By Dr. David Hinds
Special To CWNN
CaribWorldNews, PHOENIX, Arizona, Fri. Oct. 15, 2010: Barbados is generally regarded as having the corner on political stability in the often turbulent political landscape of the Anglophone Caribbean. Not so anymore, it seems. The last two general elections have revealed a hardening of the country`s political culture. While it is not immediately clear what accounts for this shift, it is not ridiculous to argue that the venom and political tribalism have always been there.
As Prime Minister David Thompson confronts severe health challenges, both major parties are locked in fierce leadership struggles. Perhaps, out of respect for the PM`s condition, the struggle in his ruling Democratic Labor Party, (DLP), is somewhat muted. Not so in the opposition Barbados Labor Party, (BLP), where an open challenge to the position of Political and Parliamentary leader, Mia Mottley, is being mounted by a majority of the party`s parliamentary group. It is clear that this group has lost confidence in Mottley`s leadership. But did they ever accept her as the undisputed leader?
Only a few months ago, the man who is most likely to replace her, former PM Owen Arthur, hinted that she was not up to the task. This came against the background of a poll, which showed that Arthur was more likely to lead the party to victory at the next election.
It is always uncomfortable when the top leader demits office but remains active in the leadership as Arthur has done. In his case he was a popular leader who, despite losing the 2008 election, left office with much goodwill both in Barbados and in the wider Caribbean. Despite assurances that he was not undermining the leader whom he had groomed and supported when he quit the top spot, it was obvious Arthur wanted to return to the helm. It is not clear whether this is driven by sheer ambition or by a groundswell of support inside the party and the wider electorate or both. But reference to support is often a mask for ambition.
Mottley seems to have strong support in the party and may well prevail if the decision is left to the wider membership. But unfortunately for her, the challenge is at the parliamentary level where Arthur has majority support. Attempts by the `elders` of the party to mediate seem to have been unsuccessful. The Arthur group has argued that there is no constitutional body in the party called `elders.` Mottley`s fate then seems to be sealed. The Arthur group, representing the majority of the party`s elected officials, could immediately replace her. However, they have delayed action until a meeting of the entire caucus which is set for October 18 ostensibly to give Mottley a chance to make her case. Whether she and her supporters will attend the meeting is left to be seen.
The casual political observer may ask why this challenge to Mottley`s leadership now? The most plausible answer is that given the Prime Minister`s health situation there is the real possibility of a snap election. If the PM is removed from the equation the gap between the two parties would be greatly narrowed with an Arthur-led BLP possibly holding the edge.
Meanwhile, the PM announced a cabinet reshuffle which seems to be less about cabinet responsibilities and more about succession. The clear winner in this scenario is Chris Sinckler who is seen as the rising star in the party and an obvious favorite of the PM.
Sinckler was promoted to the influential position of minister of finance and economic development, portfolios which were previously divided between the PM and his former deputy, David Estwick. Sinckler`s elevation means a demotion for Estwick who was not always an ardent supporter of the PM during earlier leadership battles within the DLP.
Freundel Stuart, the Attorney General and the man who has acted as PM since Thompson`s illness, is not thought to be the PM`s preferred candidate. After all it was he who was the PM`s rival for the position the last time around. Whatever happens, one can conclude that the struggle to replace Thompson, if it comes to that, would be a bruising one.
These developments in Barbados point to an aspect of Anglophone Caribbean politics which has not necessarily benefited the region. Way too much emphasis is placed on the maximum leader. The struggle for the top spot has encouraged intrigue rather than fraternal competition. The consequence has been a de-emphasis on team-leadership and shared responsibility.
In the final analysis the coming weeks would be an interesting period in Barbados politics. In Trinidad and Tobago they would call it political bacchanal. For Barbados it could well be the period of political `wuck up`: the name of the country`s version of popular Caribbean dance.
EDITOR`S NOTE: David Hinds lectures in Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University in the USA. More of his writings on Politics in Guyana and the Caribbean can be found on his GuyanaCaribbeanPolitics.com website.