Barbados (227211)
Credit: Image by Michael Christen from Pixabay

Last week, Mia Mottley dropped a political bombshell on her cabinet and on Barbados’ opposition parties by calling snap general elections about 18 months before being constitutionally due, saying she wanted the country to unite behind a single leader, to snap out of bickering and to get rid of elections now as the island nation battles economic depression and the COVID pandemic.

The January 19 polls will most likely be the first in the 15-nation bloc this year and could be followed by a similar contest in nearby Antigua as Prime Minister Gaston Browne has on more than one occasion talked about calling his political rivals to early battle.

Mottley’s surprise announcement came amidst swirling accusations that elements in her cabinet were getting ready to rebel against her for alleged dictatorial tendencies and as the Omicron variant threatens to again derail economic gains wrenched in recent months from the aftermath of last year’s almost global shutdown from the pandemic. Like Barbados, Antigua’s is not due until next year.

Without saying it, Mottley, 56, also appears to be capitalizing on the lingering euphoria from the island’s seamless and globally high-profile transition to a republic at the end of November, dumping Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as its head of state and installing retired justice Sandra Mason as its first indigenous ceremonial president. Mason was the last governor general.

Some of her critics, including those in her own Labor Party (BLP) had wanted a referendum organized to properly pronounce on the transition but with her cabinet holding 29 of the 30 seats, a referendum or two thirds parliamentary vote became unnecessary. For some, this has left a bitter political taste.

Mottley says the time has come to seek a new mandate, put all the political hype, divisions and bitterness in the rear-view mirror and “unite around a common cause, unite behind a single government, unite behind a single leader. That is why we should not enter 2022 as a divided nation,” she said in a national address. Nominees for parliament were to be submitted to the elections commission this week as campaigning heats up.

The BLP is expected to lose a few seats but will most likely win a decent majority as there was little doubt that the main opposition Democratic Party (DLP) was in a state of rebuilding, having been devastated 30-0 in the 2018 elections amid a massive economic downturn during its years in office.

Still DLP Leader Verla De Peiza says her party is giving the contest its best shot as she urged Bajans to “walk with your sanitizer and go out in your numbers and vote for change, vote for democracy. How do you set an election date when you knew or ought to have known that COVID case numbers were on the rise, that Omicron likely was established in Barbados—and then mandate that persons with COVID will not be allowed to vote?” she asked in a statement.

In recent years, the island has had to turn to the dreaded International Monetary Fund to help stabilize and reform its slumping tourism and services-dependent economy with the agency giving the cabinet kudos for meeting most of its austerity and recovery targets. Youth unemployment is reported to be 30% and gun crime is beginning to become a cause of national concern in the tourism paradise.

Governing party spokesman Jerome Walcott denies divisions within the cabinet and party, contending at a campaign event at the weekend that “you can see for yourself that we are totally united and we are not disputing at this stage and we are united behind one leader. We are not deciding who is to be president and who is to be a political leader. We are clear, so I discard that.”

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