Stuart’s tough road to the top
FREUNDEL STUART’S ASCENSION to the pinnacle of local politics yesterday as the seventh Prime Minister of Barbados is nothing if not a lesson in patience and perseverance.
After morale-sapping defeats in his native St Philip in 1999 and again in St Michael South in 2003 after switching constituencies, Stuart might have joined lesser men who with similar results had shrugged their shoulders and given up on the tough game that is elective politics.
But Stuart, who had entered the House of Assembly for the first time in 1994 by winning the St Philip South seat against Philip Pilgrim of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), persevered and was rewarded with a turn-the-table victory over BLP Cabinet Minister Noel Lynch in the 2008 general elections in the St Michael South constituency.
It was doubly sweet satisfaction for Stuart in effecting a reversal not only of his 2003 loss to Lynch, but also of the 1999 position when Lynch had won in every box in the constituency to end the 27-year political career of Prime Minister Erskine (now Sir Lloyd Erskine) Sandiford in one of the great giant-killing feats in local political history.
Stuart, 61, is also a study in outlasting political foes and colleagues.
In 1994, he was named by David Thompson – whom he succeeded as Prime Minister yesterday – as Deputy Leader of the Opposition for the 1994-1999 Parliamentary Session.
But the two would later have an open, bitter and acrimonious disagreement, with Stuart opposing Thompson’s resurgence for the DLP leadership in 2005.
Still, his value to the party and country could not be discounted, and when Thompson and the DLP won the January 15, 2008 general elections, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that Stuart would have been named Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, as well as Deputy Prime Minister.
Stuart was born in the south-eastern parish of St Philip and received his early education at St Mark’s Boys’, St Martin’s Junior, and then entered Boys’ Foundation School in 1950.
He later studied at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) from 1971 to 1975 when he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in political science, and between 1977-1980 read for a degree in law – also receiving Honours – and then completed a Master’s degree in public international law in 1982.
In 1984, he completed the Certificate in Legal Education at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago.
His private practice since 1984 encompassed mainly criminal and corporate law.
Stuart said he was initially attracted to politics because he believed that the informed exercise of power could reduce the glaring disparities in wealth observed in Barbadian society.
He listed poverty and, in particular, unemployment and inadequate housing as the major problems that his constituents in St Michael South currently faced.
Stuart told interviewers he was convinced that a sustained programme of development by an enlightened Government could wipe out the remaining vestiges of neglect and deprivation in Barbados.
He has been for several years a stalwart of the Democratic Labour Party and has served in many capacities including that of president between the period 2004 to 2005 when Thompson returned from his self-imposed exile from leadership positions.
It was a time that brought to the fore Stuart’s fierce fighting nature as a politician as he hotly contested Thompson’s return.
Ahead of voting at the DLP’s 50th annual conference on August 21, 2005, those connected with Stuart circulated a pamphlet that was a 17-point indictment of Thompson and would later be used by the BLP against him in the 2008 general election.
Stuart charged, inter alia, that from 1994 to 2001 Thompson led the DLP with a free hand to do as he saw fit.
“Did we not end up with the unusual act of the people of Barbados voting against the Opposition in 1999 (the year of the DLP’s worst electoral defeat: 26-2)? Do we want to return to the days of internal hate, infighting, blood letting, cursing, and ruling by division?”
Stuart also raised such issues as the 1994 IMF letter supposedly signed by then Prime Minister Owen Arthur, which was to be produced in Queen’s Park; the St John Development Plan; and the mass exodus from the DLP of several of the candidates who ran in both the 1994 and 1999 general elections under Thompson’s leadership.
“What has transpired since the resignation of David Thompson, six weeks after the 2001 annual conference to encourage me or you to want the [M]ember for St John to lead the DLP anywhere at this time?” Stuart asked.
Stuart has been well prepared for not only the leadership of the DLP but the country as well.
Although he told the media yesterday he did not envisage any changes to the Cabinet that had been re-shuffled last month when Thompson’s illness with pancreatic cancer caused him to reduce his workload, Barbadians can confidently expect that the status quo will not remain for very long after the official mourning period.
“The Constitution makes clear that on the appointment or reappointment of a Prime Minister the ministries all become vacant and therefore all the ministers who have held office up to the time of Mr Thompson’s death will now have to be sworn in again,” Stuart said, “because they are no longer in Mr Thompson’s Cabinet but the Cabinet of the new Prime Minister.
“I don’t contemplate any immediate adjustments. I think we have to get through this very difficult period first and therefore the harder side of politics will have to take a back seat for the time being as we deal with this very much softer side.”
Indeed, one of the new Prime Minister’s first official “hard” acts was to appoint as a Minister and Attorney General St Philip MP, attorney-at-law Adriel Brathwaite, who during Thompson’s protracted illness had a two-month appointment as Attorney General which did not sit well with certain top elements in the Thompson Administration.
And there are likely to be many other decisions of this nature as Stuart seeks to stamp his authority on the Government before seeking his own mandate in a general election.
Stuart believes that Barbados is now ready for the completion of the social and economic revolution that was started in the 1960s.
His vision for Barbados is that of an affluent society in which resources are equitably distributed and citizens enjoy all their human rights and freedoms.