Don’t rule out the incumbent Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) just yet.
This sound word of caution from former Prime Minister Owen Arthur today as he gave his frank and independent assessment of the outcome of the next general elections, constitutionally due here by the middle of next year.
Arthur, who currently sits as the independent St Peter representative in the House of Assembly, told Barbados TODAY while he believes the Mia Mottley-led Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) stands a good chance of winning the next election, he expects the poll to go down to the wire, in a constituency by constituency race.
With the election temperature in the country currently rising to fever pitch, Arthur warned critics of the Government to “never underestimate the Democratic Labour Party”.
In fact, based on his own experience with Stuart and the DLP, he further cautioned that, “in every election a point comes when the Dems become the Dems again”.
He recalled that this was precisely the case in the 2013 general election in which the BLP, under his leadership at the time, was comfortably leading in the public opinion polls.
“The polls were showing that Freundel was at eight per cent in the polls, but once elections were called he ran ahead of me in the polls because the Dems had become Dems again,” Arthur said, explaining that the DLP, which led the country into independence, has long been associated with a number of “iconic and invocative symbols” such as the achievement of free education and has traditionally enjoyed “a stronger base” of support than the BLP.
Arthur, who served as prime minister from 1994 to 2008, said the reality on the ground was also borne out in result of the 1994 general elections.
“In 1994 after the [then ruling] Democratic Labour Party had cut people’s wages by eight per cent and sent home 3,000 people, the Barbados Labour Party still did not get 50 per cent of the vote, because the Democratic Labour Party base still held. That is why I am not going to call this election,” he told Barbados TODAY, in reference to the upcoming poll.
However, he pointed out that in 1994, the then Opposition BLP was helped by the fact that a third party, formed out of the bosom of the DLP, had contested that election and made a substantial difference in some constituencies.
“For example, I don’t think that [BLP’s candidate Elizabeth] Liz Thompson would have had a political career if she had to contest the ‘94 elections against [the DLP’s] Clyde Mascoll only,” Arthur said, arguing that the intervention of Wendell McClean on the National Democratic Party ticket had made a difference in terms of the result in St James South which Thompson won with 43 per cent of the vote, compared to Mascoll’s 38.91 per cent. McClean claimed the other 16 per cent of the votes in the seat that was also contested by independent Glenroy Straughn.
However, with fresh elections due here by June 2018, Arthur cautioned that the difference this time around was that “there are a number of third parties, formed, not out of the Dems, but out of the Barbados Labour Party”.
He stressed that “while the third party presence may not be strong enough for the third party to win a seat, it may be strong enough to make the difference in terms of who wins the election”.
This he said was made even more palpable with the BLP currently holding on to a number of “razor thin” margins, particularly in the bellwether constituencies of St Michael.
“For example, a very strong candidate against [the BLP’s Jeffrey] Bostic in The City will cause Bostic problems,” Arthur said, while also warning that the backs of Opposition incumbents Ronald Toppin, Kerrie Simmons, Santia Bradshaw and Trevor Prescod were also up against the wall.
At the same time, he suggested that even with the economy currently in the dumps, DLP incumbents, including embattled Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, would be hard to beat.
“The third parties are really led by [Barbados] Labour Party people and I would have thought that the so-called elders and gurus in the BLP would have understood that you want to go into an election having healed the wounds in the party and go in with a united force, rather than having to go into an election having to face the canon fire being poured in by the Democratic Labour Party and the canon fire being poured in by third party candidates who ought to be members of the Barbados Labour Party.
“So I don’t know how that is going to play out, but where the margins are slim you can have interesting results,” Arthur said, adding that “the strong suit of the BLP is that the economy is in a bad shape”.
However, he cautioned that with the election likely to go down to the wire, the BLP needed to focus on its strong economic legacy and to avoid getting caught up in ‘gimmicks’, such as promising to abolish the National Social Responsibility Levy, to increase public sector wages and to reinstate tertiary education without having a full grasp of the severity of the economic challenges at hand.