Follow the Leader
Compare leadership styles when you vote: the king vs. the team leader
To the loyal vassals, the proles and the plebeians, he remains the country's saviour.
"(Roosevelt) Skerrit has done more for Dominica than any other prime minister," one unabashed and unrepentant disciple boldly stated to enthusiastic cheers from family members. Challenged to it back up, this person, who did not want to be named, questioned the interviewer's motives instead.
To serf, gentry and clergy, he is king and, as far as they're concerned, long live the king.
"In Dominica Skerrit is king. Maybe not Labour Party per se, but Skerrit, the man is king," one observer told The Sun recently, in reference to the prime minister's personal popularity. Several polls conducted in the past by the Barbadian pollster, Peter Wickham, have found that Skerrit is indeed more popular than the party he leads and those who want his job.
"The competitive and open question on leadership presented three clear options for Dominicans and of these, 64% preferred PM Roosevelt Skerrit...," Wickham wrote in a one-page release following a survey last February.
However, Edison James was the alternative at the time and his era the United Workers Party (UWP) leader is over. This is the age of fellow Marigot native, Lennox Linton, and in the absence of a poll, therefore there's no scientific data to how the country views him as a leader.
However, while Linton has brought back energy to the party and has been able to attract what many describe as high-calibre candidates, questions remain about his ability and leadership skills. Coupled with his lack of political experience, many see him as aloof and un-engaging.
"What Tony (Astaphan) and these people are trying to do, they are painting Lennox like Edison, angry and bitter, from Marigot, and thing like that," Athie Martin, who has worked with both parties in an attempt to improve the country's leadership capabilities, told The Sun.
These are the options that the country faces whenever the next election is called. On the one hand, there's Roosevelt Skerrit, a populist viewed by some, including those within his own party, as a cult leader whose ascension to the country's top political post has resulted in a new kind of leadership, one that has led to bitter divisions.
On the other hand, there's Linton who has adopted a leadership by committee approach, describing the UWP slate as "Team Dominica".
"The UWP strategy is an admission that they cannot run a presidential campaign, while the Labour Party shows they clearly can," Wickham told The Sun. "It's … a comparative weakness, which is fine because you run a campaign you think you can win."
Martin, an open critic of the Skerrit administration, saw it differently, telling The Sun that the DLP leader "is no longer in a position to provide leadership." According to the former DLP agriculture minister, Skerrit had destroyed the party's institutional base as well as its organizational skills and leadership abilities.
"If you take a look at the leadership of the Labour Party you will see what I'm talking about," he said.
At the same time he said Linton had the opportunity to prove his worth ahead of the election, constitutionally due next year.
"He has announced a different (leadership) style and so far he has been practicing it. And the competence of the team is evident," Martin said. "The question now for Lennox is if he is going to succumb to fight fire with fire, or if he fights fire with water; if he is going to fight Skerrit's flare with flare or if he fights it with competence and the team. It's a question of leadership style and he must not think he must replace substance with style. Style doesn't take management decisions."
Martin also suggested that the population's economic realities would influence people's perception of Skerrit's leadership, a fact supported by the February 2013 CADRES poll which found that Dominicans were "least impressed with the government's performance in the area of employment". A poll commissioned by the DLP in 2009 also found that when it came to handling of the economy, voters trusted the UWP to do a better job.
"For the last two elections that (leader's popularity) worked definitely in Skerrit's favour. But now the reality has hit, people are feeling it. It is not that the principle of charisma is no longer valid, it is the reality. It is not the flare, it is not charisma, it is that everyday people have to face to the harsh reality. So, yes, there's a flare issue, yes there's a charismatic issue, yes, there is a leadership style issue, but there is the reality."
Still, according to one political observer, who did not wish to be named, the supreme leader wins every time, since Caribbean electors choose personality over party.
"In the Caribbean we vote for a king and the stronger the king the better his chances."