NEXT WEEK’S general election in Barbados is already historic. A record number of parties and candidates are vying for places in the 30-seat legislature. And for the first time in the country’s history, women are leading two of the major parties contesting: the opposition Mia Mottley-led Barbados Labour Party (BLP) will contest all 30 seats, while the United Progressive Party, led by former BLP Cabinet minister Lynette Eastmond, is contesting 23.
The incumbent Freundel Stuart-led Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has a fight on its hands judging from social media support for opposing parties as well as images of large crowds at rallies. The BLP has been in opposition for two political terms since 2008, and there is the view that it is the party with momentum. A victory could mean another first for Barbados — it would join the club of nations that has had female leaders. And it would do so on the exact date that this country elected one eight years ago: May 24.
As the campaign heats up, the various parties have betrayed markedly contrasting styles thus far. In the first place, Stuart allowed Parliament to lapse on March 5 without announcing an election date. Then his party zoned in on the personality of Mottley and began to criticise her stewardship as opposition leader.
In a move which bears comparison with the disastrous 2015 “No Rowley” campaign here in Trinidad and Tobago, speakers on the incumbent party platform in Barbados have opted to rip into the BLP leader by using personal attacks, with former government minister Steve Blackett labelling her a devil worshipper. The approach has already begun to backfire, with Stuart being put on the defensive in an attempt to justify this tack to an increasingly savvy electorate.
In contrast, Mottley’s BLP has announced a slew of measures which might prove too good to resist. These include: an increase in old-age pension, higher cost of living allowances for public servants, and the removal of jail sentences for minor marijuana infringements. These election goodies appeal to the old, the young and the influential middle class, a combination that could allow the party to make major inroads.
Whichever party wrests power will have major challenges on its hands.
The Barbados’ economy is in dire straits. Since 2013 it has exhibited signs of weakness, despite being the wealthiest and one of the most developed countries in the Eastern Caribbean. Unemployment is at 9.8 per cent.
The country gains revenue from tourism, light industry, offshore finance and information, construction, and exports. However, there is a high public debt to GDP ratio and falling international reserves. Growth prospects are limited because of a weak economic outlook.
The fiery nature of the campaign thus far may well reflect how much is at stake.