Following the 2022 General Election in Barbados, Barbados TODAY caught up with Rev. Guy Hewitt who last year contested the presidency of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) against the recently resigned leader Verla DePeiza who led the DLP to a 0-30 defeat in the January 19 poll.
BT: What are your thoughts generally on the election?
The challenge of being away from Barbados particularly during last week’s General Election pales in comparison to the anguish I experienced from the result. While not a shock, it was nonetheless a major disappointment for our beloved party [DLP] and a blow for democracy in this fair land we love.
Allow me to congratulate not only those successful at the polls but all the candidates. To them I share Churchill’s apt reflection from his lifetime’s experience as victor and vanquished: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” There is the need for the unsuccessful first-timers not to lose faith as democracy requires commitment and perseverance.
BT: You said that you not surprised by the result. How come?
I know that I may be castigated by some for my frankness, as I was in the past, but I firmly believe that honesty and openness are pillars of democracy. I will call it as I see it.
It felt like a bingo game as anticipated outcomes for the DLP were reported to me: 10, 6, 16, 8, 12, 4, 14, and so on. As these predictions appeared to be aspirational rather than empirical, in the absence of polling data, I assessed the situation based on the trends being reported in the St Michael North-West Constituency.
As the DLP’s strongest performing constituency in 2018 and with one of the weaker incumbents and a strong challenger, I determined that if our [DLP] candidate [Ryan Walters] was not the obvious winner then all the other firsttimers were imperilled. While many were optimistic about the outcome in that specific riding, none seemed certain. Nonetheless, I had hoped and literally prayed that he with a few others might prevail so we could form an Opposition.
BT: What were your thoughts on the DLP campaign?
For a mature political party, the DLP’s campaign was unimaginative and uninspiring. The kick-off in St Lucy was parochial, there was no core message and many issues that should have been picked up on weren’t, the slate of candidates in terms of vision, experience, gender balance and communications was lacking, and the slogan was too generic and didn’t resonate. The party also seemed unprepared, divided, and didn’t resonate as a unified team ready to work on behalf of the electorate. While it is expected that an opposition party presents itself as the ‘government-in-waiting,’ we came over as an ‘opposition-in-waiting.’ Ultimately, we came over as lacking in soul and a sense of purpose.
BT: Any comments on Verla DePeiza’s leadership?
I said what I consider necessary about the former comrade leader last year when I contested the presidency. However, one of the obvious challenges in the campaign and a drag at the constituency level was that she didn’t resonate as an alternate or future national leader. However, it’s time to look forward and she should be recognised for her effort.
BT: What about the criticism of former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s involvement in the campaign?
The absence of double jeopardy in politics means that the influence of the former prime minister in the election outcome warrants prosecution. His breaking of a three-year and a half year silence to use the campaign to unapologetically herald a ‘glorious’ decade under his tenure, was an unwarranted reminder to all those who voted almost unanimously and with singularity in 2018 against the DLP. It was a mortal, self-inflicted, political wound.
The DLP has been plagued by a series of leadership crises since the death of Errol Barrow. The formation of the NDP, the no-confidence motion and the subsequent snap-election, the rise of ‘Owen-Dems’ and the politics of inclusion, the ‘Eager Eleven’ and the 2018 routing, reflects a failure to appreciate that leadership is an action, not just a position.
BT: What do you see as the consequence of this another massive defeat for the DLP?
There is a need for urgent introspection. Empirically, this 30-0 has turned the 2018 aberration into a patterned outcome.
Nonetheless, beyond the underperformance of the DLP, the other significant outcome was the unprecedented low voter turnout in what is one of the oldest legislatures in the world.
The considerable swing against the ruling party mustn’t be overlooked either as shouldn’t be the significant increase in support for third parties. Voters are signalling that their concerns need be taken seriously.
BT: What do you think influenced this low voter turnout?
Having already noted our [DLP] shortcomings, I believe the holding of a general election to coincide with a surge in COVID-19 cases disenfranchised not only those who tested positive from the virus but also those who were wary of going out to vote in the pandemic particularly those with comorbidities and underlying conditions.
