Tiny Barbados, one of the most organized countries in the hemisphere, votes in general elections this Wednesday, but the fear in Bridgetown is not whether the governing party will lose but to what extent its unprecedented dominance of parliament will be altered by voters, who are angry with high unemployment, a tanking economy and rising living costs among other issues.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley surprised the political opposition, political pundits and even her own cabinet ministers late last month when she named Jan. 19 as the date for elections, 18 months ahead of schedule, in the midst of the struggle to manage and control the COVID-19 pandemic as well as efforts to lure long stay and cruise tourists back to the island paradise.
Initially, many at home were led to speculate that Mottley had wanted to catch a disorganized and poorly funded main opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP) off guard with a snap poll in a bid to preserve the 29-1 parliamentary majority.
But it is becoming increasingly clear that Mottley, 56, is seeking a new mandate apparently because of simmering divisions in her cabinet over her alleged dictatorial and autocratic management style linked to a series of major decisions taken in recent years, allegedly without consultation with major stakeholders.
Giving a hint of what might have powered her decision, she said in the elections announcement address that she needed the country to “recalibrate as a people behind one government and one leader. Whoever emerges as that leader, I will support. Let us unite to fight the threats to our safety, our development and our prosperity.”
This was as rumors swirled that disgruntled cabinet members were contemplating removing her in a no confidence vote. On Sunday, the political pundit who has perhaps been closest to the PM, publicly lambasted her for indeed being too autocratic, contending that power has changed the head of government for the worst. Mottley had also taken flak for transitioning Barbados to a republic at the end of November without a referendum, even though she did nothing illegal by using her overwhelming house majority to make the move. Wednesday’s polls will be the first in the 15-member bloc of nations this year. Antigua is likely to follow suit in the coming months.
“I mean I was so excited three and a half years ago when she won, but she has become, to such a point, dictatorial in her style of politics. She is autocratic and she does not allow anyone to have any kind of view or opinion. Everybody must be in the Mia Mottley choir or it is a problem for you. And it got to the point I could not take it anymore,” said former senator Lucille Moe.
Moe said it is widely known that she regards Mottley as a little sister. She has worked as the PM’s main political strategist over the decades. Moe is now with the opposition. Mottley, the first female Barbadian PM, has denied autocratic tendencies but maintains she wants to get the elections behind her so she can refocus on rebuilding a shattered economy, properly manage the pandemic situation and stabilize the Eastern Caribbean nation of just over 300,000.
Moe called the snap poll an irresponsible development, noting that “this election has shown me that there are no holds barred to what will be done in order to be able to hold onto power. So, when the numbers are climbing and you can see what is happening at these meetings and gatherings, just to work in the campaign, everything is bringing people together, they are all super spreaders.”
The governing Labor Party (BLP) had in fact created history by winning all 30 seats but lost one when a legislator formed his own party and became opposition leader.
Despite all the hype about a divided party, cabinet and country, the BLP says it will win the elections but concedes that it might lose seats in some areas while still maintaining a large enough majority to get bills through the house.