Leader of the Barbados Integrity Movement Neil Holder today served notice he’s prepared to go as far as the High Court to challenge the decision of Member of Parliament for St Michael West Joseph Atherley to cross the floor and assume the post of Opposition Leader.
In fact, in a strong statement, Holder also suggested that a by election should be held in the constituency which Atherley won on a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) ticket in the May 24 general elections with just under 78 per cent of the votes cast, beating his nearest rival, Michael Carrington of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), who had held the seat for the past two terms, by 3, 214 votes to 838. The three other parties in the raced polled a combined 132 votes.
“I am publicly calling for the people of St Michael West to remove from the House of Parliament, the Reverend Joseph Atherley, and I am going to have legal counsel in order that we can present a document to the Governor General which will suggest the way we seek this outcome, and if necessary, we will take it the High Court to be challenged.
“We need to act on this and send a very serious message to Reverend Joseph Atherley,” Holder, who contested the seat and placed last with just 32 votes, said
Atherley, who leads the Evangelical Holiness Christian Community Church, told journalists today he made his decision after coming to the conclusion that Barbadians would be better served with an Opposition in Parliament despite the 30-nil mandate given to the BLP.
However, while labelling the surprise move as “a slap in the face” to Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Holder insisted that “it cannot be fair, honest, prudent or equitable for Reverend Atherley at this point to walk away from that mandate which the people of St Michael West gave to him to say that he is now becoming the Leader of the Opposition, totally disrespecting the trust and commitment from the people of St Michael West to him for the next five years”.
In a more measured response, United Progressive Party (UPP) leader Lynette Eastmond dismissed reports that she had been handpicked as one of two senators to be announced by the newly installed Opposition Leader.
Eastmond told Barbados TODAY “no one has approached me about anything at all”.
She however did not rule out the possibility, saying she would consider it if she were approached.
“It is something I would consider. Whenever I am asked to serve my country I have done so. I have never refused to do that,” she said.
Eastmond, an attorney-at-law and former BLP colleague of Atherley’s before she quit the party last year and formed the UPP, described the overnight political development as part of the “organic process of politics”.
She also said it was a perfectly legal move, explaining that the Constitution does not recognize political parties but only sitting members of Parliament.
“He has therefore followed the process that is available to any sitting member of the Parliament. Any candidate has the opportunity to put their hand up and say, ‘I want to be the Prime Minister. Whose support do I have?’ By the same token they can put their hand up and say, ‘I want to be Leader of the Opposition.’”
While she stayed clear of commenting on whether it was a positive or negative development, Eastmond argued that “Barbadians were concerned about not having an Opposition, so now the country has one”.
However, defeated DLP candidate for St James Central George Connolly said he was baffled over Atherley’s move.
Connolly, who was beaten soundly by Kerrie Symmonds – now Minister of Tourism and International Transport – believed Atherley’s action was strange, especially coming so soon after such an overwhelming victory by his party.
“It also appears opportunistic. I don’t know which party he is going to join. I don’t know what direction he is going to go. I understand the rationale where people want to assume a leadership role, but the timing of it so quickly after the election is baffling to say the least,” Connolly told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
He noted that constitutionally Atherley could now name two senators and then take the fight to the ruling BLP. He however raised another question regarding the implications of the move by the St Michael West MP.
“Some people who are very cynical might very well say that the Barbados Labour Party is both Government and Opposition as well. By doing that you defuse any potency that the Opposition really has. So it’s a strange time for Barbados,” Connolly added.
While sticking to an earlier position that his party should accept the Government’s offer to name two representatives in the Senate, Connolly still wondered if Atherley’s swearing in would now make that offer null and void.
Meanwhile, Leader of Solutions Barbados Grenville Phillip II told Barbados TODAY Atherley’s move was “ a good thing”.
Describing Atherley as a “decent man”, Phillips expressed hope that the new Opposition Leader would take into consideration the economic plan put forward by Solutions Barbados. which he maintained was the only plan that would spare Barbadians from painful austerity, while returning the country to growth.
“He is another voice as Opposition Leader. We can appeal to him to review our plan. We are here to help . . . and let’s all work together for the good of the country,” Phillips said.