Three familiar faces in the Democratic Labour Party camp, Leroy McClean, Verla De Peiza and Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, have been identified as possible replacements for outgoing Member of Parliament for St John Mara Thompson, even before the dust has settled on reports that she is bowing out of the next general election.
They were the options put forward by respected political scientist Dr George Belle, who suggested today that it was in the party’s best interest to get on with the business of finding a successor with political capital.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Belle suggested that Thompson, who secured a landslide victory in the January 20, 2011 by-election to replace her late husband and Prime Minister David Thompson, who died in office on October 23, 2010, was “never a good choice as a representative in Parliament.
“She would have succeeded because St John was the safest seat in the DLP at that time, so she would not have had to show any political skill, any particular enthusiasm and I don’t believe she even necessarily had any particular political interest in running for St John, but she was asked for sentimental reasons … and she went forward.”
The former head of the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, advised that in the current political climate where the incumbent DLP was under pressure and could possibly lose the next general election, constitutionally due by the middle of next year, the party should either seek a candidate with political skill and capacity or choose a representative on the basis of making an investment for the future.
“Somebody like a Leroy McClean would have been a good person to run even back when Mara Thompson was first in power because he had political experience, he had political skill, he had enthusiasm, he was carrying the fight for the party for a long time.
“On the other hand they have been looking for a seat for [Government Senator] Verla De Peiza. Verla De Peiza has been running in Christ Church West, which I don’t think she can win, but she has some political potential and they can run her in a safe seat like in St John, or they could be looking for somewhere to save [Minister of Labour Senator] Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, who is in a vulnerable position in St George South,” Belle suggested.
He argued that the DLP had nothing to lose with any of these candidates even if it were defeated in the upcoming election.
“If you had a Leroy McClean and the party lost, he is somebody that could defend the party in some kind of way in Parliament and carry the attack to the new Government, and he would also be able to help the party rebuild itself. I think Verla DePeiza would be able to help the party mature and Esther Byer-Suckoo seems to be popular in the party, and so it would be taking care of her political future,” he further explained.
Though not surprised that Thompson is bowing out of active politics, political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham however said her unscripted and terse announcement to reporters at the doors of Parliament yesterday spoke “volumes about either the extent to which the DLP was unprepared for her to make the announcement now, or alternatively, the caviler manner in which they are inclined to treat the people of St John who have been as loyal to the DLP as any constituency could”.
Unlike Belle, Wickham said he “had no clue” who would replace the outgoing representative, but suggested that the candidate would most likely be central to the DLP’s politics for years to come.
“I would think the DLP should approach the selection with considerably greater care and maturity than they did on the last occasion,” Wickham said.
He however expressed concern that the abrupt development had threatened her successor’s chances.
“This places the next representative at a major disadvantage and makes the seat vulnerable in the fact of a major national swing against the DLP that seems likely at this point,” the pollster contended.
However, both political scientists were skeptical that Thompson’s departure would mean defeat for the DLP, even as they suggested that the Opposition Barbados Labour Party would seek to take advantage of the development.
Belle and Wickham also scoffed at the idea that third parties, the United Progressive Party and Solutions Barbados, both of which are fielding candidates in St John, would be able to make credible inroads in the traditional DLP safe seat.
In fact, while Wickham expects the BLP to benefit “especially as the BLP’s candidate is already on the ground and working for sometime and would naturally benefit from any DLP backlash”, he said “the new parties are not a part of the equation now in my estimation and this changes nothing”.
Belle also contended that the island’s third parties were not capable of threatening any seat.
“A third party in Barbados can only be viable if one of the major mass parties is collapsing,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Today, the DLP’s General Secretary George Pilgrim said the party had no official comment to make at this stage in response to Thompson’s declaration that she would not contest the general election.
However, in reaction to the news, some DLP insiders suggested that Government Senator Andre Worrell, and Pilgrim himself, had designs on the seat, which the party has held since 1958 when its founding father Errol Barrow arrived on the political scene.
But they warned that any likely candidate would have to go through the internal process of nomination and ratification by the various organs of party in time for next election.