ALL AH WE IS ONE: Enter the people
THE REACTIONS to the expulsion of MP Dr Maria Agard from the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) mark the occasion as perhaps the third recent one when the necessity for the popular democratisation of the political parties in Barbados has become evident. The previous two occasions surrounded the transitions of leadership between Owen Arthur and Mia Mottley.
The fundamental weakness in all of these recent episodes of “leadership tensions”, except perhaps the most recent Maria Agard expulsion, has been the exclusion of the mass base of the party, who have been relegated to the role of helpless spectator.
Despite the very healthy examples of a habit of popular resolution of leadership issues in the People’s National Party of Jamaica, now being emulated by the United National Congress of Trinidad and Tobago, proposals for a similar process of democratisation in Barbados continue to face opposition.
As a result, contests for leadership in Barbados are reduced to a numbers game among elected parliamentarians. With this comes all the negative implications of political opportunism, back room deal-making, and disdain for and betrayal of the expectations of the people.
Despite the resistance, however, it cannot be denied that the internal democratisation of our political parties is the next frontier for Caribbean democratic development. Indeed, this issue was at the heart of the Maria Agard problem. It is significant that those persons who, opportunistically or otherwise, sided with Maria Agard, did so on the basis that the “MP must count for something”, placing the elected parliamentarian above the people.
However, amidst the ongoing debate over the Agard expulsion, there have been promises of the possibility of popular participation. It is notable that the action which prompted the walkout of Owen Arthur from the BLP was the decision by Mottley to mobilise the whole population against a garbage tax imposed by the Government.
Given the internal disagreement within the BLP over the necessity of the tax, an issue which was being used to undermine Mottley, her decision to unleash the people into the debate played a key role in forcing a governmental rethink of the tax as well as in consolidating her leadership. Once the people had spoken, Arthur was isolated.
A similar outcome has been seen in Mottley’s decision to place the Agard issue before the National Council. Whilst Agard and her anti-Mottley backers were content to pursue their objectives away from popular involvement, they appeared unprepared for the popular inclusion of the National Council in the resolution of the issue.
Had Agard responded to the early disagreements with her constituency executive by strengthening constituency democracy, rather than by seeking to confront those she perceived as obstructionist, her expulsion might have been averted.
Instead, she sought comfort among select elected parliamentarians opposed to Mottley, while ignoring the base.
The first defence of an astute population is to include the people.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected].