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Hope in Owen’s second coming?

Albert Brandford

Hope in Owen’s second coming?

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­­­­- Former Prime Minister of Barbados and now, newly-appointed Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur, June 25, 2010 at the annual meeting of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in The Bahamas.
LAST?WEEK’S MOVE BY the Parliamentary Group of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to restore former Prime Minister Owen Arthur to the political leadership of the party has created an environment that begs for comparison and contrast with the events of 2006 when the then leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP),Clyde Mascoll, was taken down.
The views of the respective group of elders across the two parties and those of political analysts are particularly noteworthy.
But in the midst of all of this, the real issue, to me, is the expectations of Owen Arthur within the BLP and in the wider public.
Five of the nine MPs signed the letter that was eventually taken to Governor General Sir Clifford Husbands to oust Mia Mottley as Leader of the Opposition, with one other MP declaring his support for whoever gained the majority vote.
This compares with four of seven MPs who signed the letter in 2006 to remove Mascoll the then Leader of the Opposition.
In both cases, one vote was all it took, but in contrast, this time around, there has been some discussion among the political analysts about the size of the majority.
In the Daily Nation editorial of October 19 headlined: One vote is all it takes, the leader-writer said: “Politics has always been a game of numbers. So important is the business of numbers that there is in both the major political systems across the Atlantic pond provision to ensure that the members of the respective political parties are present to vote in the legislature on matters arising therein.”
The editorial came home when it noted: “Owen Arthur seems to fully understand the science of political numbers. In 1994 he skillfully moved a confidence motion against Mr. Erskine Sandiford only after the circumstances showed that there was a high probability that he could secure the magic number of 15 votes for a mandatory resignation or election. After the vote on the “no-confidence motion”, an election followed and Mr. Arthur became Prime Minister.”   
There is an election to follow as the Government is just past its mid-term.
The circumstances of the Government are however different, but it does appear that the DLP would have new leadership going into the next general election.
The timing of the next election is going to be crucial for several reasons ranging from the nature of the new leadership to the state of the economy.
 These reasons also put the spotlight on Arthur to heal the BLP quickly as well as to offer alternative economic leadership, even from the Opposition benches.
It is the statesmanlike thing to do, and hope that the nascent Government is more receptive.
The process of healing within the BLP offers an opportunity to the elders to first of all respect the views of the Parliamentary Group, notwithstanding the small group’s public display of support for Mottley.
This is in contrast to the position of the elders in the DLP who started to move against  Mascoll within seven months of the election of May 2003.
In Mascoll’s case, he took the DLP into the general election and had legitimate expectations to become the Leader of the Opposition, even though David Thompson and Denis Kellman voted for themselves to lead.
In the circumstances, three of the four persons who initially supported Mascoll switched their support to Thompson. This compares with four who recently turned to Arthur from Mottley.
 In each case, there was a majority of one, but recent debate among some political analysts does not suggest that.
According to the editorial, politics has always been a numbers game which has to be appreciated by all in the BLP.
It is not a numbers game sometimes; it is always, regardless of the sentiments of some.
 As I wrote last week: “Our system of parliamentary democracy, however, is not about justice, it is about the majority view. This view is best exemplified in the way in which our Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are chosen. ”
In 2006, when the Leader of the Opposition recognised that Thompson had secured the one-vote majority, he attempted to save face by submitting a letter of resignation to the Governor General.
Mottley decided to fight the matter on a legal technicality about who is able to convene a meeting of the Parliamentary Group; a meeting was never convened in Mascoll’s case.
In the circumstances, the DLP’s move was more ruthless, but certainly less public.
The spotlight is now on Arthur to bring his considerable political and economic skills to bear on the future of the BLP and, by extension, the future of Barbados.
His greater initial challenge is, of course, to cure theBLP’s cold which if left unattended could become pneumonia.
This is another test for a man who has demonstrated a capacity for political intrigue that is unmatched in contemporary local politics.
Given the level of investment in Mottley during his last term of office, there is no doubt that she was being groomed as a successor. The recent events would definitely test the nature of this investment going forward. Equally important, is the skill required in mending the relationship between Mottley and those who switched their allegiance to Arthur.
If the political dimension of Arthur is unmatched, it is to his economic strengths then that the Barbadian public would be looking as the country tries to cope with a recession that is in the hands of a recently appointed Minister of Finance.
 As Leader of the Opposition, Arthur now has much more than half-an-hour during the upcoming annual budgetary exercise in Parliament to outline his vision for the economy and not be subjected to any uncertainty surrounding how much time he has left.
 He would have enough time on television to present an alternative perspective.
The key to his “second coming” is to immediately lay a foundation for hope that is quickly diminishing among Barbadians. The years of plenty have been turned into survival in the course of less than three years. The model for wealth creation has apparently been abandoned.
There is simply no obvious plan within which hope is being pursued.