Freedom Party is back! This recent media headline caught my attention and I am forced to react. I begin by asking the question: Freedom is back from where? Allow me to answer that; Freedom party never left. In fact, the party is still solidly in existence and is kept alive through the vision of its founders, the philosophical spirits of its pillars and its well-intentioned members, friends, supporters and affiliates.
The DFP was the single most powerful political unit in Dominica and the Caribbean region, to the best of my knowledge, in the mid 1980s. This is the opinion which I have arrived at based on the profile and functional effectiveness (not strictly or necessarily the number of electoral districts won but the entire gamut of political representation) of Caribbean incumbent and opposition political organizations during that era.
I believe that 1984 was the DFP’s strongest year with a thriving and internationally recognized youth arm, the Young Freedom Movement (YFM), spearheaded by Johnson Boston, Ossie Walsh, Franklyn Moses and others. This was the year when the youth arm was instrumental in the staging of the DFP’s Salisbury caucus, and what an event it was!
My opinion of the functional effectiveness of the DFP is arrived at based on observable facts over the last three decades of Dominican and Caribbean politics. But a faux pas in the party leadership transition caused the DFP support base to dwindle. The founding leader, the late Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, in trying to re-engineer the process which would elect the successor of her choice in 1993, delivered a major blow to the party. Since then Freedom has suffered politically, but the party is still a robust conservative movement in Dominica’s politics.
One cannot accurately discuss the DFP without making reference to the Dominica United Workers Party (UWP) and the Dominica Labour Party (DLP), because it was the UWP which seized the political initiative away from the DFP, to assume political office in 1995. The fact is, Dominica’s political party system is structured on conservatism and liberalism; quite like England and America, and the DFP was the conservative force while DLP espoused liberal ideals.
DLP’s brand of liberalism, however, was on the radical side while UWP cleverly navigated in the middle, but leaning towards more conservative ideals. This neo-conservative vibe was a fresh breath for a country in need of political change, and this was the magic which ousted the DFP. This was the direction in which Western politics was heading especially with the rise of the late President Ronald Reagan brand of conservatism in November 1984.
The leadership battle which ensued following that electoral defeat dealt even a greater blow to the DFP. But the party never disappeared because political philosophies do not just vanish. Freedom support was diffused and integrated into other ideologies. UWP had and still maintains a level of conservative political appeal, but the DLP under the late Roosevelt Douglas, ably supported by the late Dame Eugenia, its former leader and Charles Savarin (the then DFP leader) was able to manipulate the partisan divide and drive UWP out of office the in 2000 – just revenge for the Dame.
Freedom was present then and is very much alive now. In fact, the DFP is a more potent movement than is being imagined because the party’s base is scattered over political power and appointments and statutory establishments all over the social landscape of Dominica and the Diaspora. From the Head of State/ President to the Prime Minister, to Ministers of government, Permanent Secretaries, Integrity in Public Office (IPO), Electoral Commission etc…etc…etc, the DFP brand is firmly stamped. A subtle shift towards the center was made within the DFP / DLP amalgamation, but with advent of Skerrit as DLP leader, these DFP conservative values have dissipated, hence the resurgence, or some say, ‘the return of Freedom.’
What makes it most interesting is that the fight, in this era, is over political conservatism and the most people-friendly conservative approach will prevail. DFP and UWP have seemingly remained true to their core values, while DLP has shifted towards liberal autocracy or ‘Skerritism.’ Thus far, Skerritism has worked for the current governing set up, but how much longer will it succeed? This can be answered with the cutting away of ideological support from the DLP’s base, something that DFP will certainly exploit.
With a united and organized opposition front, the immediate future of electoral politics in Dominica is intriguingly poised. The Dominica that I know has a predominant religious conservative population and with a twist of nationalism, they will respond to the clarion call as they/we have done in the past.
To say that DFP is insignificant is not to understand basic rudiments of Dominican electoral politics. Just as the DFP welcomed UWP in 1988, so to should the DLP embrace the DFP of 2017. To do otherwise could prove even more dire to the incumbency because Freedom is a potent Dominican political force. The DFP cannot, however, automatically and singlehandedly seize the political mandate, but it can and probably will play a role in shaping the next Dominican government.
The extent of DFP’s success will depend upon the strategies the party employs. What is certain is that the country is in need of political change, and at the end it is the policies which benefit the totality of the populace which will or should be supported. But electoral politics is a very dynamic science and it has been observed that parties jam their way into power and once there, they power themselves into extended existence. The evidence is all around, but the last time I checked, Dominica was still said to be a democracy and if that be so, the will of the majority should prevail while the rights of the minority must be protected. It is very good and extremely healthy for the democracy when institutions of State get better organized; Bravo DFP!