One of Barbados longest serving prime ministers says he is not yet prepared to call a winner in the general elections constitutionally due next year and has warned that the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) should not be ruled out.
In an interview with the online publication, Barbados TODAY, Owen Arthur, who served as prime minister from 1994 to 2008, said while the opinion polls appear now to favour the main the main opposition, Barbados Labour Party (BLP), he still believes the poll will be too close to call.
There has been heighten speculation that Barbadians could be asked to vote in a general election ahead of the June 2018 constitutional deadline with the two major political parties staging various meetings across the island in recent weeks.
The BLP has been calling on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to call fresh general elections claiming that the polls were needed to deal with the socio-economic situation facing the Caribbean island that celebrates its 51st anniversary of political independence from Britain on Thursday.
But Arthur, who now sits as an independent legislator in the Parliament, told the publication that while he believes the Mia Mottley-led BLP stands a good chance of winning the next election, he expects the poll to go down to the wire, in a constituency by constituency race.
Arthur, who led the BLP into defeat in the last two general elections, said the DLP should not be underestimated and that based on his own experience with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the DLP, “in every election a point comes when the Dems become the Dems again”.
In the last general election, the DLP won 16 of the 30 seats at stake even as Arthur noted that the BLP, under his leadership, was comfortably leading in the public opinion polls.
“The polls were showing that Freundel was at eight per cent in the polls, but once elections were called he ran ahead of me in the polls because the Dems had become Dems again,” Arthur said, adding that the DLP has enjoyed “a stronger base” of support than the BLP.
Arthur said the reality on the ground was also borne out in result of the 1994 general elections.
“In 1994 after the [then ruling] Democratic Labour Party had cut people’s wages by eight per cent and sent home 3,000 people, the Barbados Labour Party still did not get 50 per cent of the vote, because the Democratic Labour Party base still held. That is why I am not going to call this election,” he said in reference to the upcoming poll.
He warned also with a number “of third parties, formed, not out of the Dems, but out of the Barbados Labour Party” that could prove to be a factor in the outcome of the election next year.
“…while the third party presence may not be strong enough for the third party to win a seat, it may be strong enough to make the difference in terms of who wins the election”.
He said this was made even more palpable with the BLP currently holding on to a number of “razor thin” seats in the Parliament.
“So I don’t know how that is going to play out, but where the margins are slim you can have interesting results,” Arthur said, adding that “the strong suit of the BLP is that the economy is in a bad shape”.
The former prime minister said that the BLP needed to focus on its strong economic legacy and to avoid getting caught up in ‘gimmicks’, such as promising to abolish the National Social Responsibility Levy, to increase public sector wages and to reinstate tertiary education without having a full grasp of the severity of the economic challenges at hand.