Political scientist Peter Wickham believes the incumbent New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell stands a very good chance of retaining the Government, following Mitchell’s announcement last night of a March 13 poll.
At the same time, he is cautioning Barbadians that Mitchell’s decision is unlikely to have any bearing on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s pending general election announcement here even though on the last occasion that elections were held in the two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states, the polls took place a mere three days part.
“I think Prime Minister Stuart will call the election when he is ready and not before. And we may very well find ourselves going into a situation in March when we are days away from the Grenada election, before our Prime Minister decides to announce the date,” cautioned Wickham.
“My sense is that he will probably announce the date for the election around the time that Grenada is having theirs,” he added.
Following the February 19, 2013 general election in Grenada, which re-elected the Mitchell administration to Government after a five-year break, with a clean sweep of the 15-seats at stake, the Stuart administration was returned to power for a second consecutive term in February 21, 2013 general elections with a 16-14 mandate from the people.
Since then both countries have been experiencing severe economic hardships but the Mitchell government decided to bite the bullet back in 2014 and to go the route of an International Monetary Fund programme that has allowed the island to benefit from extensive technical assistance.
With the IMF’s support, Grenada’s public debt as a share of GDP declined from 108 per cent to 69 per cent over the past three years. Of this, about one quarter was due to the comprehensive debt restructuring, another quarter to fiscal adjustment, and about half was driven by growth in GDP.
However, Barbados’ situation remains dire with the national debt still soaring above 100 per cent of GDP, while international reserves have plunged well below the benchmark level of 12 weeks of import cover and the national deficit remains worryingly high at over six per cent of GDP, based on the latest published Central Bank figures.
With the situation as it stands, Stuart has been reluctant to announce the date for the new poll, which is constitutionally due by June of this year, with Wickham warning today that “Grenada will have no impact on him”.
In fact, the noted pollster and political scientist cautioned amid stepped up campaigning by both of the island’s major political parties and strident calls from the Mia Mottley-led Barbados Labour Party for Stuart to immediately put the country out its misery by announcing the election date, that “Prime Minister Stuart will call the election when he is good and ready and not before.
“And I think that . . . he isn’t impacted by these types of considerations that the remainder of us are impacted by. Prime Minister Stuart is living in a world of his own. Whenever he is ready for the election he’ll call it and we just have to sit down and wait,” stressed Wickham, who has been openly critical of the Government and its policies.
However, in support of Mitchell’s political decision-making, Wickham suggested that the historic significance of March 13, which is the 39th anniversary of the Grenada revolution, would not be lost on Grenadians as they prepare to vote in six weeks time.
It was on that date in 1979 that the New Jewel Movement, under the leadership of Maurice Bishop, overthrew the government of then Prime Minister Eric Gairy. The revolution ended in October 1983 with the murder of Bishop and several members of his Cabinet. That conflict led to the United States invasion of the island on October 25 that year.
Wickham told Barbados TODAY that Mitchell may have chosen that date as part of an attempt to unify the country.
“We are at a point now where Dr Mitchell has signalled that this will be his last election, it’s the end of an era. The NNP has significant national support, there’s no question of it. And I think that what Dr Mitchell is saying is, ‘look, my legacy has to be a unification of Grenada’. And the section of Grenada that he really needs to pull on board now is people who probably supported the [opposition National Democratic Congress] NDC.
“A lot of those people are associated with the revolution and have a lot of love in their hearts for Maurice Bishop. He [Mitchell] on the campaign trail already made reference to Peter David being the new Maurice Bishop, and my sense is that he is building a bridge by virtue of that,” Wickham said.
This will also be the second time that a general election will be held in St George’s on March 13. In the 1990 poll the NDC won seven seats, while the Grenada United Labour Party secured four. The NNP won only two seats.
Wickham described the six-week campaign as a long one that may put the NDC under financial pressure, “because they would need to finance a long campaign, and the assumption is maybe he might be trying to exploit that”.
Regarding the NDC’s prospects at the polls, Wickham noted that the party was going into the election “more or less on the back foot”, a reference to the party’s failure to secure a single seat in the 2013 poll.
“It’s difficult to launch an assault on political office when you’re coming from so far behind that you don’t have a single member of parliament. So one assumes that going into this, Dr Mitchell does not have a whole lot to lose.
“On the other hand however, that may very well be Dr Mitchell’s biggest burden. NNP supporters may feel less motivated to come out to vote largely because NNP supporters may feel that there’s a home run that they have in the bag and there’s really no need to participate further.”