However, attention also needs to be given to a growing mistrust of governments especially when issues like tackling crime, education, transparency, particularly integrity in public life, doing business in Barbados, public administration, and a general high-handedness seem to go unaddressed.
Democracy is a fragile thing, requiring constant attention. Often it doesn’t die suddenly like by assignation but perishes over time as belief and confidence in the system are eroded through limited vision, insufficient participation, poor execution, or failing accountability.
While it is asserted that politics is a full contact sport, I believe our democracy can take only so many hits. The DLP needs to urgently reorganise itself if it wants to continue to play its historic role as a guardian of our democratic heritage.
BT: Once again there is no Opposition. Any comments on the proposal to amend the Constitution to give the DLP a voice in the Senate?
The absence of an opposition voice in parliament is a major impediment to democracy and good governance. Allow me to recognise the role of Caswell Franklyn in the defence of our democracy.
However, I am wary of tinkering with the constitution to achieve the immediate objective of appointing two opposition senators, even if considered benevolent by some. We should be mindful of the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The complaint made in 2018 against the rushed constitutional change to accommodate two of the government’s senators is no less valid now. Moreover, the issue of the assent of the Leader of the Opposition on certain decisions still would have to be resolved. From last year, we should have been addressing constitutional reform in the lead up to becoming a republic. Instead, we got distracted with an international public relations exercise.
BT: Do you have any suggestions how an Opposition voice could be guaranteed?
The guarantee of an opposition voice and diversity in our parliamentary process could be assured possibly through a mixed member system in the House of Assembly combining first-past-the-post and proportional representation.
Consideration should also be given to key non-state actors possibly including trade unions, the private sector, the media, and faith-based organisations, among others, having a designated voice in the Senate separate from those appointed by the president.
Allow me also to make the point that integrity in public life is the lifeblood of any democracy. The charge yet again of the direct exchange of money for votes warrants the immediate addressing of political campaign financing. The flood of money that gushes into politics today is a cancer to democracy. Rooting out corruption in government must be the concern of every citizen.
BT: Are you still interested in the presidency of the DLP?
As I stated previously and emphatically, I am not driven by political ambition. I contested the presidency after being convinced by others of a leadership issue in the DLP that needed to be addressed. Going forward, I hope that the widest possible process of consultation and discernment will take place to identify empirically, a single, suitable individual not just as a leader in George Street but for Barbados.
BT: But you haven’t answered the question.
Following a servant leadership model, leadership has never been about me but about securing outcomes for all ‘ah we’.
My life has been one of courageous service and as such I have never run away from a challenge or abandoned a cause. I remain committed to the DLP in whatever capacity. I hope that suffices.
BT: Is there anyone that you see as a future leader of the DLP?
There is considerable discussion around Ronnie Yearwood and Ryan Walters as future leaders of the Party. Both excelled in the recent election campaign, and I believe have much to offer the DLP going forward.
To be a success in this role, the individual should demonstrate proven leadership skills in terms of vison and decision-making, relationship and team building, communications, results-orientation and delegation, and crucially, conflict management.
I will reiterate that I think it is imperative that the Party avoid a contest for leadership, which I believe can be done if we undertake an open and thorough recruitment process.
BT: Do you have any thoughts on the discussion about separating the role of party president and political leader?
The party’s constitution defines the political leader as the parliamentarian in command of the parliamentary group.
With no parliamentarians, I believe talk of political leader is premature. Further, aware of the need for unity in the party I am not in favour of a two-headed organisation as I think it will unintentionally create factions and lead to further conflict.
The president should lead the party and the organisational work undertaken by the general-secretary or a chief executive, as we have done in the past, or delegated among the numerous vice-presidents.
BT: Any final thoughts or comments?
Democracy is not just about elections but governance in our daily life. Democracy is not a spectator sport but a participatory event. Elections remind us not only of our rights but our responsibilities in a democracy. If we don’t participate in it, we can’t legitimately make demands of it.
Finally, let us never forget that government is by the people for the people. As such it should never been seen as an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not the prime minister, ministers, and parliamentarians but we the people and the voters. May the Lord continue to be the people’s guide.