Saturday, April 20, 2024

PM stronger, but still weak


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I don’t know whether there was an attempted coup or not. I really don’t know. I’ve never received any letter from anybody. I am not aware of any such thing. I heard that your newspaper has some letter  . . .  and so on. I have never seen any such letter. – Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s December 18, 2011 interview with the SUNDAY SUN.
On the weekend when the names of the so-called Eager 11 were revealed in the SUNDAY SUN, I was in the presence of some friends who all agreed that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart had to take some action, if only to send a message to the disaffected group and the public that he was in charge.
His subsequent comments to the Press suggested that Stuart agreed with my friends, and he even went further to indicate that necks would pop.
“If there was such an attempt,” he added, “it obviously has not succeeded, and certain consequences will have to follow. If it has succeeded – if there was such an attempt – certain consequences will follow, so consequences follow in any event.”
Such robust language offered hope that the Prime Minister had at last indicated a willingness to act.
As far back as December 2010, after he had been charged by some people, along with commentators and the media, of not making decisions in his capacity as acting Prime Minister during the months of July and August, Stuart declared that he had learnt many things at school but one of them was not “treachery”.
His explanation then for the apparent reticence in taking charge was that his understanding of the role he was to play meant that if he had left someone in his house for two months while he was overseas and as soon as he left they changed the curtains and rearranged the furniture, it would either force his early return or force them to have a chat on his return.
The comment prompted then Prime Minister David Thompson in a Press conference to make the forceful point that Stuart had a free hand to make decisions he deemed necessary “to keep the social and economic ship of state on an even keel”.
It is now evident that decision-making has more to do with confidence than with position.
Notwithstanding the widespread view that the botched coup played into Stuart’s hands, it is clear that the political opportunity which he had immediately following the action of the Eager 11 will evaporate with the passage of time.
Since nature abhors a vacuum, the Prime Minister’s inaction thus far reinforces the popular view that he is weak.
In this context, it is only fair to attempt an analysis of the circumstances surrounding Stuart’s weakness.
Political analysts have argued that a prime minister must have a safe seat that allows him the time and space to help his team. If the analysts are right, then one of Stuart’s weaknesses is that he does not have a safe seat.
Though history has shown that there are few safe seats in Barbados’ political structure, some in the ruling Democratic Labour Party may feel safer than the Prime Minister and, as a consequence, may see him as vulnerable.
While an individual Member of Parliament is entitled to reason this way, the danger for Stuart rests in the numbers.
Apart from the size of the disaffected group, it was its composition that raised eyebrows.
The presence of the member who acts as Prime Minister in Stuart’s absence – Ronald Jones – and Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who can be considered fortunate to have become a member of Cabinet, painted an instructive picture of the nature of politics.
In stark contrast, the presence of Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler was less telling but consistent with the polls of the political strategist Peter Wickham and the early sentiments expressed by the kingmaker Hartley Henry.
No wonder Sinckler panicked and said that he does not wish ever to be Prime Minister. This came after he had denied the letter, only to admit of its existence a week later.
As usual, Stuart, the wordsmith, couched his response in an historical context, suggesting that once a coup fails, the perpetrators must pay with their necks.
“If I understand history at all, if a coup is attempted and it succeeds, the person against whom the coup was aimed usually pays for it with his neck.
“If the coup fails, the plotters and those who were trying to execute him pay for it with their necks. If it fails, those who bungled it pay with their necks. So, let’s wait and see,” he said, with a hearty chuckle.
In the same interview, Stuart indicated that he never received any letter from the Eager 11.
His failure to pop necks thus far may be justified on the basis of the absence of a letter. However, Sinckler admitted that there was a letter which the Prime Minister did not receive.
In this instance, the weakness of Prime Minister Stuart lies in his strength.
One wonders at the overuse of words to create a loophole, or escape clause, based on whether or not he received a letter when the public is fully aware, as he himself is now, that there was indeed a letter.
At the time of speaking, the Prime Minister could have used the receipt of a letter as the basis for action. But his Minister of Finance, perhaps prematurely, confirmed the existence of a letter which was revealed to the public by the SUNDAY SUN.
Notwithstanding his words, the Prime Minister is clearly not in a position to pop necks. The reality is that the late Prime Minster David Thompson is still exercising influence over the functioning of the Cabinet as his loyal supporters formed the nucleus of the disaffected group.
Given that the Democratic Labour Party intends to use Thompson’s image in the next general election, it is clear that Stuart is not yet sufficiently in charge to react to the intent of the Eager 11. Nothing confirms the influence of Thompson on the DLP’s politics more than the presence of his widow, the neophyte politician Mara Thompson.
In the prevailing environment, the public was eager to see the emergence of Stuart, the political leader, especially since the path was paved for him to act.
It is one thing to cleverly use words to cloud intent but it is another to allow the cloud to obscure one’s vision.
Still, Stuart himself is the consummate DLP loyalist, and a partisan to the bone, who would not willingly allow even a semblance of an advantage to his opponents in the other party, especially not with an election in the offing.
Politics is the art of pouncing on opportunity. While there is merit in being deliberate, it is possible for deliberateness to become procrastination.
A major political opportunity would have been missed if Prime Minister Stuart does not use the current environment to establish himself as the party’s and the country’s chief political leader.


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