“You create history by doing things differently.” – Freundel Stuart, former Prime Minister of Barbados.
On May 24, 2018, those words rang true, as the General Elections held on that date made history, though not in favour of Stuart’s Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
For the first time ever, one party, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), won all thirty seats up for grabs in a General Election in Barbados. Most of the DLP candidates, including some who had represented their constituencies for years and held high ministerial posts, were completely decimated at the polls, in some instances mustering fewer than 1,000 votes.
The elections brought home the fact that truly no constituency could be considered a “safe seat” for any party, because, for the first time in 60 years, the DLP lost the St. John constituency, which its patriarch the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow first held in 1958, followed by his protege, the late David Thompson, from Barrow’s passing in 1987 until Thompson himself died in 2010.
Confusion over who would contest the seat after the incumbent, Thompson’s widow, Mara, decided not to run for office again, did not serve in the party’s best interest either.
Stuart himself became the second sitting Prime Minister to lose his seat during a General Election to a newcomer in the political arena, losing by a considerable margin in his St. Michael South constituency to Kirk Humphrey, who now sits in Cabinet as Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy.
The 2018 poll also attracted more candidates than ever before, with over 130 men and women, some of them independents, throwing their hats into the ring, but more significantly, there were at least four other political parties in the race.
The two more high profile ones were the United Progressive Party (UPP), then led by former BLP Senator and Minister of International Business, Lynette Eastmond, and Solutions Barbados, led by engineer and political commentator Grenville Phillips II. These two parties both fielded over 20 candidates, including minorities, and some of their representatives did reasonably well given they were first-timers representing new organisations.
The initial election result led to a dilemma of sorts: what do we do about the Upper House, the Senate? The Barbados Constitution dictates that a party gaining at least one seat in the House of Assembly should have two representatives in the Senate, but initially that did not apply.
Given that the DLP received the second highest number of votes in the election, the Prime Minister extended an “olive branch” seeking to amend the Constitution to accommodate them, but they rejected the offer.
But Prime Minister Mottley’s dilemma was resolved when one of her representatives, St. Michael West Member of Parliament, Bishop Joseph Atherley, crossed the floor to become a one-man Leader of the Opposition, following which he appointed two representatives for the Senate, Caswell Franklyn and Crystal Drakes.
It has now been almost a full year since the General Elections, and the Mottley administration has been extremely busy as it hit the ground running, implementing what it termed its “Mission Critical” policies to get the Barbadian economy back on its feet again.
During its first year in office, it has introduced some significant new legislation, including the removal of road tax and granting permission to doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes.
But apart from Bishop Atherley’s questioning of some of the legislation when it comes before the House of Assembly, which is usually rebutted [unfortunately, all too often it descends to a personal level] by members of the party he once belonged to, and Senator Franklyn’s occasional controversial outbursts in the Upper House, we have only occasionally heard from the other political organisations, including the DLP which by all indications is are still functional as they have announced new executives.
Bishop Atherley has announced his intention to officially launch a new political organisation within the next two weeks. It will be the first time since the late Sir Richard Haynes’ National Democratic Party (NDP) in 1989 that there will be another party besides the BLP or DLP in the Lower House.
The question is what new will this party bring to the table? We have enough evidence that Barbadians are not partial to third parties and hardly can they be blamed.
A frank assessment of the current crop surely brings into question their quest to represent the voice of Barbadians in the interest of preserving democracy.
Where are the voices not only holding Government’s feet to the fire but reaching across the aisle to find solutions in the interest of Barbadians on national issues— public transport, school violence, stalled hotel projects, the future of LIAT, Government expenditure and the crafting of a medicinal marijuana industry?
Are they still connecting with the people of Barbados?
These parties have also said people are expressing an interest in contesting seats on their behalf when the next General Election comes to pass. Hopefully, instead of waiting till election time, these would-be reps are on the ground now, getting to know their constituents, ascertaining their needs, and helping them out of a genuine interest in their wellbeing, not just for public relations purposes.
Last year’s poll showed that people have grown weary of politicians basking in their past glories, ‘opposing for opposition’s sake’, ‘promises and lies’ emanating from political platforms, and the crass and often tasteless character assassination of rival candidates. So if the other parties are against any stance the Government has taken, they should clearly outline why and give credible options if they want to be taken seriously by the electorate.
We wait to see what this new political party will bring to the table.
Once the parties presently outside of Parliament find their collective voices, it should augur well for our democratic process.