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3 decades in trenches
May 24th, 2018 is now a historic day in Barbados, after that country elected Mia Amor Mottley, political leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), as its first female Prime Minister yesterday.
Mottley’s election came eight years after Kamla Persad-Bissessar was elected as T&T’s first female Prime Minister on the same day in May, and follows in the footsteps of Jamaica’s Portia Simpson-Miller, Dominica’s Dame Eugenia Charles and Guyana’s Janet Jagan.
Sir Ronald Sanders opines that the “essential ingredient” in the rise of these women “was not their gender, but their readiness to take on the rough and tumble of politics.”
Mottley got an overwhelming mandate as the BLP captured all 30 seats in the Parliament. Opponent Freundel Stuart, leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), has taken full responsibility for the defeat of the party which has been in power for the past 10 years, eight of which he held the post of Prime Minister.
As she claimed her hard-fought victory, Mottley continued in the mode in which she campaigned, making the victory not just about her, but the people. She told Barbadians her election was not historic simply because a woman had been elected Prime Minister, but “because people have claimed their future with an interactive mode of governance and that is what we shall give you.”
In the absence of an official Opposition, Mottley said: “We will have to evolve institutional arrangements to allow Barbadians to have a greater say in the governance of the country.”
Her government, she said, was committed to putting in place “a framework for initiatives that come from you.”
It is a signal which Mottley had sent throughout her campaign.
In a frank interview before the May 24th election, Mottley made it clear that she was about service to the people and “communication is going to be critical.”
“Those who expect as Mr (Basdeo) Panday said politics has its own morality, find somebody else, that is not what Mia Mottley is about,” she said.
Her brand of politics has been defined by “Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro,” two men whom she said she has always had “a soft spot for,” while she has also been influenced by Martin Luther King.
Mottley has been leader of the Opposition since 2013, a position she previously held from 2008 to 2010. She is the Member of Parliament for Saint Michael-North East and in the period 1994 to 2008, held a succession of ministerial portfolios.
She first entered politics in 1991, when she lost an election race in St Michael North East against Leroy Brathwaite by less than 200 votes.
Between 1991 and 1994 she was one of two opposition senators in the Upper House, where she was shadow minister of culture and community development. During that time, she also served on numerous parliamentary joint select committees on areas ranging from praedial larceny to domestic violence.
Following the BLP’s victory in the 1994 general election, Mottley was appointed to the Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Culture in September 1994, under Prime Minister Owen Arthur. At the age of 29, she became one of the youngest Barbadians ever to be assigned a ministerial portfolio. During her tenure, she co-authored the White Paper on Education entitled Each Child Matters, which draws the link between better education and job fulfilment.
She was elected General Secretary of the BLP in 1996. In that same year and again in 1997, she served as chairman of the Caricom Standing Committee of Ministers of Education.
Mottley was appointed Attorney-General and Minister of Home Affairs in August 2001 and is the first female (in Barbados) to hold this position. She is also the youngest ever Queen’s Counsel in Barbados. Mottley, who has a trademark deep voice, said “it’s a family affliction,” explaining that both her mother and sister have deep voices.
As BLP leader, Mottley admitted she had “taken a beating on a personal level,” but she takes it in stride.
As she takes up leadership in Barbados, she prays “to remain humble, for discernment to be empathetic, to be tolerant, because those things mean a lot to me. If you want to get on the wrong side of me treat people badly. If you want to get on the wrong side of me be offensive to people in the manner in which you deal with them. I fundamentally believe in fairness and giving people opportunity.”
Barbadians, she said, “know me and those who don’t know me have a sense of who I am. I will continue to keep my heart open to Barbados and my brain open to all ideas where they come from.”
From the platform as she claimed victory on Thursday night, Mottley rallied the nation telling them each person has a role to play.
“We shall do this rebuilding of our Barbados together as a people.”
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