General Elections were held in Barbados on January 19th, 2022, and the ruling Administration the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) came away with a resounding victory capturing all 30 seats, leaving all the other opposition parties with zero. Today, 14 days after, now that the dust has settled, it is clear that despite this achievement, the government of Barbados is fighting for power.
The fight relates to the fact that Parliament cannot be seated as the Upper House or the Senate is not constituted. The winning party is like a ship without its rudder as it cannot steer or maneuver at sea. It is in limbo and at the mercy of the waves if caught in a storm. Without Parliament being fully constituted, the administration is unable to amend any law far less create new ones and start its agenda.
Based on the Constitution, two Opposition Senators are required in the make-up of the constituted Senate. Since no members of the opposing parties won any seats, it is left to the President based on the Constitution to act as the Leader of the Opposition and appoint 2 persons who opposed the BLP in the General Election.
The ruling Administration extended an offer to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) which gained the second most votes to seat two of their Senators. The DLP refused stating that it was not a proper offer since the Prime Minister had no authority to extend the offer. Then the Attorney General walked back on the offer stating that the prime Minister was only seeking to facilitate their entry into Parliament and stating that there must be a meeting with the ruling Administration, the President and the DLP. At writing the DLP has not responded.
Is the Barbados Labour Party in Control?
Clearly the BLP wants to get on with its agenda which perhaps contains vaccine mandates, safe zones, IMF conditionalities and now the contentious issue of seating an 18-year-old in the Senate (even though they had previously opposed seating a 25 year old DLP Senator stating that he was too young). All these are now problematic due to the crisis of there not being a fully constituted Senate. In essence the government is operating in a system that they cannot control the outcome. At present it is powerless except for day-to-day administration. It makes one wonder how long the island can operate without a functioning Parliament. Perhaps there is some pressure based on a commitment to external forces that caused an offer to be extended to the DLP.
Does the Power lie in the Hands of the Democratic Labour Party?
Though it may seem a simple act of benevolence, the offer that was extended to the DLP cannot be construed as such. It was simply to use them to achieve the government’s agenda as the DLP simply will not have the numbers to halt any amendment or passing of a bill into law.
It is significant to note that accepting that offer would also set a precedent to exclude smaller parties from the House of Assembly at this time since they may not be the holder of the second highest tally of votes.
However, it is not only the DLP that has the power of choice; all the opposition parties and independent persons who took part in the General Elections have the same power of choice in deciding whether to accept an offer from the President simply because the Constitution does not recognize political parties, only people. If the opposition parties and independents signed an agreement to reject any such offer, the ship is rendered helpless, forced out to sea, or slammed into the rocks by the mighty waves. Clearly, the back of this Administration is against the wall.
Just selecting two Senators will not resolve this constitutional crisis. It is like prolonging agony not just kicking the ball down the road for someone else to correct later.
The system controlled and manipulated Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) based its decision to disenfranchise thousands of Barbadians and blamed it on the State of Emergency Protocols. This is unacceptable as the protocols were easily amended to suit tourists and celebrations for the Republic. It must be noted that the EBC did not disenfranchise its workers, some of whom must have been infected and spreaders of the virus because a few days later it had to close its office.
When the Attorney General lashed out at the DLP to stop playing politics, it came to light that he did not realize that the fight is not against them but against the voracious beast of a system whose actions his own party has taken to a whole new level by paying social media influencers from the public purse, by obtaining campaign funds from local and international financers as well as maintaining a Department of Communications while the Government Information Service still exists.
The system has now taken on a life of its own and as the song by Jah Cure says, “Babylon can’t feed this beast” and there is no mechanism in place to control it. The system is now working in overdrive to maintain the 2 Barbadoses’. One with the rich man in his castle and the poor man destined to remain at his gate. One in which the tourist sees a paradise and the workers go home to pull back the curtain to show the stark reality of their lives. One in which economic enfranchisement will never be given to the poor. The Poverty Alleviation Fund remains empty, yet government can hold a lavish celebration for a meaningless Republic. The system has made sure that justice is not for the poor. That poor black men are paraded like animals and incarcerated for a spliff like the inhumane conditions of slavery.
From independence, the system has made a mockery of the franchise with use of bribery through giving corn beef and biscuits to the gullible in exchange for their votes. The bribery has not stopped, the vote is now exchange for far more valuable items.
The system has also turned political campaign meetings into lavish parties with big stages and sound systems and bright lights to entice the youth to have a grand time as they listen to popular artistes. Those feel-good moments lead to a five-year sentence of hardship including lack of representation, high prices of food, constant increases in the cost of gasoline, lack of infrastructural development, lack of opportunities, no jobs and the desires for a better life come to naught.
The privileged few can escape the island for supposedly greener pastures, but the majority have no choice but to remain and face this hard brutish existence, yet they revere politicians more than themselves. The cycle of economic poverty for the lower class is perpetrated by political parties. They pay back their campaign financers with big contracts and titles, but they only provide scraps and promises to the people who elected them.
The actions of this system, expressed in the words of Bob Marley is “Babylon system is a vampire, sucking the blood of the sufferers.” The pervasive corrupt practices that start by ensuring that a party dominates the first pass the post Westminster System has been to the detriment of the social and economic life of ordinary Barbadians.
We must kill this beast. It has outlived its usefulness. But perhaps, the system is turning on itself, decaying from within, just like the Roman Empire and we can no longer choose to ignore this fact. On two consecutive occasions it has produced a winner without power. On the first occasion Mr. Joseph Atherley crossed the floor from the BLP, became the leader of the Opposition and formed his own party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Mr. Atherley’s crossing the floor of the House of Assembly was not a solution, it was just respite. The administration ignored this, and the situation has presented itself again.
What decisions will the President of the Republic make?
The President’s authority rests in the Constitution. She can extend an offer to any of the candidates who took part in the General Election to oppose the government since the Constitution does not recognize political parties. However, if she does this the system remains unchallenged. The Senators will be unable to halt the amendment or passage of any legislation which they deem unsuitable or in the best interest of Barbadians.
The question one must ask is if the President can challenge the system by not siding with the BLP or the Opposition and if she can send the electorate back to the polls. The grounds for this being that the General Election held on January 19th, 2022, was neither free nor fair. The following must occur if the President has the authority and chooses to send the electorate back to the polls.
- A suitable time frame must be provided that allows the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to get its act together to ensure that persons are not disenfranchised.
- Provisions be made for persons in isolation and quarantine to vote.
- Options be provided for voting such as by mail or online or other means to facilitate those who do not wish to attend a polling station during the pandemic.
In addition, a Referendum be held at the time of the General Elections to implement the Proportional Representation System in the House of Assembly as the best solution to the current constitutional crisis. One may ask, why such a system? The answer is that it will truly allow representation for all the votes cast by the people of Barbados, it allows for inclusion of all political parties and Independents in the Parliament if they meet a certain threshold of votes (1%).
Senators must also be elected. It should not be a privilege to sit in the Senate, it must be a right by achievement.
We also need a monitoring system enacted into law that prevents wealthy campaign financers from determining what happens and what will never happen in Barbados.