Friday, December 15, 2017

Barbados/t&t political dramas

 HOWEVER worrying or hilarious they may be for those directly involved, the reality is that multi-party politicking continues to dominate public life in many Caricom states. And surprises, painful and otherwise, are guaranteed. 

Hence in Barbados, a former dynamic leader and three-term prime minister can walk away from the party of which he has been a member for 43 unbroken years with a public pledge “never to return”.

Mark one, then, for Owen Arthur, a much-respected economist and former stout and articulate crusader for Caricom as an economic integration movement.

And here, in Trinidad and Tobago, Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran, an economist and former Central Bank governor, is burdened with his own political disenchantment. 

He declared in Parliament on Monday that he would not be voting with the Government on its Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 that was debated in the House of Representatives where the United National Congress (UNC)-dominated administration has a comfortable majority. 

The bill is otherwise viewed as a path-setting legislation to enhance parliamentary democracy. It includes the right to recall MPs as well as term limits for prime ministers as well as arrangements for a run-off poll when contestants fail to secure more than 50 per cent of the valid votes in any constituency.       

However,  while the bill has the firm backing of current leader of Congress of the People (COP), Prakash  Ramadhar,  Mr Dookeran has voted against the legislation.

Mr Ramadhar has been strongly defending the bill in contrast to the stand adopted by Mr Dookeran, founder and first leader of the COP, which is a minority party in the People’s Partnership Government of PM Persad-Bissessar, leader of the dominant UNC, the major party in the Partnership.

But first, back to Mr Arthur, who resigned last month from the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) amid widening protests against the government’s  controversial Solid Waste tax. 

His stunning claim to rationalise his departure from the BLP was that it “has lost its way and has lost its soul…”

What a startling indictment by Mr Arthur, the politician who now sits on the front bench in the House of Assembly, slightly apart from government MPs. Among those MPs are some who have been chorusing their ridicule of Mr Arthur as both prime minister and opposition leader.

A question being raised, and not just by faithful members of the BLP, is whether it is Mr Arthur who has really lost his way”, if not also his “soul”—by his dramatic walk away from the party with which he had spent 43 of his  64 years.

In our Caricom region a few other major parties have been affected by leadership problems, some resulting in splits and creation of new parties. Examples would include parties in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada and St Lucia.

But this columnist cannot recall any such development that parallels the scenario involving Owen Arthur’s bitter departure from the BLP. It is in sharp contrast to the painstaking management of the post-Errol Barrow Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in dealing with internal leadership challenges involving both the late David Thompson and current Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.

More, therefore, later on BLP politics—after Owen Arthur—as well as the intriguing government/opposition politics in T&T—beyond the expected passage of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill that requires a simple majority. 

A very confident PM Persad-Bissessar has already openly declared to her party and parliamentary colleagues in the House of Representatives to “vote as you want”.

Meanwhile, the Barbadian people would benefit from an explanation by Owen Arthur on his contention in his resignation letter that the BLP as an institution “has lost its way and has lost its soul…”

(This column was written before yesterday’s successful passage in the House of Representatives of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014).

Rickey Singh is a noted Guyana-born Caribbean journalist