Verdicts ranged from ‘reasonable choice’ to ‘mere stopgap’ as a raft of top political observers offered Barbados TODAY their reactions to the election of Verla De Peiza to the helm of Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
De Peiza possesses the qualities to weather the storms of taking the 63-year-old party forward at a low ebb in its history, said pollster Peter Wickham.
“I think that all things considered, the selection of Verla De Peiza was a reasonable choice,” he said, noting that among the most important attributes of the new leader was her youth and relative inexperience in politics.
“She is young in politics . . . because I think the person who leads the DLP now has to be a youthful politician . . . because they may have to take a lot of knocks in the years to come. And I think that she can weather that storm,” Wickham told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
The political scientist also contended that she was sufficiently distanced from the “gang of 16” – former parliamentarians and Cabinet ministers who all lost their House of Assembly seats in the May 24 election.
“The question now is, how would she position herself? Would she attempt to distance herself from the Democratic Labour Party of the past, as she should, or alternatively, would she continue to provide comfort for them? If she steps out next week and makes her maiden speech and sends a clear signal that the DLP going forward would not be the DLP of the past, I think that she would be onto a good thing,” Wickham said.
De Peiza’s top priority should be to start building a new team and image, he suggested, echoing her own call for a post-election post mortem.
“I think that Verla should start off by saying what went wrong. I think she needs to do that post mortem almost immediately; get that out of the way and then start the process of rebuilding . . . looking for new candidates, and starting a candidate selection process that is grounded in democracy so she would need to go an rebuild the constituency bases,” the regionally renowned pollster added.
But veteran observer Dr George Belle said the party had to elect someone to the presidency given the timing of the annual conference. He did not view her ascension as significant.
“My initial feeling is that she has been put into the position as a transitional person. In other words, she had been chosen as the better person to coordinate putting in place things that would allow for the transformation of the party in the longer term. The only question mark with that is she went forward with low opposition,” he suggested, adding that she was facilitated by the withdrawal of two other stalwarts from the leadership race.
De Peiza would therefore now have to perform in the position if she were to stand a chance to lead the party in the long term, said the retired dean of the social sciences faculty at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill.
“They [the party] chose her where she had no opposition. And it is for her to demonstrate now whether she is going to play the role of just transitioning until they get things in place or whether she would do that and also become a political leader of the party for the longer term,” he added.
UWI political scientist Tennyson Joseph also echoed Belle’s view, seeing De Peiza’s election as a vehicle to allow the party to settle down following its historic election thrashing.
“I honestly think that her selection means that the DLP is in a position now that it is looking for a period of administrative peace. Let’s call it an ordinary office holder, following the election defeat, who can hold the fort together,” he said, adding that her election was just a case of wait-and-see.
But fellow UWI faculty member, Cynthia Barrow-Giles, said she believed De Peiza had the qualities of a potential leader.
“One has to do with her obvious intelligence, which is a good leadership skill. One has to do with her knowledge of a number of things including the terrain of politics and Parliament where she has some experience . . . . She has had experience in having responsibility and she does seem to have the capacity to give some direction,” Barrow-Giles said.
Yet, the political science lecturer questioned whether De Peiza had the capacity to give directions to Barbados’ 63-year-old party of majority.
“One of the things I believe we ought to recognize is that the leader is somebody who clearly has to be able to imprint their own position and their own vision on the institution that they lead,” she told Barbados TODAY.
From a gender perspective, De Peiza’s election as DLP leader is a landmark for women in politics, which comes three months after the first female opposition leader became the first woman to lead the country as prime minister.