Barbados Gets its First Female Prime Minister in a Landslide Victory

Mandates and the goodwill that goes with them are fragile. Given the challenges facing the Barbadian economy, there is no room for economic populism. – Sanjay Badri-Maharaj*

 

The small Caribbean island of Barbados (area 439 sq km, population 286,388) now has its first female Prime Minister as Mia Mottley’s Barbados Labour Party (BLP) handed the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) led by Freundel Stuart a devastating defeat in the General Election held on 24 May 2018. Winning all thirty seats in the country’s Parliament, the BLP also secured nearly 75% of all votes cast with 60% of the over 250,000 registered voters exercising their franchise.

 

Party Votes % +/– Seats +/–
Barbados Labour Party 111,968 74.58 +26.35 30 +16
Democratic Labour Party 33,985 22.64 –28.67 0 –16
Solutions Barbados 4,188 2.79 0 New
United Progressive Party 1,965 1.31 0 New
Coalition of United Parties 580 0.39 +0.28 0 0
Independents 1,059 0.71 +0.35 0 0
Total 150,141 100 30 0
Registered voters/turnout 255,833 60.00 –2.02

Source: Caribbean Elections

Mia Mottley, a career politician is a trained lawyer and has served as the country’s Attorney-General and Minister of Home Affairs, while earlier serving in the country’s Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Culture during the 1994-2008 period of BLP rule under then Prime Minister Owen Arthur. She was the country’s first female Attorney-General and first female Minister of Home Affairs.

During her tenure in the Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Culture, she was also credited as having the foresight to establish the Education Sector Enhancement Program, popularly known as “Edutech”, which aimed to increase the number of young people contributing to the island’s sustainable social and economic development. Involving the widespread use of information and communication technology, “Edutech” is a revolutionary system which made use of such aides to improve teaching and learning outcomes, thus enhancing Mia Mottley’s image as embracing innovation to make a positive impact.

In her ministerial capacities, Mottley established a reputation as an effective and capable minister and was able to convert this reputation to make her successor to Owen Arthur who resigned after the BLP’s defeat in the 2013 election. She served two terms – 2008 to 2010 then from 2013 to 2018 as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives.

Leadership Advantage

At an early stage in the election cycle, election analysts had noted that the 2018 election would be a “big swing” election. A “small swing” of 2% is sufficient to change a government in Barbados but while some analysts predicted a possible wipeout of the DLP, the scale of the swing to the BLP – over 26% – was unprecedented.

Mottley established a reputation as an effective and capable minister and was able to convert this reputation to make her successor to Owen Arthur who resigned after the BLP’s defeat in the 2013 election | Image: Caribbean Elections

One factor that became evident through the campaign was the relative popularity of Mia Mottley comparted to Prime Minister Stuart. An opinion poll carried out in June 2017, nearly a year before the election by the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) noted that 52 per cent of Barbadians preferred the BLP’s Mia Mottley as leader, compared to only eight per cent in favour of Stuart. Moreover, the CADRES poll also found that 70% of those surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with the DLP administration, with 71% saying that itwas time for a change of Government.

Economic Challenges

Barbados continues to face severe economic challenges. After two terms of DLP rule, its policies have failed to deliver sustainable economic growth or to improve the country’s foreign exchange crisis and debt ratio. Foreign exchange reserves have now reached a crisis level of 6 weeks import cover and continue on a downward trend. Indeed, from possessing US$1.457 billion in reserves at the end of 2012, this country’s foreign reserves decreased to only US$549.7 million as of September 30 2017.

Barbados also has a debt to GDP ratio of 157.1% with economic growth expected to be at 0.7% at best. Barbados rejected a proposal in 2012/2013 to look to new sources of finance, with a view towards to reschedule and restructuring the country’s debt. The failure to undertake such measures has had a deleterious effect on the economy with no sign of the country’s debt profile recovering.

This suggests that as incoming Prime Minister, even though she has an overwhelming mandate, Mia Mottley may be compelled to take some tough decisions to bring about an economic recovery. It is an open question as to whether the popularity of her incoming government will withstand such the necessary fiscal measures.

Conclusion – An overwhelming mandate for change

Prime Minister Mottley joins a long list of female leaders within the Caribbean – Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad, the late Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica and Janet Jagan of Guyana. Of these, Kamla Persad-Bissessar came closest to getting the mandate received by Mia Mottley but through a series of unforced errors proceeded to squander her mandate and was heavily defeated in the country’s 2015 election. Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica was somewhat more successful but she was forced by her own party to step down in 2017 after a narrow election loss.

Mandates and the goodwill that goes with them are fragile. Given the challenges facing the Barbadian economy, there is no room for economic populism. This would pose a challenge for any government but Prime Minister Mottley has an unprecedented mandate to make significant changes and to implement much needed economic reforms. One hopes that she seizes the opportunity early in her tenure to bring Barbados back to a path of growth and fiscal stability.

 

 

*Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj was a Visiting Fellow at IDSA. He is an independent defense analyst and attorney-at-law based in Trinidad and Tobago. He holds a Ph.D. on India’s nuclear weapons programme and an MA from the Department of War Studies, Kings College London. He has served as a consultant to the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team.

 

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