October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
Who lives there?: Whilst the tiny island nation east of the Caribbean has a population of less than 300,000, it has given birth to such sporting legends as Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Frank Worrell, and the 2009 segway polo world champions. Most of the population are the descendents of slaves (almost entirely African) or economic migrants (largely Indian or Sephardic Jewish).
How does the system work? (the theory): Barbados is a constitutional monarchy. The monarch is also the monarch of the United Kingdom. She is monarch of Barbados in its own right but as she cannot be expected to be in Barbados much of the time she appoints a Governor General as her representative on the island. The Governor General exercises power in name only and will always obey the wishes of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is elected by the lower house and as such is almost always the leader of the largest party in parliament. The Prime Minister appoints a cabinet and together they exercise executive power. The legislative is bicameral but the upper house is largely powerless.
The lower house is called the House of Assembly and is elected by first past the post for five year terms. It has 30 members and members are strictly whipped by parties. The senate has very little power, it consists of 21 senators appointed by the governor general – 12 on the advice of the Prime Minister, 2 on the advice of the leader of the opposition and 7 free picks.
There is no local government in Barbados, although to be fair every point on the island is less than 15 miles from every other point. Members of the Assembly are expected to look after the local affairs of their constituency.
How does the system work? (the practice): Barbados is a fairly model democracy although there are concerns about the status of women in society and whether this is responsible for the lack of investigation into cases of domestic violence. There was a concern with rising lawlessness, particularly after the only prison on the island burnt down in 2005.
How did we get here?: Barbados was one of the earliest advocates for independence from the UK, and pioneered efforts to form an independent West Indian Federation. When this fell apart, Barbados negotiated its own independence, achieving this in 1966 and having been self governing for a while before.
The leaders of the independence movement were the centre-left Barbados Labour Party. The initial leadership were socially conservative and, in 1955, a socially liberal faction, the Democratic Labour Party, split off. These two parties have dominated politics ever since – each tending to rule for about ten years at a time. Whilst there have been third parties at times (usually centrist or far left – there just isn’t a Barbadian right) they have tended to struggle.
Who’s in charge?: At the last election the DLP won 20 seats to the BLP’s 10 and so the DLP’s leader, David Thompson, became Prime Minister. He is still in power although it has been announced that he has pancreatic cancer and it is not clear how long he can continue in post for.
Whilst the DLP were traditionally more liberal and the BLP more conservative, there have been little ideological differences between the parties in recent times and elections tend to be largely decided by personalities. There are four reasonably powerful pressure groups on the island, all of whom are concerned with the strengthening of Trade Union rights. The first two are also political parties but are currently not represented in parliament. They are: the People’s Progressive Movement, the Worker’s Party of Barbados, the Barbados Workers Union and the Clement Payne Labor Union.
What does it look like?: Barbados is to the east of the rest of the Caribbean islands. Whilst it is a little more exposed to the winds, it is your typical Caribbean island:
What are the issues?: Rising crime is a growing concern, which has reignited debate about the death penalty. The death penalty is still on the books, and was mandatory in cases of murder until last year. However it has not been used since 1984. The main other issue is promoting economic growth despite the global downturn. The government sees the solution in creating jobs, encouraging agricultural diversification, attracting small industry, and promoting tourism.
A good source of impartial information is: the press are pretty good. The Barbados Advocate is one of many quality dailies and there are a number of good political blogs. Barbados Allegiance is non-partisan and has videos, some of the partisan ones are more fun. Bajan is delightfully scurrilous.
A good book is: I’m not entirely clear what Politics of Barbados is, but I assume it does what it says on the tin. Otherwise Politics and society in Barbados and the Caribbean: An introduction looks to be informative if a little heavier. The Barbadian Rum Shop: The Other Watering Hole explains a lot about Barbadian society and culture through its local rum shops. Garry Sobers: My Autobiography is mostly about cricket (yay!) but also has a bit about society and politics Barbados.
When are the next elections?: Elections are next due in 2013.