Sunday, March 3, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Owen’s challenges


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When Owen Arthur retook the leadership of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), his most pressing challenge was to heal the fracture resulting from his contentious leadership battle with Mia Mottley. It was an urgent task that was not expected to occupy the “pending” file for too long.
Unfortunately for Arthur, the year 2011 has opened with the BLP wound still festering.
The problem for Arthur was that Mottley was no ordinary deputy or leader. The BLP is therefore faced with the ironic “problem” of having two leaders of national profile contending for leadership.  
Indeed, the most recent leadership poll conducted by CADRES, placed David Thompson, Owen Arthur and Mia Mottley as the three most popular leaders in the country. 
In such a context, Owen Arthur’s stature over Mottley was not as overwhelming to make for a smooth and undisputed return. In other Caribbean instances where former leaders have sought to make a return, as in the case of Sir John Compton in St Lucia, they have never had to face challenges from powerful former deputies.  
In this regard, if Arthur was seeking to make a Compton-like return, then he clearly misread the context.
Another challenge facing Arthur is the fact that the by-election has interrupted what should have  been a quiet “behind-the-scenes” re-emergence. It has brought forward the timeline of his exposure as leader, and brought to the fore existing divisions within the party.  
Not only has Mia Mottley been largely absent from the platforms, but it was interesting to read in the Sunday Sun of January 9 that she had “been asked by Deputy Opposition Leader Marshall on behalf of Arthur”, to speak at a meeting.
This, and public reports of an investigation into missing files at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, reveal clearly that the rift in the BLP is not being healed quickly enough to focus on the by-election. Arthur’s challenges will be exacerbated by the fact that he will be resuming his leadership with a fresh, though not unexpected, defeat under his belt.
It is clear that Owen Arthur has been driven by the desire to replicate his hero-like emergence to the leadership of Barbados in the context of an economic crisis in the last years of Erskine Sandiford. He was no doubt moved by the tantalizing possibilities of the current moment of economic crisis.  
However, Arthur cannot defeat the DLP on a debate on the economy alone. Equally important in the minds of Barbadians will be the readiness of the Opposition for Government and the unity of the party. Unless Arthur can unite the party, his plans for return to Government will be frustrated, irrespective of what is happening with the economy.  
He should also remember Karl Marx’s dictum that whilst historical events may reoccur, they often make their second appearances as farce.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specialising in analysis of regional affairs.


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