While outgoing Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley is certain his decision to switch constituencies for the January 19 poll would be successful, a respected political scientist says it signals death for his career.
Minutes after filing his nomination papers at Combermere School Monday morning, Atherley told reporters the people of St Michael Central have been asking him to represent them for some time now and he could not disappoint them.
Flanked by his wife Esther, his election agent and zonal campaign manager Caswell Franklyn and other team members, Bishop Atherley said he had even given notice to his former St Michael West constituents after winning the 2018 general elections that he would be parting ways with them.
The church minister, who served St Michael West for the majority of 22 years on a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) ticket – 12 of them as an elected parliamentarian – disclosed that he had already asked an unnamed incumbent MP to replace him.
Bishop Atherley, who heads the newly-formed Alliance Party for Progress (APP) – a merger of his People’s Party for Democracy and Development (PdP) and the United Progressive Party (UPP) of Lynette Eastmond – is aiming to unseat the BLP incumbent in St Michael Central Arthur Holder, who has only spent one term so far.
But his decision to switch constituencies for the January 19 general election has been flagged by retired Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Dr George Belle as an admission that his political career is over.
“I don’t know if the term shadow boxing in politics is the right term, but I see it as his recognition that his political chances have been wiped out in St Michael West. Once he had crossed the floor, I think that was the end of his political career,” Dr Belle told Barbados TODAY.
The respected political scientist said Bishop Atherley, therefore, took advantage of the circumstances to become Opposition Leader and to maintain his political credibility, sought to contest another seat considering that at least one of his opponents – businessman Chris Gibbs – appeared too strong.
Apart from the BLP’s Gibbs, two others – Patsie Nurse for the APP and the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) Ricky Laker Williams, a well-known sportsman and homeboy, are contesting the St Michael West seat.
“So I think that he took that [decision] where he felt there was some vulnerability and he has chosen the St Michael Central constituency. I think that would depend on what work Mr Holder was doing and also the character of the opposition, the Democratic Labour Party’s choice,” the prominent political scientist stated.
The former Dean of Social Sciences suggested that Atherley could have lasted a little longer, had he decided to sit on the government backbench, instead of leaving the party that caused him to be in Parliament in the first place.
The decision by Atherley to change constituencies also appeared to baffle Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
After handing in her nomination papers at St Matthew’s Primary School today, Mottley, described the action by the former party member and religious leader as unChristian-like.
“I am not sure that he can do in two weeks that which he has done in the last 22 years in St Michael West. And I ask myself what is it really about. Is it about the people? If it is about the people, why is he not in St Michael West who voted for him with absolute confidence as on the last occasion?
“If it is about trying to stop Arthur Holder from becoming the next Member of Parliament, then I understand why he has gone up there and I find that a most unChristian-like thing to do…because you are not going into an election to block a man, you going into an election to offer yourself for service and representation,” the Prime Minister contended.
But Atherley said his decision to leave St Michael West and run in St Michael Central was a natural process because he had resigned from the BLP after the 2018 victory and his longstanding affinity to St Michael Central was the motivation to represent that constituency.
“Once I had taken the decision to be part of an exercise of creating an alternative political option in Barbados that was viable, I thought that I therefore had to participate in the next election.
“The switch to St Michael Central became natural because I had signalled to the people of St Michael West and my support team that that was the last for me down there to be running on a Barbados Labour Party ticket…I had now crossed the floor, I felt that if I was going to run, I would run elsewhere,” he explained.
“I have always had an affinity to St Michael Central. In fact, my first excursion in elective politics was an attempt to get the nomination for the then party to run in St Michael Central,” the APP leader added.
Bishop Atherley is resting his chances of victory on his “longstanding service” to the people of St Michael Central mainly through his church, the fact that he lived in the area and the close relationship the residents have had with him over time.
He was first elected to Parliament in 1999 to represent the people of St Michael West as a BLP member, was re-elected in the 2003 poll, but lost to the DLP’s Michael Carrington in 2008 and 2013.
The former Opposition Leader got back his seat in May 2018, when he again beat Carrington.