Barbados' "mother of all elections"
What is being profiled by contesting parties and commentators in local media as Barbados' "mother of all elections" since Independence 41 years ago, takes place on Tuesday, January 15.
Having surprised the nation with his voting date announement on Thursday, December 20, amid frenzied Christmas shopping, current third-term Prime Minister Owen Arthur fixed Monday, Old Year's day, as Nominatiion Day.
The 58-year-old economist, leader of the incumbent Barbados Labour Party (BLP), is hoping to create local history with an anticipated and unprecedented fourth consecutive term of state power.
That is a hope his arch rival for power, David Thompson, the 46-year-old lawyer and leader of the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP), known for his platform eloquence and waspish tongue against opponents, mocks with trademark invectives. Example: "Arthur's shelf-life has long expired...time for change".
For his part, Owen Arthur, known to resort to warlike rhetoric when he thinks he has had enough of the politicking of opponents, had a chilling warning at his recent nomination to remain representaive for the St. Peter constituency:
"I am motivated in a special way", he told his constituents, "by the determination never to see the DLP hold the reins of office again in this country...."
The mood, therefore, seems set for a battle royal for which of the two dominant parties should be entrusted to conduct the affirs of Barbados for the next five years.
Traditionally, there has been a two-term syndrome for both parties, with the first exception of three terms for the DLP taking place under the leadership of the now late Errol Barrow, 'father of independence'.
Question is, whether Prime Minister's declaration of opposition to the DLP's return to power-after being in opposition since 1994 - was a display of political bravado or an unintended betrayal of nervousness over a likely change in government against the backdrop of recent opinion polls?
What the polls say
Those polls have pointed to a close race with national swings of approximately five to seven percent in favour of the DLP but with Arthur's personal popularity rating at a whopping 26 percent higher than Thompson's
Strategists and campaign managers for both parties have been doing what their counterparts in other electoral democracies in the region have done, most recently being Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago: they interpret the results to confirm their own expectations. That's standard election politics.
Consequently, the DLP's General Secretary, Chris Sinckler, who has been heading the Barbados-based regional non-government organisation, Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), was bold enough to openly boast earlier this week that it was "deceptive" of pollsters to speak of a "close race" for the January 15 election sweepstake.
For him, the DLP is now heading, after a year of intense work in the constituencies, for a "landslide victory" with 20 of the 30 parliamentary seats.
By contrast, Deputy Prime Minister Mia Mottley, regarded as one of the most crafty politicians of the governing party and one of its more ferocious platform speakers, has jeeringly retorted that the DLP simply cannot overcome the fact that its leader (Thompson) was "significantly trailing" the BLP's leader and Prime Minister in national popularity rating.
The two-week campaign that follows New Year's Eve nomination with both traditional competitors for state power fielding a full slate of candidates, would be the shortest and possibly the most intensely bitter and bruising.
On Boxing Day, while Barbadians at large were continuing their post-Christmas festivities, the strategists of the BLP and DLP were locked in preparatory meetings for the official kick-off of the election campaign with Old Year's day nomination of candidates
They both have in place their propaganda machinery that, respectively, includes former well-known local journalists, and publication materials to influence hearts and minds.
For the ruling BLP, the election publication would include highights of the policies and programmes, that have placed Barbados at the apex of the human development index in this hemisphere, as a comparatively well managed economy with impressive examples in social and economic gains.
By comparison, and consistent with multi-party parliamentary politics, the opposition DLP's focus would be on reminding voters about the real and perceived shortcomings of the three-term BLP administrations; and why it does not deserve another five years in office.
Accusing fingers are busy pointing to lack of transparency in fiscal management; failures in sectors of health and housing and in dealing with crime.
The Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has reported its readiness for polling day with an updated electoral roll of some 233,289 - about 10,000 more than the last general election in 2003.
At that May 21, 2003 election, the BLP won 23 of the 30 constituencies with 62,294 votes or almost 55 percent of the
The DLP's seven seats were secured with 54,746 votes or approximately 45 percent.
It subsequently suffered a defection to the government by Clyde Mascoll, who is going to be locked in a bitter duel with the DLP's Chris Sincker in defending the the St.Michael North-West constituency he had won in 2003.
Almost 43 percent of the valid electorate failed to cast their ballots at the last election, compared with the estimated 37 percent who had stayed away at the January 20, 1999 poll when the BLP won its second term with a landslide 26-2 victory for a then 28-member House.