A total 255 833 people are eligible to vote in Barbados’ General Elections Thursday, casting ballots across 30 constituencies for 135 candidates of whom 37 are women, vying for seats in the nation’s parliament.
This is the highest number of declared electors registered for elections since independence, slightly edging out the 2013 total of 249 024.
The number of women contesting also constitute a record, and the nine political parties make another first.
In spite of the relatively large number of contestants for a 166-square-mile island the poll is expected to see a straight fight between the two traditional political parties, the incumbent Democratic Labour Party of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, and the Barbados Labour Party of Opposition Leader, Mia Mottley.
Mottley, along with leader of the fledgling political group United Progressive Party, Lynette Eastmond, are themselves creating history by seeking to become the first elected female leader of the country.
In the absence of a published scientific survey of voters, observers are left to judge by crowds supporting the parties, and for this reason most bets are with Mottley and the BLP to unseat the Freundel Stuart administration.
Stuart’s DLP has a lot going against it with an economy that has been floundering since it came to office in 2008. Party officials have for the 10 years been blaming the economic downturn, that includes 22 international credit rating downgrades, on an international crisis that local and global economists agree ended some seven to eight years ago.
Among other negatives in the DLP record are a series of raised and new taxes, along with an inability to grant civil servants a salary increase over the decade, while laying off more than 3,000 of them.
Added to that is the introduction of partial payment of university fees for Barbadians, something which nationals had enjoyed free of cost since independence.
Worst of all is that amid the election campaign government officials are still scrambling to fix an almost two-year long sewerage system crisis that has seen continuous spillage of effluent into yards, and compounds of hotels and restaurants along the scenic south coast of this tourism dependent island.
Mottley on the other hand has used a cadre of economists and actuarians to propose a rejigging of the nation’s finances and debt while bringing immediate relief in some areas in the process of righting the economy.
But what might be most symbolic of a likely opposition victory is that political scientist and renowned Caribbean pollster, Peter Wickham, has favoured newcomer to politics, Kirk Humphrey, to beat Prime Minister Stuart in his electoral district.
“I think that he [Stuart] is in real jeopardy of losing his seat. It takes a 14 per cent swing for him to lose his seat and a 14 per cent swing in this election is entirely possible,” Barbados TODAY newspaper reported Wickham saying.
“So, I do believe that Mr. Kirk Humphrey is in a very good position to take the seat from the prime minister. He has never been a particularly strong candidate. So, all things being equal, I think there is a very distinct possibility he won’t be a Member of Parliament after Thursday.”
A win by Humphrey over Stuart in the St. Michael South constituency may not produce another record as a sitting prime minister has lost his seat before, but a victory by the political newcomer along with the expected triumph of the BLP may symbolise the extent of Barbadians’ desire for a change.