MIA MOTTLEY’S election as the first female prime minister of Barbados entrenches the tradition of strong female leadership within the Caribbean. But her overwhelming victory — which saw the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) win all 30 seats in the legislature — also sends a strong message to political parties all over the region.
With their vote, the people of Barbados sent a signal that they will not be baited by misogyny and homophobia.
It is now clear for all to see that the island once known as “Little Britain” is not so little anymore. It can stand proud and stand tall, joining the long list of Caribbean nations that have elected female leaders. These nations include Dominica (Dame Eugenia Charles, 1980); Guyana (Janet Jagan, 1997); Jamaica (Portia Simpson Miller, 2006); and Trinidad and Tobago (Kamla Persad-Bissessar, 2010).
Mottley’s ascent has been far from overnight. There is precedent for females in high positions in Barbados. Dame Nita Barrow served as Governor General from 1990 to 1995. Mottley herself served as Opposition Leader for almost a decade.
Nonetheless, Thursday’s result was more definitive than anticipated. Pollsters had predicted a close race. In the end, the BLP achieved the unprecedented feat of a clean sweep. The resounding nature of the victory will no doubt lead to much analysis over whether the conduct of the BLP’s main opposition — the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) — during the last hours of the campaign drove voters over the edge.
The result is an embarrassment for Freundel Stuart who, from day one of the DLP campaign, found himself on the defensive after his party was criticised for a series of vitriolic personal attacks on Mottley.
On the eve of the poll, BLP candidate Denis Lowe addressed a party rally at which he called on Mottley to tell Barbadians whether she was a lesbian. It was a transparent attempt to gain some kind of mileage by exploiting perceived homophobia. By Thursday evening Lowe had lost his seat.
The incident is a lesson for all politicians to take heed of. Stuart failed to appreciate that modern voters reflect the modern world we now live in. The DLP’s tactics demonstrated just how out of touch it was with the citizenry. It also wrongly dismissed the possibility that it was alienating LGBTQI voters, not realising that a minority is still a significant constituency. According to conservative estimates, about ten per cent of the population is gay.
Still, Mottley’s administration will face many challenges.
The first will be how to function without an opposition party. The second will be how to turn around a weak economy. The real test, therefore, lies ahead.