“The Lord told Samuel: “Saul has stopped obeying me and I am sorry that I made him king.” 1 Samuel: 15:10
It seems, with rather increasing frequency, that almost every conceivable thing is going wrong for this noticeably adrift and despairing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) regime in the twilight of what has been a generally disappointing nine-and-a-half-year tenure, especially the post-David Thompson phase.
The pitiful plight of the fumbling Dems seems to be the curse of Murphy’s law. It so happens that the more blunders they make, especially with the economy which can be aptly described now as being in intensive care, the more frustrated and turned off Barbadians become, driving more nails in the Dems’ political coffin.
The sharp decline in the regime’s political fortunes over the last four and a half years is not altogether surprising. Such is the inevitable outcome whenever the divine favour departs from a government because of disobedience.
The fundamental purpose of earthly government, especially in a democracy such as ours, is to promote and contribute to the collective happiness of the people. Arrogantly and contemptuously refusing to heed the voice of the people is the greatest expression of disobedience.
The voice of the people is the voice of God. Vox populi, vox dei!
The current plight of the Dems is so reminiscent of what happened to Saul, Israel’s first king, as told in the Old Testament Book of 1 Samuel. In his arrogance, Saul felt he could do as he pleased, failing to recognize that the power he was exercising was not his own but the Sovereign God’s and, as easily as it was given, as easily it could be taken away.
Saul’s downfall offers a lesson on how earthly governments ought to behave. After God had passed judgement on Saul and sent the Prophet Samuel to inform him of his fate, Samuel chastised him:
“Rebelling against God or disobeying him because you are proud is just as bad as worshipping idols or asking them for advice. You refused to do what God told you, so God has decided that you can’t be king”.
From that moment on, every thing went downhill for Saul, in the same way it has been for the Dems. And God sometimes chooses the most unlikely replacements. Persons with failings whom the self-righteous may deem unworthy but who are chosen because God, to quote Samuel, judges not by outward appearances but by what is in the heart.
The divine favour departed the Dems almost immediately following the last election when the people’s hopes and aspirations were betrayed. The people had reposed their trust in the Dems for a better alternative, influenced, no doubt, by the propaganda scare tactics about privatization, making old people pay bus fares, and so on.
Two examples of DLP betrayal were the introduction of tuition fees for Barbadians attending the University of the West Indies. It was done even though Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, in what appeared to be the articulation of a major policy position, had stated that making Barbadians pay to attend university would be “a retrograde step”.
The second example was the broken promise that a vote for the Dems was a vote for public sector job security. Despite this commitment, months after the 2013 general elections, some 3,000 government workers still ended up on the breadline. When public trust is violated, it is so hard to regain.
What begins badly, inevitably ends badly. In a most ironic way, last month’s draconian Budget, with an overdose of taxation, represented the arrival of a painful moment of truth about the abysmal failure of the Dems’ economic strategy over the last four-and-a-half-years.
Despite the talk about “seeing light at the end of the tunnel” under the medium term fiscal adjustment strategy that was introduced in the August 2013 Budget as a home-grown cure for the deficit and other economic ailments, recovery on the scale anticipated by most Barbadians, especially given their enormous sacrifices, proved elusive.
The punishing 2017 tax measures, especially the 400 per cent rise in the National Social Responsibility Levy, have provided solid confirmation that the tunnel through which Barbadians must walk daily in their quest for a better life, has been plunged into even greater darkness than before.
Yet the detached leadership, in the face of overwhelmingly negative public opinion, speaks of another DLP celebration at “the rendezvous of victory” following the next general election. The statement suggests two things: either the regime has been deceived by its own propaganda or it somehow thinks that Barbadians are exceptionally stupid.
The recent CADRES poll, suggesting the Dems are headed for electoral annihilation, accurately confirms everyday sentiments being expressed on the ground. People have had it with this failed government, are eager to see its back, and would like the next general election to be called right away to provide the opportunity for a fresh beginning.
Conveying the image of a Stuart confidante, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxine McClean, hinted just before last Christmas that elections will not be called until the regime has fully served out its five year term. Yes, on constitutional grounds, the Dems can claim legitimacy to hang on until early next year. However, what is legitimate based on human laws sometimes lacks legitimacy under higher spiritual laws which come from the Divine and govern the universe.
When the divine favour departs from a government, it loses the moral authority to govern. Like Saul, the Dems currently find themselves in this sad predicament. As an occasional preacher at a small village church in Marchfield, St Philip during his younger years, Stuart surely ought to understand the difference between legitimacy derived from human law and legitimacy derived from spiritual law.
If he does, then he should do what is right and move immediately to effect the symbolic return of power to the people by bringing forward the timetable for elections. This statesmanlike gesture would at least leave one positive mark on what is a generally negative legacy in the making. Already, the verdict on the street is that he will go down in history as the country’s worst prime minister. Is this really how he wishes to be remembered?
The national crisis has now reached a critical point amidst the fall-out from last month’s Budget. If the trade unions, infuriated by what they claim is disrespect shown to them on Tuesday by Stuart, decide to embark on a crippling national strike, with tacit support from other key national stakeholders, then it becomes debatable whether the Dems will be able to rally until next year.
Without the confidence of the people, especially stakeholder groups whose support and cooperation are critical to achieving progress on the economy, how will the regime effectively pursue its objectives? Who will it be governing for? A major failing of this regime is the apparent belief that it can govern alone. It is a difficult path that ultimately leads to failure.
If the summer of discontent reaches fever-pitch, the regime will find itself more and more isolated. Then, prevailing circumstances rather than one man’s exclusive right will more likely determine the timing of the next general election. As the situation is more likely to get worse before it gets better, a post-Carifesta October general election looks like a real possibility. It will ultimately depend, however, on how the political pendulum swings over the coming days and weeks.
(Reudon Eversley is a Carleton University-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist, and longstanding journalist. Email: [email protected])