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Election climate heats up in Grenada, Barbados, St Kitts

ANALYSIS

Rickey Singh

Sunday, January 20, 2013    

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INSTEAD of possibly two changes in government shortly within the 15-member Caribbean Community, as originally assessed, there could well be a third later in the year.

Changes forecast, and based on public opinion polls, point to expected termination of current first-term administrations with two first-time prime ministers in Barbados and Grenada.

But currently, amid growing political challenges for Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's governing St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) — largely based on a mix of deepening economic misfortunes and, more worryingly, internal divisions in his party and Cabinet, there is growing speculation of a likely snap poll later this year that could well result in a change in Government in Basseterre.

While much attention is currently being focused on the naming of the date for a new constitutionally due general election in Barbados that could be announced either tomorrow or on Tuesday, the governing and opposition parties in Grenada are battling it out on the campaign trail for the coming parliamentary poll.

Against the background of heavy criticisms last year of both the governments in St George's and Bridgetown for not announcing arrangements for fresh parliamentary elections, Grenada's Prime Minister Tillman Thomas named February 19 as the date when voters will choose representatives for the 15-member House of Representatives.

In Barbados, however, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart seems to delight in frustrating expectations of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party of former three-term Prime Minister Owen Arthur over naming a day for a new election for the 30-member House of Assembly.

Such an announcement was expected long before the expiry this year of the fifth anniversary of the last general election on January 15, 2008. But it never came.

Instead, with the passing of that date, and while Arthur was bitterly complaining of the sudden withdrawal of police permission for his BLP to hold a public rally in Parliament Square in Bridgetown last Wednesday night, Prime Minister Stuart was jeering at a DLP election constituency event that he did not know "what's all the fuss is about... fixing the election date is my call..."

Teasing PM

Speaking in the St Michael South East constituency to endorse first-time DLP candidate Patrick Tannis, a teasing Stuart, who became prime minister on October 23, 2010 on the death of then first-time Prime Minister David Thompson from cancer, was to declare with a straight face: "What they (his opponents and media critics) don't know is since about March 2011, a few weeks after the by-election in St John (which was won by the late David Thompson's widow, Mara), I had fixed the date for the next general election in my own mind and that date hasn't changed... The election is not too, too, too far away..."

While the prime minister is standing on secure constitutional ground that allows new parliamentary elections to take place within three months from the last such event, he and his DLP have undoubtedly been pushed on the political back foot by some fierce BLP campaigning to name a date ahead of the January 15 fifth anniversary of the 2008 poll.

The latest such strategy by the BLP was to start a boycott of sittings of the House of Assembly from last Tuesday. Following tomorrow's annual celebration of 'Errol Barrow Day' that commemorates the sterling contributions of the late prime minister and 'Father of Independence', Stuart could well call the election a day or two later. At the 2008 general elections the DLP won a landslide 20-10 seats.

Two public opinion polls last year have forecast a return to Government of the BLP. A similar development has been predicted to occur in Grenada with the defeat of Prime Minister Thomas's National Democratic Congress (NDC) by the Opposition New National Party of former Prime Minister Keith Mitchell. At the July 2008 elections, the NDC had secured 11 of the 15 seats to the NNP's four.

Clouds of uncertainty

While clouds of uncertainty for a second term for the DLP and the NDC hang heavily in Barbados and Grenada respectively, the latest political rupture in the ranks of Prime Minister Douglas's Government in Basseterre points to the inevitability of a snap poll in that Leeward Island state.

There, where the SKLP is governing with a slender one-seat majority in St Kitts but with coalition support of parliamentarians elected in the sister isle Nevis, the recurring public disagreements between Prime Minister Douglas and two senior ministerial colleagues — Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor, and Dr Timothy Harris — spell serious survival challenges ahead.

For a start, they are the very two SKLP parliamentarians whose recurring conflicts with the prime minister extended to their recent absence from crucial meetings of the Cabinet to approve the final draft of the 2013 national budget before presentation in Parliament.

Last week, they openly opposed a move by the prime minister to expand the Senate seats from three to six, contending that such a 100 per cent increase, and without any consideration of the status of the elected House in St Kitts, was quite objectionable.

Consequently, monitors of the political developments in the twin-island state feel that it's a matter of time before Prime Minister Douglas may feel compelled to announce plans for a snap general election. We shall see.

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