A Heather Cole Column – Historic 30-0 Win for BLP: Constitutional Constraint or Opportunity?
There has been much discussion over the past 5 days about the 30 – 0 victory of the Barbados Labour Party over the for Democratic Labour Party government and other newer political parties at the General Elections which were held on May 24, 2018. It was a historic and resounding victory for the Barbados Labour Party as they not only received the mandate to govern unopposed but the first female Prime Minister of Barbados, Ms. Mia Amor Mottley was elected.
With the decimation of the main opposition, most persons resorted to the Constitution for guidance. The founding fathers clearly did not anticipate that such a situation would occur. Hence, the Constitution does not provide any guidance on this issue. It only states that the democratic process to produce a government would consist of the winning party which obtains most seats and an Opposition which won the remaining seats and that both would constitute the government. No exceptions are mentioned. There being no opposition, only members of Parliament of the current Administration can sit in the lower House of Parliament.
Some may be of the view that this 30-0 win is a constraint on the democratic system as there are no longer any checks and balances on the system or transparency and that the Constitution should be amended to make provision for some semblance of an opposition as the new government will do as it pleases without oversight. Most importantly there is a worry about the preservation of democracy if the island is a 2-party system.
The Constitution does not advocate the use of Senators in lieu of there being no Opposition elected as part of government. The Prime Minister was therefore very gracious to seek to amend the Constitution to allow Members from the Democratic Labour Party which polled the second highest percentage of votes to be appointed to the Senate. Another alternative that could have been pursued was to simply increase the pool of independent senators. Whether one likes it or not, this may end up being the case because for the majority of the population the credibility of the Democratic Labour ceases to exist and the majority of the people may not even want them to walk up the steps of Parliament again.
One can be of a different view that a unique opportunity has presented itself making the 30-0 victory a blessing in disguise. With over 50 years of self-governance behind us and going as far as we can with a 2-party system, the time as come to go to the next level in democracy. That is to empower the people to fully participate in the governance of Barbados.
It was indeed heartening when for the first time in history of electoral politics in Barbados that a draft Manifesto was presented to the people by the Barbados Labor Party for their thoughts, discussion, comment and input. One wonders why this never occurred before. Perhaps at the beginning of our independence when the majority were only educated to 7th standard they needed the government alone to decide their needs and what was best for the country. However, after 50 years of independence and the majority having obtained secondary education and a thousands of university graduates, one wonders why a Manifesto coming from the people was not on the table until this election.
It would be a waste given the heightened political discussions that emanated throughout the island since the dissolution of Parliament on March 6th, 2018 for most people to revert to lives void of politician participation. Without an Opposition, the responsibility also falls on the electorate to maintain the democracy. It is for the good of the country as we seek to rebuild Barbados not only economically and socially but politically as well.
A 30-0 majority further provides the opportunity for greater input of Barbadians in the process of governance; whether it be in oversight, checks and balances, in decision making and by referendum and constituency councils. Members were selected for the constituency councils under the previous Administration, but they have failed to perform.
To this end the Government Information Service can be used as a tool to provide a body of knowledge to educate all citizens and residents, preparing them for active participation by providing the training for the empowerment of the people. The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and the Internet can be used as the medium to ensure that this becomes a reality.
One hopes that this 30-0 historic victory will signal the end of an era when the people only participated politically by casting ballots every five years and heralds the commencement of revolutionary changes as part of the rebuilding process making Barbados a participatory democracy. One can argue that with active continuous participation that not only will the people have a greater interest in their governance, participate more in the polls and reduce the numbers who do not vote but more importantly that we all can truly sing the part of the national anthem which states that we are “strict guardians of our heritage, firm craftsmen of our fate.”