It is clear, from the heightened political activity of recent weeks, that Barbados is definitely moving into election mode. From a constitutional standpoint, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is not required to call the next general election until the second quarter of next year, three months at the latest following the expiration of the incumbent Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) mandate. However, it is quite likely Barbadians may go to the polls well before then.
From the look of things, the timing of the next general election may well be dictated by economic factors more than anything else. It is public knowledge that the Barbados economy has been underperforming, due to a combination of both external and internal factors, for most of the last ten years that the DLP has been in office. Last year, the economy had its best performance in this period, with gross domestic product growing by 1.6 per cent. Had there been further improvement this year, putting the incumbent DLP in a position to provide tax relief and other benefits, it would have had a reasonably good batting wicket going into the election.
However, this was not to be as the economy has lost momentum and is expected to post growth of under one per cent this year.
In the past few weeks, especially following news of the 20th downgrade of the island’s credit rating, there is a definite perception on the ground of a worsening situation. The downside of the spate of downgrades by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s in particular, though they specifically address the possibility of Government not being able to honour debt repayment obligations in the future, is that they are seen by investors as indicators that the authorities are not pursuing economic policies which promote confidence in the marketplace.
To address the vexing problems of high public debt, an unsustainable fiscal deficit and declining foreign reserves, economists point to an urgent need for more economic adjustment measures. Following a draconian budget in late May that imposed additional taxation on Barbadians, including a controversial 400 per cent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) from two to ten per cent which has had the effect of sharply increasing consumer prices, to implement more austerity now to halt further slippage would only add to the unpopularity of the DLP.
Incumbents naturally are inclined to avoid having to do anything in the run-up to an election that could undermine their chances. If there is indeed a need for more austerity, as argued, the grim reality, though, is that delaying remedial action for another six months may only make the existing situation worse. It is on this basis that some pundits are predicting that Barbadians will go to the polls sooner rather than later and the heightened activity by the two main political parties, especially their public pronouncements, only add to the speculation.
This past weekend, the main Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) held its 79th annual conference at the Steel Shed in Queen’s Park at which party leader Mia Mottley used her annual conference address to speak to key policies which an elected BLP government would pursue in relation to a number of issues where the DLP has lost favour among Barbadians. She pledged, for example, to immediately abolish the hated National Social Responsibility Levy, reverse the DLP-introduced policy of making Barbadians pay tuition fees to attend the University of the West Indies (UWI), and establish an Integrity Commission to tackle corruption in public life which has become a major concern among Barbadians who believe the existing system of governance is outmoded and needs fundamental overhaul to ensure more transparency and accountability.
While these policies may have been quite pleasing to the ear, it remains to be seen if they could actually work and how exactly they would be funded.
We therefore look forward to the BLP providing more details on its plans in the coming weeks and days leading up to the next poll.
Equally, we would like to hear from the newcomers like Solutions Barbados and the United Progressive Party what are their respective approaches for tackling the various national challenges, at a time when our country most needs to be clear on the available options to come to a consensus on what represents the best way forward.