Prepare for the long haul!
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart today gave his strongest indication yet that he would not be ringing the general elections bell anytime soon.
In fact, those who have been banking on a December or even a January or February announcement, had better think again, since Stuart today suggested that he had every intention of serving out his entire five-year term in office.
With Parliament due to be dissolved by the end of March next year, it is a constitutional requirement that elections must be called within the next 90 days.
However, during today’s final sitting of Parliament for 2017, the Prime Minister made it clear that his Government’s work was far from done even as he rejected outright calls coming from the main Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) for an election date to be fixed and for him to immediately announce
In fact, he told Parliament he did not believe in exiting office before the constitutional deadline, unless special circumstances dictated such.
“I don’t need any law to tell me that there should be any fixed election date because my view is, if the people vote for you for five years, serve five years unless there is a no confidence motion that brings the Government down.
“You are given five years, serve your five years. Don’t throw back the time that the people gave you, in their face,” he said.
“So I don’t need the sanctification of any law to tell me, ‘you should have a fixed election date’. I don’t need that.”
It was in this context that the Prime Minister made it clear that “we [the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP)] were given five years from February 21 until. So that is what we are going to do. And when Parliament is dissolved, the Constitution says you have to call an election within 90 days and all of that we know. So take it easy. The law is going to be observed at every point you can be sure about that,” he told members of the Mia Mottley-led parliamentary Opposition.
Though not singling out any of his parliamentary colleagues, Stuart also warned against thinking that politics was a game, while suggesting that some people were trying to “trick” Barbadians into voting for them.
He pledged that even as the imminent date for election approached, his administration would continue to do what it could to fix a number of challenges facing the Barbados economy and society.
“Politics to me has never been a game. I don’t believe that my role in politics is to try and choose the psychologically appropriate moment when I can trick the people to get them to vote for me. I think you are voted for, you are given a term for five years, serve your five years. Whatever the state of things may be at the time when the election is due, deal with those things because you were in charge,” said Stuart, whose Government has been facing an uphill battle in trying to dig the country out of an economic recession.
However, even with the national deficit said to be in the order of five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), the national debt in excess of 100 per cent of GDP and the international reserves dangerously low of less than $600 million, Stuart said he was prepared to fight to the finish and to face up to whatever political fate the Barbadian electorate had in store for him.
“We are not running from any of the issues that face Barbados. We were in charge and we are going to account for our stewardship in Government. That is the point. Nothing to run from,” he stressed, even amid rising dissent over Government’s harsh taxation policies, highlighted by the hike back in July of the burdensome National Social Responsibility Levy from two to ten per cent on the customs value of locally manufactured, as well as imported goods.
In recent months, the Stuart administration has also been faced with the public backlash arising from its 2014 decision to end free tertiary education, which was considered a Holy Grail by many Barbadians. It has also been dogged with complaints about the state of the island’s roads and general infrastructure as well as harshly criticized over its seeming inability to resolve what were hitherto considered as routine challenges, such as sewage spilling over into the streets along the south coast and inadequate water supply in other areas of the country.
However, while seemingly determined to press on, Stuart, who is the seventh prime minister of Barbados, today touched on the vexing issue of vote buying, saying it was a “highly undesirable” thing, while promising that every attempt would be made to ensure that it was discouraged.
“It should be stamped out wherever it exist,” he said, reiterating a position he had issued at the end of the last election when he promised to wrestle the issue to the ground.
However, no action has been taken on the issue since then, but the Prime Minister today warned that “something as sacred and as important as the vote should not be seen as something for which you pay money.
“People should understand that the right to exercise a choice in an election was a long fought for right and therefore it should not be commercialized as we have seen happen in Barbados in recent times,” he said.
The St Michael South Member of Parliament recalled that coming out of the 2013 poll there were at least two allegations of vote buying, adding that none of them was related to the DLP.
“Outside of those two cases we have not had any serious problems on this issue, but as I said I am at one with the member of St George North [Gline Clarke] and St Thomas [Cynthia Forde] as well. We have to guard what we have achieved in Barbados very jealously. We have to protect free and fair elections and we have to protect our democracy,” Stuart declared.
In response to concerns raised today about why the multi-purpose ID card for Barbados was seemingly abandoned, Stuart said while the issue was not off the table it was decided that it would be put on pause given that it would coincide with the current election cycle.
“It is still a wide open issue but I think that the commission was wise not to try to force it down people’s throat in circumstances where the national registration exercise could have been disruptive and that kind of thing. But I think it is an issue to which we have to get back to after more consultation,” he said.
During today’s shorter than usual sitting, Opposition parliamentarians also raised concern about delays in transfers, pointing out that some residents over the years had difficulty casting a vote in one constituency after relocating despite filling out the necessary forms.