Barbados without Her Majesty's loyal Opposition

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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The outcome of the Barbados general election on Thursday was unprecedented in two respects for that country: The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) won all 30 seats in the House of Assembly, and the island will have its first ever woman prime minister in Ms Mia Mottley.

The most immediate issue for the Barbados Parliament, which is one of the oldest in the Americas and the Commonwealth, dating back to 1639, is how to devise a viable model to ensure the relevant checks and balances on governance, given that there will be no Opposition in the House of Assembly.

In its current modern incarnation which came about in 1966 when Barbados became politically independent, the House of Assembly is famed for its vigorous debates, with strongly held contending views.

While it is not the same thing, Barbadians might want to look at what happened in Jamaica in 1983 when the People's National Party (PNP) boycotted the snap elections, leaving all seats to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

The PNP then set up what they called a “People's Parliament” meeting monthly at the Oceana Hotel in downtown Kingston and operating akin to a parliamentary opposition.

In the absence of an Opposition, the JLP Government appointed independent senators, which is allowed in the Upper Chamber of the bi-cameral parliament. Barbados has similar provisions in its constitution.

In this new dispensation, civil society, the media, and non-governmental organisations will have to play an important and enhanced role. But if there is any society that can do this it is Barbados.

Prime Minister Mottley, QC will join three other women who have served as leader of government in the Caribbean Community: Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica — 1980-1995; Mrs Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica — 2006-2007 and 2012-2016; and Mrs Kamla Persad Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago — 2010-2015.

Ms Mottley grew up politically during the halcyon days of the Owen Arthur-led BLP founded by Sir Grantley Adams in 1938. She has been the mentee of Dame Billy Miller. Her political pedigree goes back to her grandfather who was mayor of Bridgetown and served in the Assembly.

Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Leader Mr Freundel Stuart has accepted responsibility for the loss and has indicated that he will resign as soon as a new party leader is elected. Founded in 1955 by Mr Errol Barrow when he and others broke away from the BLP, the DLP spent the last decade in office.

Ms Mottley becomes prime minister at a time of deep and prolonged economic crisis. International reserves are down to less than six weeks (usually three months is the internationally acknowledged danger point) and a debt/GDP ratio of 157.1, said to be the highest in the world.

She has an overwhelming mandate to fix it. No easy task, and one that will take many years to accomplish. However, Barbados still has its invaluable societal capital intact; it has a rules-based culture; a good civil service; a non-violent people and a high-end tourism sector with global appeal.

This very small country has produced Sir Garfield Sobers, Rihanna, Sir George Alleyne, and Mr George Lamming, to name a few of its outstanding sons and daughters who must include Barbadian-Americans like Mr Cuba Gooding, Mr Eric Holder and Ms Shirley Chisholm.

We wish Barbados and the Mottley Administration well.

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