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Barbados prime minister calls a snap election, the first poll for the island as a republic

Barbados prime minister, Mia Mottley, speaking at the 16th Raúl Prebisch Lecture in Geneva, Switzerland on September 10, 2019. Photo on Flickr by Timothy Sullivan, UNCTAD, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For the first time in the island’s history, women leaders will take Barbados’ two major political parties into the arena as the island prepares for a snap general election. Incumbent prime minister, Mia Mottley, head of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) will face off with attorney-at-law Verla De Peiza and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) at the polls set for January 19, 2022.

This will also be the first general election to take place since the island became a republic at midnight on November 30.

Prime Minister Mottley made the election announcement in a televised broadcast on December 27. Within 24 hours, posters were already going up across the island. The nomination of candidates will take place on January 3.

Polls were due to take place in 2023 and Mottley's reason for calling early elections, she said, was because Barbados should not start the New Year “as a divided nation.” She said her party, the BLP, was “willing to take the risk” of losing the election to ensure unity. The BLP had a resounding victory in 2018, emphatically defeating the DLP.

Quoting from an upbeat popular song “This is who we are,” tapping into patriotic sentiments and quoting from the Bible, Mottley asserted that “Barbados is special,” but expressed concern that Barbadian society was changing, and not for the better—including “a gradual deterioration in national reasoning, national focus …” She added, “I do not like what I see,” as she stressed the need for unity and a sense of purpose, frequently addressing Barbadians as “my friends.”

Verla De Peiza, leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), speaking at a Social Partnership on COVID-19 meeting on March 10, 2020 at the Hilton, Barbados. Photo in the public domain.

The BLP holds 29 out of 30 seats in parliament. However, there remain concerns in some quarters over a new Constitution and other legal matters relating to Barbados’ new-found republican status.

A popular Barbadian news account broke the news on Twitter:

Adding:

The main opposition responded to the announcement, citing COVID-19 uncertainties:

And accused the BLP of panicking:

To some Barbadians, the announcement was no surprise:

The announcement was met with approval by many Caribbean commentators, who saw this as a bold move and smart political strategy by Mottley.

Barbadians on Twitter commented with considerable humor. While COVID-19 numbers have been decreasing on the island and roughly half of the population is fully vaccinated, some felt concerns about the Omicron variant may have been one factor in the decision to hold elections:

Another tweeted:

While one Barbadian quipped:

The second Joseph she referred to is the opposition member in parliament Bishop Joseph Atherley, a minister of religion, representing his People’s Party for Democracy and Development since June 2019.

Others were enthusiastic:

Including an expat in Barbados:

One Trinidadian, noting Mottley’s call for unity, observed that his own society was “divided”:

And from Curaçao, a suggestion that there are constitutional issues in which Barbadians have had no say to date:

She was responding to a tweet pointing to the weakness of the Barbadian opposition:

Mottley has amassed a large personal “fan club” in Jamaica. Wooed by her stirring and hard-hitting speeches on the international stage, on climate change and other issues, many Jamaicans were deeply impressed by the declaration of Barbados as a republic, wondering aloud why was it taking such a long time for Jamaica to decide on the issue. However, there remain conflicting views on the benefits of becoming a republic.

One Jamaican broadcast journalist opined:

So what was behind the snap election announcement? One Jamaican surmised:

Another Jamaican was also sceptical:

While one commentator and civil society activist observed:

On other Caribbean islands that still have the British monarch as head of state, public consensus on the issue of a republic is not so clear (unlike Barbados, Jamaica and other islands require a public referendum). One Grenadian commented:

There was even a hearty endorsement from far-flung Kenya:

While there are no predictions or opinion polls as yet, 2022 should be an interesting year politically for Barbados, and for the Caribbean.

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