BARBADIANS will today exercise their democratic right to choose their leader in a general election destined for the history books.
The country’s Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, 67, will seek to become the first DLP (Democratic Labour Party) politician in decades to win a second successive term in office.
And the Opposition Leader, Mia Mottley, 52, will ask the Barbadian people to elect their first female prime minister since independence from Britain in 1966.
The race is expected to be close. Mottley is seeking to pull the opposition BLP (Barbados Labour Party) out of the sidelines where it has been for the last ten years. This is her first election at the helm of the party, which was previously led by Owen Arthur who resigned as party leader after a shock defeat in 2013.
In 2013, Stuart won the last election by a relatively slender margin (the DLP got 16 seats, the BLP 14). He previously served as prime minister after David Thompson’s death from cancer in 2010. The last DLP leader to be re-elected was Errol Barrow in a tenure that straddled independence from 1961 to 1976.
At the same time, discontent with the DLP-BLP duopoly has triggered the formation of a plethora of new political parties in the island of 285,000 people. These new parties include the United Progressive Party, led by Lynette Eastmond.
Today’s election will come down to a very narrow “swing” factor. Pollsters suspect a change of government is in the making. And some, like Sir Richard Cheltenham QC, have backed the BLP.
“Barbados is at a crossroads,” Sir Richard said over the weekend in St Patrick’s.
Whatever the outcome, there will be regional reverberations.
In this regard it is important to note that Stuart has pledged, if re-elected, to withdraw Barbados from the jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice. Such a move could spell disaster for not only the court but the Caricom project.
The election comes amid challenging circumstances for the country. The Barbadian economy contracted in 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis. Since then, growth has been minimal though the gross domestic product expanded 1.6 per cent in 2016, according to World Bank data. Nonetheless, weakened growth has strained public debt, pressured foreign exchange reserves and precipitated credit rating downgrades. The Opposition has seized on the rising cost of living, problems with infrastructure and pollution along the south coast.
As such, all will be watching the outcome of today’s poll carefully.