Elections in three CARICOM countries this year

Bert Wilkinson | 2/8/2018, 2:06 p.m.

General elections are scheduled to be held in three Caribbean Community countries before midyear and experts are predicting that the Freundel Stuart administration in Barbados will likely be the only one that could head to the opposition benches, largely because of tough economic conditions at home and general sloth in attending to major problems on the Eastern Caribbean island.

Barbados apart, voters are preparing to go to the polls in Grenada and in Antigua and Barbuda, despite the globally reported battering that Barbuda, the smaller sister in the twin-island federation, suffered from Hurricane Irma. Irma leveled more than 90 percent of the buildings on Barbuda. Irma and another mega-storm, Maria, wreaked so much havoc in the Caribbean region that leaders are now saying that it makes little sense to rebuild regional infrastructure in the traditional way, only to see it destroyed by another mega-storm next year. The 2018 season starts in June as experts discuss new ways of looking at the resilience of key infrastructure.

According to respected Caribbean pollster and political commentator Peter Wickham, Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s administration is likely to win a second consecutive term when general elections are called in Antigua and Barbuda because he is likely to take advantage of a not so organized United People’s Party of former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer. Browne has promised that elections “will come like a thief in the night” and be held sometime in mid-March, around the same time that his five-year constitutional mandate runs out. His Antigua Labor Party holds 14 of the 17 seats, after it has survived two consecutive UPP terms on opposition benches.

As in Barbados and Grenada, poor economic performances are already being listed as key campaign issues, but the level of economic decline is only likely to work against the Stuart administration and its two-seat majority in the 30-member chamber. The Grenada election is scheduled for March 13.

Voters are known to be angry that the administration has imposed a range of new taxes on them as it tries to correct a slowdown in investment dollars. Just this week, Barbados Central Bank acting governor Cleviston Haynes sounded alarm bells about the dwindling amount of foreign exchange reserves in the system, noting that the tourism and financial services-dependent economy has lost $1 billion in cash in the past five years.

“We are concerned about the level of reserves and the trajectory of reserves,” Haynes said. Speculation is that an election date around midyear will be soon announced, even as the two main parties are rolling out constituency candidates each week. Voters are also angry with authorities for not fixing a major south coast sewage problem that has seen raw sewage flowing on the streets for weeks. Western countries have warned their citizens visiting the island about the possible contamination of drinking water and to avoid infections.

Meanwhile, no one is predicting any troubles for Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada. Rather, islandwide speculation relates more to whether he will, for the third time in the past 20 years, gobble up all of 15 of the constituency seats as is currently the case.

 “We are at a point now where Mitchell has signaled that this will be his last election,” Wickham said. “It is the end of an era. The party has significant national support. There’s no question of it. And I think that what Mitchell is saying is, ‘Look, my legacy has to be a unification of Grenada.’”