The following is an unabridged version of the article which appeared in the Nation newspaper today (17 January 2013)
As far as I am aware, this is the longest interval between general elections since Barbados had democratically elected governments. Some have disingenuously proffered the view that Government was elected for five years; and is fully entitled to serve out that time, plus a maximum additional ninety days which allows for the return of election writs, in accordance with section 62 of the Constitution.
While there is a person occupying the office of Prime Minister, he is the only person that can advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and call elections before an automatic dissolution. Section 61 (3) of the Constitution states:
Subject to the provisions of subsection (4), Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date of its first sitting after any dissolution and shall then stand dissolved.
However, it does not appear that the incumbent has any immediate plans to bring about a dissolution of Parliament unless it is absolutely necessary. But that time is almost upon us, the first sitting was convened on February 12, 2008 and Parliament would therefore stand dissolved on the fifth anniversary, (February 12, 2013).
There are probably many reasons for the Prime Minister’s reluctance to set a date for the elections. In my opinion, the major one is that he is scared: scared of losing to the Barbados Labour Party; but more particularly, he is scared of winning. If his party wins, despite the DLP’s public declarations of unity and loyalty to the Prime Minister, he is not assured that his colleagues would support him to retain that office. Only last year, there was some evidence that a significant number of his colleagues had difficulty with his leadership, to the point where there was speculation that there was an attempt to remove Mr. Stuart from office. He must be a most uncomfortable man, and to paraphrase Solon of Athens, he must put himself on guard at every side and turn among his colleagues like a wolf inside a pack of dogs. He is therefore enjoying every last possible minute of his swansong prime ministership.
Ordinarily, when Parliament is dissolved there is a maximum period of ninety days to call the general elections. In the current circumstances, Parliament must be dissolved on or before February 12th. Unfortunately for the PM, unless the Estimates and the Appropriation Bill are passed before that date, he would not be allowed to enjoy the luxury of three more months in office. Those two pieces of legislation must be in place before the beginning of Government’s new financial year on April 1, 2013. Failing that Government would run out of money and would be unable to pay its bills if it honours the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly.
As a result of the Opposition’s ill-advised boycott of Parliament, Government can now lay the Estimates in the House, amend the Standing Orders and pass everything in one day. That is tidier than the alternative where Government could allow Parliament to automatically dissolve and then re-summon it under section 61 (5) of the Constitution, which states:
If, between a dissolution of Parliament and the next ensuing general election of members to the House of Assembly, an emergency arises of such a nature that, in the opinion of the Prime Minister, it is necessary for the two Houses or either of them to be summoned before that general election can be held, the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may summon the two Houses of the preceding Parliament, and that Parliament shall thereupon be deemed (except for the purposes of section 62) not to have been dissolved but shall be deemed (except as aforesaid) to be dissolved on the date on which the polls are held in the next ensuing general election.
For completeness section 62 states, in part:
62 (1) After every dissolution of Parliament the Governor-General shall issue writs for a general election of members of the House of Assembly returnable within ninety days from that dissolution.
To my mind the prospect of Government running out of money and being unable to pay its bills would qualify as an emergency where the PM would be entitled to advise the Governor-General to summon Parliament.
In 2007, the then Opposition boycotted Parliament to force the Government to call elections. As a result, at least one horrendous piece of legislation, (the Public Service Act) managed to find its way on the books which is still wreaking havoc in the lives of hundreds of public officers. The Opposition must not desert the country at this time and allow this bungling administration to further sully Barbados’ reputation for good governance. Get back to the House and stop this nonsense. Your jobs are not over until Election Day.