Friday, February 23, 2018

Barbados andGrenada facingelection 'cliffs'

THIS IS the week when, as Jamaicans brace themselves for a forthcoming, severe, belt-tight- ening cost-of-living outcome, based on the accord to be signed between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), two incumbent parties in the Eastern Caribbean will be struggling to avoid becoming one-term administrations.

The governments facing this survival "political cliff"—even as Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's ruling People's National Party (PNP) struggles against its very challenging "fiscal cliff"—are those of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart in Barbados and that of his Grenadian counterpart, Tillman Thomas.

Within a year of each other, both the United Workers Party of Prime Minister Stephenson King in St Lucia and the Jamaica Labour Party administration of short-lived prime minister Andrew Holness were to be restricted as one-term administrations with the electoral victories scored, respectively, by Kenny Anthony's Labour Party and Simpson-Miller's PNP.

Now, the big political guessing game in both Barbados and Grenada is whether this could also be the political fate awaiting Prime Minister Stuart's Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and Prime Minister Thomas' National Democratic Congress (NDC) at general elections this week.

Within two days of each other, national elections will take place in both countries—Grenada on Tuesday and Barbados on Thursday.

This past Thursday, the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) released its manifesto, and the following day, the incumbent DLP did likewise.

As has happened for elections elsewhere within our Caribbean Community, this timed release of manifestos left the Barbadian electorate with just a week to read, compare and determine which of these two traditional contestants for control of state power deserves to be victorious.

Similarly, it was a difference of insignificance for Grenadian voters who will trek to polling stations on Tuesday.

Their valid ballots will either confirm projections by some pollsters and commentators for the return to power by former three-term ex-prime minister Keith Mitchell's New National Party or endorse the optimism of Prime Minister Thomas' NDC  for a "second-chance" administration.

There are some sharp differences in leadership style, campaign strategies and fiscal and economic challenges between the incumbents in both Bridgetown (DLP) and St Georges (NDC).

What they do have in common is that both Prime Ministers Thomas and Stuart are first-time heads of government and, equally, facing strong challenges from two former three-term heads of government—the BLP's Owen Arthur and the New National Party's Mitchell.

Of course, unlike the scenario and tension in Grenada, Stuart's incumbent DLP does not have to contend with the politically bruising spectacle that Thomas is facing with former close, influential party colleagues and ex-cabinet ministers.

Among them is former foreign affairs minister Karl Hood, now openly identified with Mitchell's NNP campaign thrust, urging voters against a "second chance" for the NDC.  

In Barbados, the second-chance syndrome is perhaps a most crucial consideration for voters since there is no precedence for restricting an incumbent party to just one term.

And though pollsters and social commentators continue giving the winning edge to the opposition BLP, both "Bees" and "Dems" are attracting significant levels of crowd support at campaign meetings, amid lingering speculations over "swing votes" in identified marginal constituencies.

Meanwhile, Barbadians and Grenadians would be aware, as they peruse manifestos of the contesting parties, that their respective countries are among five others in the region identified by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) as having "unsustainable debt levels" that require a raft of urgent measures to "anchor investor confidence…".

In the circumstances, it appears that whatever the outcome on voting day, the "retrenchment bell" could well toll for public sector workers in both Barbados and Grenada.

For their part, Jamaicans will continue to steel themselves for coping with the tougher cost-of-living days ahead, following the official signing of the accord negotiated with the IMF and the implementation of Finance Minister Peter Phillips coming package of new taxes.

Whatever the different circumstances and challenges for various economies, we in this region have come to learn of customary bitter prescriptions associated with "standby" agreements involving the IMF—cutting jobs and devaluing currencies.

We will see what develops in Barbados and Grenada after this week's general elections. After all, as I reminded readers earlier, like Jamaica, both countries are also among the "unlucky seven" borrowing members of the Caribbean Development Bank with "debt levels" that have become "unsustainable".