Following a passionate plea by the political opposition and some prodding by lawyers seeking to apply never before used constitutional powers, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart Thursday morning named May 24 as the date for Barbados’ general elections.
This is the 10th occasion since political independence in 1966 that the people of Barbados will be casting ballots to elect a new government, but the first time that Barbadians had to wait past the full five-year period for which the last government was elected before being allowed to vote again.
Defying the trend set by all previous prime ministers who called the national poll long before their term in office had expired, Stuart allowed the elected period to elapse and parliament automatically dissolving on March 6.
That decision by the prime Minister had left the island wandering as a nation without a parliament, and this prompted the leader of the main political party outside of government, Mia Mottley, to write Stuart a public letter appealing for elections to restore the island to normalcy.
Mottley sent the letter Sunday evening, almost 50 days into the 90-day period that the constitution allows for Stuart to call elections since the automatic dissolution of parliament on March 06.
The Barbados parliament was dissolved on that date because it had come to the end of the five-year period for which its 30 members had been elected.
That dissolution marked the first time in Barbados’ history since independence in 1966 that the sitting prime minister had not called elections before the end of parliament’s life. This is however still acceptable within the constitution as it offers a 90-day or three-month extension within which national elections must be held to fill the parliamentary seats.
But Stuart had so far not named a date for the poll.
“While you refuse to set a date for elections, every artery in the country’s body is malfunctioning and many of our people are suffering as a consequence,” Mottley stated in the letter to Stuart.
“In the estimation of the people, your mandate has expired. I feel compelled to draw to your attention the fact that our beloved Barbados is literally crumbling and grinding to a halt as a result of your tardiness, indecisiveness and inertia.
“Our country is drifting and our people are suffering. Our institutions are reeling. Problems abound and you appear indifferent to the realities of the plight of our people. Our condition is just getting worse,” she said and proceeded to list a litany of issues now affecting Barbados now.
Mottley spoke of recent newspaper headlines on “sick [public buildings] buildings; mounting garbage; the Supreme Court shut down; few buses are on the road”, and added, “our farmers are crying out, retailers and Bajans all over are choking to death under the strain of the NSRL (a controversial tax), hoteliers are not making ends meet, trade unions are on their knees begging for action on matters affecting their members who are buckling after no salary increase for eight years”.
She said that the Central Bank is now seeking to have the National Insurance Scheme repatriate funds to shore up faltering reserves.
“Our international rating has been downgraded 23 times and we are unlikely to avoid a further one, as the assessment is about to be done in this 90-day period and your government has done nothing to fix our condition and stem the haemorrhaging.”