Attempting to ride a wave of popular support from Barbados’ transition to a republic a month ago, Prime Minister Mia Mottley this week called snap elections on the island for January 19 but her administration’s critics say she is rushing to seek a new mandate because of a tanking economy and fears of a worsening situation in the coming months.
When Mottley’s Labor Party (BLP) won all 30 of the parliamentary seats on the Caribbean’s most easterly island in mid 2018, it appeared that labor was politically invincible even as one of the 30 stepped away to form an official opposition, infinitesimally and insignificantly reducing her parliamentary majority.
Then the world shuttered down in March of 2020 as Covid-19 deaths and infections soared, exposing a frightening level of economic dependence on tourism and related services on the island. Life became tough and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) offered a much needed bail out that not only helped to bolster foreign exchange reserves but to also marginally stabilize the economy. Youth unemployment is reported at 30 percent and gun crimes are beginning to be a source of worry for officials.
At the end of November, Mottley led the move to dump Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as Barbados’ head of state as the country transitioned to a republic and swore in Governor General Sandra Mason as a local president and head of state. Many on the island were euphoric but some of the smaller political parties and elements in civil society fumed over the lack of a referendum to determine whether Barbados should join Guyana, Trinidad and Dominica as republics.
But well aware that new Covid variants could again torment the country economically, Mottley called general elections with barely three weeks’ notice even as rumors swirled about growing dissatisfaction in cabinet about her alleged dictatorial style. Others say she wants to consolidate power by catching opposition parties off guard. She wants the island of about 300,000 to “unite around a common cause, a single government and a single leader.”
Meanwhile, Joe Atherley who broke away from the 30 to become opposition leader says “what I’m hearing is a call for one-partyism in Barbados. It would seem as though the prime minister wants that her voice is the only voice that is heard. It would seem as though the prime minister wants that the government can dictate to us on everything and the people of Barbados can’t raise voice in query, or a voice in contradiction, or a voice in expression of an alternative view. You have a government with 29 representatives in the lower house and 12 people in the upper house. That is 41 people. So what are you telling us when you say that you are calling an election to have one government?”
The BLP is expected to drop a few seats on January 19. The BLP has been in office just over three years and a half years.
The online Barbados Today newspaper said in an editorial that the reasons given by the PM for calling a snap poll stretches the imagination of many, noting that” it is left to the voters to reveal either the wisdom or folly of her decision. Voters, too, must use this opportunity to send a clear message to politicians that the ballot is sacred and must not be taken lightly. People matter and they deserve to come first.”
Parties have just about a week to compile and submit their candidates to the elections commission while scrambling to raise campaign finance and select candidates for constituencies.