Dr. Fraser- Point of View
June 8, 2018
Reflections on the Barbados Election

Truly Amazing! Within three months, two elections in different Caribbean countries resulted in a parliament without the presence of any representative of opposing parties. It is certainly not new to the region for James Mitchell’s NDP and Keith Mitchell’s NNP had done it before, but to have two countries doing so within three months must be saying something. Of interest, too, is that one of the winning parties achieved that victory contesting as an opposition force while the other was from an incumbent party. This is certainly not how the system is supposed to work for the Opposition is an essential part of government. 

With two exceptions Barbadians have always given the governing party two terms. The exceptions were the three elections between 1961 and 1971 when the DLP was victorious under Errol Barrow and 1994 – 2003 with Owen Arthur leading the BLP. I have always attached a level of sophistication to the Barbados electorate so was not surprised by the victory, only by the margin of defeat. Imagine the party of Errol Barrow securing only 22 percent of the votes cast! It tells you the way Barbadians felt about the maladministration and arrogance of the Freundel Stuart administration. 

It cannot be business as usual in Barbados for there are many challenges that demand urgent attention and hard choices to be made. Getting the government organised was the first order of business.

PM Mottley sought to amend the constitution to appoint two Senators who did not meet the 12-month residency qualification. The amendment uses as qualification the simple fact that the person is a citizen. This, the Attorney General stated, was an effort to provide opportunities for persons in the Diaspora to serve as Senators and in one case even to assume Ministerial responsibility. The role of the Diaspora and the contribution they can make to development is something that is often talked about in the region. Mottley is pointing the way but maybe this is something that needs critical examination even if just to ensure that it is not abused.

Then that bizarre development! Elected member Bishop Joseph Atherley, within a week of the election making a gymnastic leap to sit on the empty opposition benches as the Leader of the Opposition. It has not created the stir that one might have expected because it is no threat to the party and in fact might serve them in good stead since he still professes to agree with the platform of the party under whose umbrella he wwas elected.

Bishop Atherley claims to have been driven by concern for Barbadian democracy and his Christian faith. He does nothing, he says, unless he believes that the Lord is in it. What naked opportunism! Many would have voted for him because he represented a party that they wanted to take control of government. To do this within a week without even going back to his constituency is deplorable. Was the salary as Leader of the Opposition an attraction? Another case of politicians invoking God and Christianity to justify positions they take and to secure the allegiance of gullible Christian folk. We did it a bit differently in 1974 when after campaigning as part of the Labour Party’s team, Joshua was made a Minister and his wife Leader of the Opposition following some manipulation of the constitution.

Capturing political power is not enough. The task now is to translate the overwhelming electoral victory into a developmental agenda. Lee Kuan Yew, former PM of Singapore, warns that democracy does not necessarily translate into development; that what it needs to develop is discipline more than democracy. If those are the important ingredients Barbados certainly has the discipline and PM Mottley, the commitment. This augurs well for the future. 

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian