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Under Scrutiny: The politics on the ground
By Stephen Alleyne
I wasnít surprised to read in another section of the media that the members of the parliamentary group of the ruling Democratic Labour Party had met to discuss Prime Minister Freundel Stuartís stewardship as Prime Minister of Barbados and leader of the party; for Iíve been following the game of politics long enough to know when a leader is in trouble. And I speak from a dispassionate position.
Iím not affiliated with either of the two political parties although there was a time when I was a strong supporter of the DLP because of its policies and programmes. I grew up in the period when the late Errol Walton Barrow wouldíve made free secondary and tertiary education available to all Barbadians and Iíd resolved that whenever I became an elector Iíd support his party. I had had a keen interest in politics from the year 1971, and in 1976 when I became eligible to vote, I cast my first vote for Dr. Richie Haynes of the DLP in the constituency of St. George North. Haynes lost in 1976 and in 1981. I voted for Eyre Hoppin in the same constituency who also lost. In 1986, I voted for Cyril Walker who won.
Enter Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd) who had taken over the reins of Government following the death of Errol Barrow in 1987. He won the 1991 General Elections with his own mandate. I again supported Cyril Walker, because in my opinion he had performed remarkably well. However, midway in Erskine Sandifordís tenure things went awry. By this time, Iíd become more analytical as an elector and was no longer influenced by the sterling contribution Errol Barrow had made. The first strike I had against Erskine Sandiford was when he told the country a few months before the January 22, 1991 General Election that the economy was in fine shape when all the indicators were pointing to an impending crisis. Sandiford was elected and by October, 1991 the eight per cent cut in the public service and massive layoffs had been implemented. Then the adamance of Sandiford and other members of his party, as Sandiford conceded, precipitated the no-confidence motion which handed the Government to the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) on a platter.
I couldnít, in all honesty, support a party which had clearly imploded and had lost its focus and direction. Owen Arthur to my mind offered an alternative and because of his grassroots background, he was able to persuade me to vote for the BLP in the 1994 General Election. I therefore voted for Gline Clarke in 1994, 1999 and 2003, because I felt the DLP should remain in the wilderness for their folly for a long time. Arthurís performance in his first and second terms was unquestionable, but in his third term, he and many of the members of his party in the eyes of the electorate became arrogant, complacent and moved away from the script. I therefore voted for my friend Colin Spencer and the DLP in 2008.
I thought I would chronicle my voting history, before I touch on Freundel Stuartís performance, to demonstrate I have no biases. This is something a lot people in Barbados treat as sacrosanct or are afraid, for whatever reason, to do. Political parties have to worry about voters like me and not the ones who vote for a party come hell or high water. I am among that small percentage of the population that is responsible for changing governments when they need changing.
One of the things I do as a discerning voter is to observe, engage in ample discussion and keep my ears close to ground. Before the 2008 election, I wrote extensively about the rift between the Commissioner Darwin Dottin, and his deputy, Bertie Hinds. I would have said ad nauseam that the differences between these two gentlemen were contributing to the low morale in the Force. I recall that on a pasture at Passage Road during the 2008 General Election campaign, Mr. Stuart acknowledged and said it was a problem that had to be dealt with. The elections came, the DLP won, Stuart became the Attorney General and he made no attempt to resolve the problem. Now with probably less than a year before the next General Election is called, the problem persists. A simple solution wouldíve been to give Dottin and Hinds their financial dues and send both of them home on early retirement in the interest of the organisation.
On the ground, too, there is talk, about the indecisiveness and lethargic approach adopted by the Prime Minister in a number of serious matters, like the appointment of the Chief Justice. On the other hand, the public seems impressed with the styles of Finance Minister Chris Sinckler and Minister of Health Donville Inniss, who are prepared to make the hard decisions and stand by them. Personally, Iíve always had the utmost admiration and respect for the Prime Minister, whose oratorical skills are second to none and competence as a lawyer beyond doubt, but in my view he has not lived up to the high expectations.
At the moment Iím therefore unsure if or how I will vote in the next General Election though Iíve vowed never to deny myself that sacred right. However, this is a real possibility unless the DLP can produce leadership that inspires confidence and programmes that are feasible; or, Arthur, if he leads the BLP into the election, can convince me that he is not passť.
(Stephen Alleyne is an attorney-at-law and former member of the Royal Barbados Police Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)