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POLITICS-BARBADOS: A Political Party With a Difference

Stan Myers

BRIDGETOWN, Sep 25 1998 (IPS) - When does a political party change into a pressure group?

When it no longer sees the need to seriously contend for political power – at least that is how one political scientist sees it.

“The role and function of a political party is to contest for electoral office and one day to become the government. If you are not doing that, then you’ve become a pressure group or an interest group, not a political party,” says University of the West Indies lecturer in politics, Dr Neville Duncan.

Duncan was speaking even as discussion on the fate of the nine- year-old National Democratic Party (NDP) seems to be hanging in the balance as the country prepares for general elections within another year.

But leader of the NDP, Richie Haynes and three prominent members of the NDP who have served notice that they will not be a part of the upcoming race do not share Duncan’s views.

“It is very important for the party to remain in existence to continue to generate ideas and policies for the betterment of Barbados and exercise careful choices as to where and when it intervenes in the election process,” explains Haynes.

And so even though the party may not contest the elections, the leaders feel it is important that it maintains a presence in the country.

Founded in 1989, the NDP is a splinter group of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). Haynes a 61 year-old medical doctor was a former finance minister in the DLP government of 1986-1991. He is credited with helping that party to a landlside victory in the 1986 elections with his alternate budget, offering tax-free income for those earning below 7,500 dollars per year.

In the 1991 elections Haynes and three colleagues who ran for the NDP lost their parliamentary seats. However, this did not discourage the party.

“We have been more effective as an opposition party than the official opposition,” Haynes said then.

Haynes was able to take back his seat in the 1994 election.

And in what appeared to be the first signs of cracks in the ranks, the party chose to stay out of a by-election last year, much to the amasement of political watchers and voters.

Then the decision in the last two weeks of three key party figures, David Commisong, Harold Blackman and Richard Byer not to contest upcoming national elections served to add to speculation that the party is falling apart.

“I don’t see any point in my contesting the next general elections to go and lose again,” said Byer.

So speculation is growing that the party’s demise is near or that it may be forced to join forces with either the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP) or the opposition DLP.

Though the NDP never commanded a significant number of seats, it did affect the outcome of the two polls it contested by taking away votes from the BLP and DLP, observers say.

The BLP won 20 of the 28 seats in the 1994 elections, the DLP, then led by Erskine Sandiford, seven and the NDP one.

But for Barbadians, like many of its Caribbean neighbours, accustomed to the two-party system, there is always the expectation that once you enter the political fray, holding the reigns of government is the ultimate aim.

Not so, says Haynes. “… We wanted to be different from the other political parties. … We see ourselves as part of the development process … we recognise elections as an important part of a political party. But it is not the sole reason.

“We’re able to take a step back, get ourselves out of this useless confrontation which is going on throughout the years between the other political parties, largely based on personalities, and develop some core policies for Barbados between 1989 and today. And these are the policies that have really set the parameters of social and economic development in Barbados,” he says.

Observers say since coming to power in 1994 the BLP led by Prime Minister Owen Arthur has adopted many of the economic and social policies which were outlined in the NDP manifesto.

“It’s programme has been adopted by the Barbados Labour Party on the admission of the NDP leader, Dr Richie Haynes. The question must therefore be asked: why is there a need for the party anyway?” says Dr. George Belle, lecturer at the University of the West Indies, seemingly suggesting that a merger would be in order.

Haynes has often supported a number of government bills saying they represent what his party wants for the country. The NDP leader even chairs a government-appointed committee currently investigating alleged irregularities of a now closed public hospital..

“The important thing is to be there. And once you are there and you remain there, you can be quite sure that as the political scene changes from time to time your time will come,” says Haynes.

Though Barbados’ political history may point to the parties playing musical chairs with turns at government, what somebody should have told Haynes is that these political parties have as their first objective the command of government.

He should know also that voters cast their ballots to put their party in government, not for a pressure group waiting its turn, observers say.

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