Voting rights issue in Mia's landslide

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.  - AP
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley. - AP

IT WAS a calculated risk that appears to have paid off.

In calling a snap election 18 months before the deadline, Mia Mottley appeared willing to put her comfortable grip on power unnecessarily at risk.

However, the result of Wednesday’s poll suggests voters may have been reluctant to rock the boat at this crucial moment in their country’s history.

More crucially, they may have also wished to reward the Barbados Labour Party leader with their renewed fidelity, given her enactment of far-ranging constitutional reform.

Before Ms Mottley became the country’s first female prime minister, there had long been talk of Barbados becoming a republic. But it was only under Ms Mottley that this move to cut ties with Queen Elizabeth II became a reality last November, ending nearly 400 years of British rule at a ceremony attended by Prince Charles and Rihanna.

“I need for us to unite around a common cause, unite behind a single government, unite behind a single leader,” the Bajan PM said in justifying her decision to call Wednesday’s election.

But some accused her of simply seeking to capitalise on a wave of goodwill and popularity, noting that she already enjoyed a 29-one majority in Parliament (she suffered one defection after an initial 30-0 result in 2018).

Ms Mottley’s principal opponents had argued against the rise of a “one-party state.” And yet this is precisely what voters have served up for a second time, based on the preliminary results. Not even a warning from a former cabinet minister who described the Barbados PM as autocratic appears to have swayed them.

The outcome, as historic as it is, renews questions about how Barbados’s democracy will fare in the term ahead without an effective opposition.

On Wednesday night, Ms Mottley, a lawyer by training, noted the Government had pledged to be “the opposition to ourselves,” but even she must acknowledge the limits of such an arrangement.

With Barbados’s tourism revenues badly hit by the covid19 pandemic and economic growth stagnant, voters will soon wish for ways to hold the Government to account. Initial reports in the Barbados media suggested a low voter turnout on Wednesday.

Though a court challenge stopping the election was dismissed, Ms Mottley has been rightly criticised for disenfranchising almost 5,500 voters who were not allowed to vote owing to covid19 isolation.

The country’s election rules already make provision for some voters, such as the blind, to assign a person to accompany them at the voting booth. There is no reason why the rules could not have been expanded to allow people in quarantine to assign a delegate.

If this was a landslide victory for Ms Mottley, it was, ironically, not one for voting rights.


"Voting rights issue in Mia's landslide"

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