Basking in her second straight landslide clean sweep victory, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley made her recurring promise to uphold the values of Errol Barrow, the first post-independence prime minister of Barbados, who said Barbados would be “a friend of all and a satellite of none”. Consider the significance of this BLP leader removing the political sand under the platform of her opposition by aligning her vision with that of the former DLP leader. Her decision to call a snap election reinforced her acute political sensibilities. When matched against her spectacular articulation for social justice on the international stage, it elevates her already high regard as the Prime Minister from a small viable state with an incomparable global acclaim. Most recently in November 2021, she was the breakout star of COP26, in Glasgow taking global leaders to task for their inaction on climate change. Hers is an innate gift of creative leadership for which the Caribbean and the world are blessed to behold. Barbados is indeed fortunate and from the results of the elections on January 19, 2022 Barbadians know it all too well. At the BLP’s final rally on the night before the Elections, Liz Thomas, Barbados’ Ambassador for climate change graphically summarizes Mia Motley’s star qualities: “White people from all over the globe say to me: how do I get a Barbados passport? Caribbean people say to us: ‘How do I get a Mia Motley?’, ‘I wish we had a Mia, give us Mia, lend us Mia’, but Barbados got Auntie Mia,” she said.
COVID, Voter Turn Out and Human Rights
More than 266,000 people were eligible to vote, but preliminary information suggests that only 50% participated. More than 5,700 were unable to vote because of COVID-19 infections which disenfranchised them in accordance with the rules established for maintaining safety during the elections. One opposition candidate brought an injunction to stop the election on the basis that the regulation would prevent those with COVID from voting and is an infringement of their human rights. The court rejected it. Others claimed that calling a snap election, especially during COVID era was an abuse of power and portends to authoritarianism. This notwithstanding the fact that it was within Prime Minister’s constitutional entitlement and she demonstrated shroud judgement.
Several commentators based on idiosyncratic information and speculation, wagered that the majority of the BLP would be whittled away because of disaffection, mainly due to the fact that the Prime Minister foisted Republican status on the country without due consultation. Again notwithstanding that unlike most other Caribbean countries whose Constitutions require a referendum to decide this change, Barbados’ Constitution has no such requirement. In addition, a poll administered by UWI Cave Hill political scientists, Dr. Cynthia Barrow found that while only a minority of Barbadians wanted to retain the British monarchy as head of state, most objected to the lack of consultation.
The objection by opposition groups to holding elections during the COVID era turned out to be a red herring. A December 2021 Report from the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) for example, showed that 14 Latin America and Caribbean countries had elections during the COVID era. These are prior to those in Barbados. It compared the average of elections between 1990-1999. Of special interest is that information for 10 CARICOM Member and Associate member states revealed interesting results. Belize (+ 9%), Suriname and St Vincent (+7) and the Grenadines (+5) had higher turn outs in the COVID elections while there were lower turn out in others: Guyana (-7%), Trinidad and Tobago (-8%), St Kitts/Nevis (-11%), Anguilla (-13%), Bermuda (-15%), and Jamaica (-21%). If the projected turnout for 2022 in Barbados is confirmed at 52% then its turn out will be 8% lower than in 2018. See Global over view of COVID 19 - Impact on elections International IDEA https://www.idea.int/news-media/multimedia-reports/global-overview-covid-19-impact-elections
A Reemergence of the Hero and the Crowd
Yet the margin of the 30-0 victory a second consecutive time is unprecedented, even though Grenada’s governing New National Party led by Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchel boasts 3 such clean sweeps, the last two in succession. Like Grenada, Barbados benefited from a disorganized major opposition, Democratic Labour Party, whose leadership also lacked widespread appeal. So much so that the opposition groupings and independent candidates that competed against the BLP were unable to ride on the real or perceived anger of those who felt disaffected and or alienated from the government. The inevitability of the opposition’s dilemma is partly due to its failure to learned lessons of pivoting its leadership as the BLP did when in 1993 Henry Forde (now Sir Henry) retired as Opposition leader on grounds of ill health, and made way for Owen Arthur with the talent to consolidate and widen the base of the party. This led to its subsequent success in leading the BLP to power at the 1994 snap poll that resulted from the downfall of then Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford's DLP and to electoral victories in two other consecutive elections that followed.
What is undeniable is that Mia Mottley, more than any other modern Caribbean leader has exuded the Charisma that characterized Archie Singham’s book “The hero and the Crowd” in reference to the pre-colonial leadership, principally of Gary in Grenada, but more so applicable to Eric Williams, Errol Barrow and Michael Manley. These are the heroes whose incarnation is jointly blossoming in the reflected radiance and brilliance of Mia Mottley.
The Challenges Ahead
Despite the BLP’s thumping victory, there continues to be challenges ahead for the Mottley government. Barbados is reliant on long-haul flights and polluting cruise ships for much of its economy activity. These are in jeopardy due to COVID restrictions. Mia Mottley’s second term is likely to be dominated by efforts at recovering and diversifying Barbados’ post-COVID economy. As part of a loan deal with the International Monetary Fund, the Barbados' government needs to achieve a 6% surplus of GDP. This is likely to lead to austerity measures. But the Prime Minister is no doubt aware of the rocky road ahead.
The BLP’s seminal manifesto is replete with aspirational promises including placing priorities on financial security, nutrition, renewable energy, building 10,000 homes, investment in the medicinal cannabis industry, enhancing human capital by accelerating widespread training schemes, attracting more “digital nomads”, and luring back the Barbados diaspora. In this regard, Mia Mottley described the elections in her inimitable style as, ”a stop to refuel and to continue transforming the country”.
It is clear that Mia Mottley more than many other leaders must feel that holding elections is the easy part. With such an overwhelming majority in parliament; without the intervention of an opposition, the challenge will be to sustain democracy to which she pledges is the mission of the new Republic of Barbados. That means among others upholding the rule of law, civil liberties, freedom of the press, gender equality, and government transparency.
A quotation from the book, Eric Williams: The Myth and the Man by Selwyn D. Ryan provides a pertinent refrain for Prime Minister Mottley and members of her government to be sworn in by Dame Sandra Mason not as a representative of Her Majesty the Queen, but in her own right as President of the Republic of Barbados. Democracy means much more than the right to vote for every man and every woman of the prescribed age. Democracy means recognition of the rights of others. Democracy means equality of opportunity for all in education, in the public service, and in private employment—I repeat, and in private employment. Democracy means the protection of the weak by the strong.– Eric Williams, Independence Day Address, 1962.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.