprising to hear the God’s Bible School graduate, Denis Lowe, seeking to shore up waning support in Christ Church East by promising constituents that he would not support gay marriage whilst implying such would occur if there is a change of government. Voters must not allow themselves to be so distracted. Instead, they must ask Lowe, when he comes knocking on their doors, to specifically explain how his not supporting gay marriage will bring about a fundamental improvement in their circumstances which have gone downhill under the Dems.
Of course, Lowe’s comments will readily appeal to the DLP’s fundamentalist Christian constituency, led in some cases by persons who can best be described as theologically illiterate, given the barrifle of nonsense they sometimes preach that is not a true reflection of what Scripture means, while they encourage their misguided flock to plant “seed” for their own enrichment.
They use the Bible to scare a lot of people into submission. They can’t scare me. I have been liberated from such ignorance as a result of spending two years studying the Bible and theology, not at any fly-by-night degree mill which awards doctorates after a few months, but at a reputable theological institution in Codrington College.
Donville Inniss must be commended for his honesty in debunking the nonsense. Only if the DLP is totally free of a homosexual presence, should they pontificate on the subject. Perhaps, the despairing Dems’ only hope at this eleventh hour is a low voter turn-out but, even here, they are vulnerable. Many Dems say they will not be voting for the DLP because it only knows its supporters in opposition but ignores them in government.
However, the clearest sign of jitters in the DLP camp after the Bahamas election was the call by Chris Sinckler to Barbadians not to vote for change for the sake of change. Barbadians do not want just a change of government. They want fundamental change to our governance system to ensure greater openness, accountability and responsiveness on the part of elected representatives.
Based on their 2008 campaign commitments, the Dems were given a chance to do so but failed to deliver. It is too late now; Barbadians are leaning more and more towards giving Mia Mottley a chance, albeit cautiously. She must be mindful of this reality and, in everything, strive never to take the people’s confidence for granted or else she too will eventually pay the price.
(Reudon Eversley is a Carleton University-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)