The days of Verla De Peiza as a political leader in this country are numbered.
So says veteran political scientist Peter Wickham, who, based on historical data analysis, believes the odds do not favour victory for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) president in St Lucy.
In fact, Wickham, who conducted a recent poll, believes only three seats will be in play for the DLP in the January 19 general elections. He declined to disclose the details of his research.
However, Wickham explained that the margins of DLP defeat in 2018 alone have rendered most constituencies unattainable, given that losses higher than 2,500 votes are unlikely to be overturned.
“In terms of winnable constituencies, invariably, it’s single-digit constituencies. Around 68 per cent, historically, is what we have identified as a safe seat— a seat that’s not likely to change and there are really not a whole lot of seats in Barbados that are below that threshold. And it is on that basis that I have made the assertion that there are really three seats in play, which are St John, St Philip North, and St Michael North West,” said Wickham, who was a guest on Barbados TODAY’s Election Pulse on Sunday evening.
In 2018, DLP candidate George Pilgrim lost in St John by a margin of 1,385 votes to the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) Charles Griffith. In the same election, incumbent Michael Lashely lost by 1,598 votes to then-newcomer, Sonia Browne in St Philip North. In St Michael North West, BLP candidate Neil Rowe won by a slim margin of 498 votes against Christopher Sinckler.
But Wickham, who conducted a “detailed analysis” of St Lucy a few years ago, noted that the so-called DLP stronghold had been on a gradual slide for more than a decade. In 2018, DLP incumbent Denis Kellman eventually lost to Peter Phillips by 2,170 votes.
“If you look at Denis Kellman’s tenure, there have been diminishing returns on the part of Lucy for a long time, and I cannot for the life of me understand why Verla De Peiza would want to go up there to deal with that reality,” said the political pollster.
“In a situation where a seat flips naturally, the likelihood that you are going to get it back quickly is low. So why would [De Peiza] impose herself on a battle like that, where the outcome doesn’t seem likely?”
But even if De Peiza defies the odds, Wickham believes she will cease to lead the party once the election is over, potentially leaving the organisation in the hands of the party’s old guard.
“I think that we can all appreciate that after Wednesday, Verla will not be the leader of the Democratic Labour Party. Even if she wins the seat and she goes in with other people, she is not going to emerge as leader,” he said.
“My hope for the DLP is that, if indeed it does succeed in landing seats, it lands some of the newer people like Ryan Walters that have worked really hard in [St Michael North West], and I agree it is a very winnable constituency. I think this would be better for the Democratic Labour Party in terms of rebuilding.”
Meanwhile, University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Kristina Hinds believes the question of leadership, or lack thereof, will be important to voters on Wednesday. But she suggests the Dems will secure “between two and six” seats.
Among her seats to watch are St Michael North West along with the St Philip seats, St John, and St Michael South Central.
“I’m not certain about St Lucy, to be honest with you,” said the political scientist who believes St John would have been an obvious choice for the DLP president.
“St Lucy has been showing a shift away from the DLP over the last three elections, and I’m wondering the extent to which Verla De Peiza can reverse that.
“They are going to have to work this out one way or another and I would even go as far as to say, even if Ms De Peiza wins St Lucy, we cannot be certain, depending on who the other people are, that she will end up Leader of the Opposition,” Hinds added.
Another up-and-coming political analyst, Devaron Bruce, believes that in addition to traditional political strongholds, St Michael South East is the constituency to watch. Veteran educator Pedro Shepherd, running on a DLP ticket, is taking on Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw in that riding.
Bruce sees Wickham’s outlook on the DLP in St Lucy as overly pessimistic, given the work being done by De Peiza, and a strong push for the party’s base to help recapture lost strongholds.
As for the party’s leadership, he said the “real games” would begin in Parliament.
“There’s no guarantee that any political leader or whoever wins in the election is guaranteed to be Opposition Leader. We assume that’s the case, but the game is on for whoever gains their seat,” said Bruce. [email protected]