The governing Barbados Labor Party (BLP) has again won all 30 parliamentary seats in general elections held a week ago and while many islanders are celebrating the party’s victory, there is increasing doubt as to whether the main opposition party can rise from the ashes in time for the next elections.
Political pundits had predicted that the BLP, led by first woman Prime Minister Mia Mottley would have dropped at least three seats to the DLP but voters, still reeling from the economic mayhem from the last Freundel Stuart DLP administration, decided to play it safe and stick with Mottley and the BLP.
After all, the snap elections, called a full 18 months before constitutionally due, were held less than a month after the world watched a flawless ceremony at the end of November when Barbados joined Guyana, Trinidad and Dominica in becoming a republic, electing its own native head of state instead of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
Mottley rode the euphoria of the transition, appearing to hide it under the guise that she had needed a fresh mandate to help unite a fragmented country. This was also amid swirling rumors of a possible cabinet rebellion against her alleged autocratic style and amid some dissatisfaction with the fact that the switch to a republic was not put to a referendum. The snap call also caught the DLP completely off guard and unprepared. Its struggles on the campaign trail showed said observers.
But all the doubts about Mottley’s style and the need for an elected opposition disappeared a week ago when BLP supporters turned out in far greater numbers than those of the DLP to set a local record with the incumbent party sweeping all 30 parliamentary seats for the second time. Only Keith Mitchell and his New National Party (NNP) in nearby Grenada has done better. PM Mitchell has done so three times in the past 20 years and is threatening to do so again in polls due next year.
As to the situation with the main opposition DLP, critics and political pundits had blasted the DLP for lining up several unknown candidates against seasoned BLP ministers and others. Additionally, it was clear that many of the candidates were poorly funded and had struggled to cope with the rewards of incumbency.
Worse yet said respected DLP and regional political strategist, Hartley Henry, the party made a mistake in putting a much vilified former PM Stuart on the trail where he failed to apologize for tanking the economy and forcing into a tough arrangement with the International Monetary Fund. Stuart’s appearance on the platform was the final straw for Henry.
Henry is also upset that instead of immediately moving to elect a new leader following the immediate resignation of leader Verla DePeiza, the DLP will not do so until April.
“The whole question of differing the question of leadership to April of this year is madness and anyone who is remotely connected will tell you this is the moment you must seize. You cannot allow the party to go into paralysis between now and April and don’t exist. You need to solve the issue of leadership now and the constitution does not provide for you to solve the issue of leadership because it does not provide for you to elect a political leader,” Henry said.
Meanwhile, the local Today online newspaper quoted Political Scientist Kristina Hinds as arguing that the DLP needs a new image and a complete rebranding as former British leader Tony Blair did with the labor party.
“I am not certain that any of the persons who were involved in the 2008 to 2018 administration may have the vision or the energy to do that, so I think that they do need someone that can bring some ideas about how to revitalize the DLP, bring it and its message into the 21st century so that it is more appealing to many groups of people and so that it is different from that 2008 to 2018 lot.”
Colleague Tennyson Joseph says the party needs to return to the social democratic principles of founder and late Prime Minister Errol Barrow or face additional time in opposition.
“The party has to define its philosophy. If you remember the party’s defeat in the last two elections have their basis in the way they governed between 2008 and 2018 and that is where you have to start. Between 2008 and 2018 they were governing during a period of global economic crisis but their response to that was to go into an extremely neo-liberal way of solving the problem. So, if you recall they basically cut off students’ fees, they stopped the free education, they figured the State couldn’t get involved in social entitlements, they were attacking the university and the trade unions, so the social democratic party of Errol Barrow in 2008 began to almost reverse itself on its original philosophical principles.”