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Swan Song for Longest Serving Barbados Prime Minister

FORMER PRIME MINISTER OWEN ARTHUR

The man who served as Prime Minister of Barbados longer than anyone else has announced that the current sitting of Parliament will be his last.

Owen Arthur, who led Barbados through economic prosperity from 1994 to 2008, said yesterday that this was the end of his parliamentary road after 35 years as a legislator.

“Today, I will be making my last speech ever . . . . I am retiring,” Arthur told Barbados TODAY as he prepared to climb the steep steps of Parliament to participate in the debate on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure 2018-2019.

Arthur, who in July 2014 had resigned from the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) for the second time after losing his second straight election – he had stood down in 2008 following the party’s defeat at the general election that year only to return in October 2010 – had previously given notice of his intention to call it a day.

When he announced his resignation from the BLP in July 2014, accusing the party under Mia Mottley of losing its soul, he had also indicated that he would remain in Parliament as an independent until the end his term this year.

However, there were doubts among political circles that he would actually quit, with many speculating he would join the fledgling United Progressive Party, one of the country’s new political parties of which many of its members are former BLP supporters accused of being anti-Mottley.

His confirmation that this would be his last parliamentary sitting was described by veteran political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham as “strange” and “puzzling”.

Wickham told Barbados TODAY he had anticipated that Arthur would have seen out his final term and not step down so close to the end.

“He already indicated that he is going as of the end of this term, so why not wait for the end? It’s strange from a person who has already announced his retirement. It’s like you have announced your retirement and you are doing it all over again,” Wickham said.

“It’s like when David Thompson indicated that he was planning to resign as Leader of the Opposition – it’s either you resign or you don’t. He has already said that he is not pursuing politics any further, he has resigned from the Barbados Labour Party and he is saying his political career is over. He said all of that so now that he is not going back into Parliament is strange because of all those reasons.

“The parliamentary term has not ended. I am a bit surprised that he has chosen to retire before the term has ended. For the time being, he is still considered a Member of Parliament unless his seat is declared vacant,” the head of the Caribbean Development Research Services added.

Wickham’s argument supposes that the life of Parliament will continue past the current sitting, particularly after Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said recently that he intended to go down the wire.

However, with Stuart being entitled to announce an election date at any time, it is possible that he can ask Governor General Dame Sandra Mason to dissolve Parliament soon after the debate on the Estimates, which would make this Arthur’s last sitting.

Arthur led the BLP to power soon after he became leader in 1994 and remained at the helm until January 2008, when his party was defeated by the Democratic Labour Party under the leadership of David Thompson, who died more than two years later in October 2010.

Following his defeat Arthur stepped down as party leader, saying an immediate leadership transition would be in the best interests of both the party and Barbadian democracy.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Mia Mottley was chosen as the new BLP leader, but in 2010 after bitter infighting, Arthur was returned to the helm, from where he led the party to a second straight loss in 2013, a general election many had thought the BLP would have won.

He stepped down as party leader for the second time on February 26, 2013, before severing ties with the party in 2014. 

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