From the standpoint of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, the next general election is not due until the first half of next year on a date of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s choosing, though he can exercise the option of going before. He alone has that exclusive right under the Constitution.
February 21, 2018 will mark the fifth anniversary of the 2013 general election that saw the re-election of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to a second term, albeit by a margin of two seats which represents one of the slimmest parliamentary majorities in recent political history. Counting forwards from March 3, 2013, the date of the first sitting of the current parliament, Prime Minister Stuart has up to three months in which to call the poll –– which means that the election must be held at the latest by early June.
Based on what transpired last time when Mr Stuart took it down to the wire, quite a number of commentators and observers are predicting that the same will happen again. Indeed, the strongest hint that Barbadians will indeed go to the polls when the DLP’s current term expires early next year, has come from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean.
Speaking in her role as Leader of Government Business in the Senate before the Upper House adjourned for the Christmas recess last December, McClean remarked: “The beautiful thing about this country . . . is that every five years or part thereof we have elections and Government changes . . . . What I can tell you is that contrary to the concerns, and I don’t think I am giving anything away, I have a Prime Minister who believes that we are given five years to serve and we should serve five years.”
Coming from Senator McClean, the statement carries particular significance. It seems, based on the statement, that she has the ear of the Prime Minister. Secondly, in the months leading up to the last election, she was a member of small group of confidantes who met with the Prime Minister on weekends to brainstorm on campaign strategy.
Whether Mr Stuart decides to call the general election next year or opt for an earlier date, the fact of the matter is that campaigning has already started. For all intents and purposes, the so-called “silly season” has already begun.
Social media, considered a decisive new political battleground in this technological age, is abuzz with supporters of the two main parties in particular fiercely debating the issues, engaging in mudslinging and hurling insults at each other.
Elections are usually called when a prime minister perceives that conditions are most favourable for his party in relation to its challengers. The overriding objective of every party, naturally, is to win. However, with the economy in the doldrums, increasing dissatisfaction over significant tax impositions in the recent Budget, and the prospect of prices going up sharply from next month, conditions are unlikely to be favourable for the ruling DLP for some time to come.
The fact that the Budgetary measures cover the next nine months can also be interpreted as an indication that the general election will come next year. In light of prevailing conditions, it would seem to make sense for the ruling DLP to attempt to weather the storm of public dissatisfaction and hope for an some improvement over the coming months to the point where Barbadians may be more favourably disposed. While achieving such may be considered an uphill task, almost anything is possible in politics.
An election campaign is akin to fighting a war and, as the ancient master strategist Sun Tzu notes in The Art of War, a classic on military strategy, all warfare is based on deception. He wrote: “Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” In light of such considerations, the possibility of an early election should never be ruled out.
The acrimonious tone of the online campaigning suggests that when the official campaign gets underway, it is likely to be a fierce and bitter one. Given DLP Cabinet Minister Steve Blackett’s unfortunate reference to possible bloodshed, we appeal for cool heads to prevail.
In the final analysis, politics ought to be seen as nothing more than a contest of different opinions and ideas and should never be allowed to degenerate into physical fights which happen in some countries.
Barbados is too small for this. For the good of country, our peaceful electoral tradition must be maintained at all costs.