“History is not made by things happening the same way all the time. History is made by doing things differently”. Former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Truer words were never spoken, as the May 24 general election in Barbados would prove.
And while Prime Minister Stuart was attempting to justify his decision to hold on to power for 51 of the 90 days after the automatic dissolution of Parliament on March 6, it turned out that he was accurately prophesying the outcome of the much anticipated poll.
The May 24 general election was unlike any other — it was as historic as it was decisive and intriguing.
Never before were Barbadians so forced to exercise their patience to elect the Government of their choice. And no amount of calls from ordinary Barbadians, political pundits or campaigning from a seemingly ever-ready opposition Barbados Labour Party could entice Stuart to set a date.
As the impatient wait dragged on – the situation on the ground was heating up.
Historic indeed was the March announcement from ex-prostitute Natalie Natalee Harewood that she would contest the election and bid to represent the constituents of the City of Bridgetown.
The announcement immediately triggered debate in conservative Barbadian society but the former sex worker got the backing of the head of the Adult Industry Association, Charles Lewis, while other notable figures made it clear there was no need to cast stones and that the race was indeed open to all Barbadians.
Natalee’s acceptance into the political fray seemingly emboldened a variety of players.
Lewis, who later split ties with Natalee, launched the Political Prostitute Party. For comic relief, eEnvironmentalist Kammie Holder announced the creation of the Underdog Political Party, and Maguerite Iyoka Bellamy launched the Future Generation Revoluntionary Congress
Eventually, a record nine parties, 135 candidates, 37 of whom were women, contested the poll.
It was the first time that two political parties would be led by women – Mia Mottley of the Barbados Labour Party and Lynette Eastmond of the United Progressive Party.
Interestingly, the UPP caught the country’s attention when on no less than Valentine’s Day former BLP MP for Christ Church West Dr Maria Agard declared herself Leader of Opposition Business in the House for UPP. But the much-needed boost for the UPP came to naught as Agard pulled out of the race because of medical treatment in the United States.
Agard was not the only surprise pull out during the election.
After much speculation, St John MP Mara Thompson declared that she would not contest the next general election. The party appeared undecided on its candidate but later named General Secretary George Pilgrim to contest the seat, a traditional DLP stronghold.
Pilgrim got the nod ahead of then High Commssoner to Britain Guy Hewitt, Senator Andrew Worrel, amd former consul general to Toronto Dr Leroy McClean.
A bruised McClean later declared he would contest the seat as an independent.
The record number of political parties, which included Solutions Barbados, the People’s Democratic Congress, the Barbados Integrity Movement, the Bajan Free Party and the Kingdom Government of Barbados did not lure Barbadians whom, as pundits predicted, would stand on the side of the incumbent DLP or the challenger BLP.
By then, the political giant of the Democratic Labour Party had awakened from slumber and with no fanfare or the traditional ringing of the election bell, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart announced via the Government Information Service that Barbadians would vote on May 24, while Nomination day was set for May 7.
With the all-important date finally out of the way, both parties hit the ground running.
First out of the blocks was the BLP, which months earlier, transformed Weymouth Playing Field red, and preached a message of deliverance and pulling the country back from the precipice of economic ruin.
A night later the DLP took to Mottley’s constituency at a location between the National Stadium and the Netball Stadium and speaker after speaker had one thing, or rather, one individual on their lips- Mia Amor Mottley.
Prime Minister Stuart told party faithful that Mottley had a belief that she was entitled to be the country’s next leader because of her bloodlines and that the DLP would not allow that.
“That is a set of thought processes that go back to the days of slavery. That does not belong to 21st century Barbados. We don’t do things nowadays on the basis of bloodlines. The Democratic Labour Party came into existence to end all of that,” he said,
In response Mottley sent a clear a message that her back was broad and she would not be distracted.
“I know it reflects more on [her than me, and therefore I stand focused and remain ready to deliver the promises to the people that we know can be delivered to make a difference in people’s lives. And if taking lashes from them is what it is going to take to get rid of the DLP, measure the back,” she said
And so the rhetoric from the political platform continued against the backdrop of a poll conducted by respected Pollster and Director of Caribbean Development Research Services that suggested there was a five percent swing away from the DEMS.
For voters the issues were glaring – issue #1- the ailing economy riddled with debt, falling international reserves, repeated credit downgrades, the high cost of living, and the long-running sewage crisis on the South Coast.
But while the politicians were fighting it out on the campaign trail, another battle was playing out in the law courts.
St Lucian Professor Eddy Ventose, along with Jamaican Michelle Russell, Grenadian Shireen Ann- Tulloch and Montserratian Sharon Edgcombe-Miller, all of whom have been living here for over a decade sued the commission for excluding them from the voter’s list despite meeting the requirement of Section 7 and Section 11 of the Representation of the People’s Act.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson ruled that the commonwealth citizens had a right to vote. But the electoral department failed to act on the ruling and the Caribbean Court of Justice held a special sitting on Sunday May 13 and ordered Chief Electoral Officer Angela Taylor to ensure the applicants were registered to vote or she would face imprisonment and or fines.
The applicants were granted the right to vote, so much so that even on election day, the 6 p.m. deadline at polling stations was extended by two hours to facilitate Commonwealth citizens who were added to the electoral list last in the evening.
During the day’s vote — in typical style, Barbadians flocked to the polls in droves. There were complaints about long lines, and lengthy waits but overall the process was generally smooth.
But what was historic was the unprecedented wait for the result. With baited breath, the nation waited for hours before the count got underway just after 11.p.m. Returning officers were awaiting the boxes collected from the early voting of special groups.
The result did not take long. It was clear that the writing was on the wall for Stuart and his team from the preliminary results.
And when St John, the stronghold of the DLP was handed over to BLP’s first time political candidate Charles Grant, it was clear that it was all over for the Dems as even the big names of Chris Sinckler, Donville Inniss, Dr David Estwick, and even Michael Lashley fell.
Still the magnitude of the defeat was still emerging and hours later it was clear that Barbadians had not only consented to Mia Mottley’s request, “to gimme the vote and watch muh”, but they had rejected the Dems’ stewardship.
For the first time, in its 52nd year of nationhood, Barbadians elected its first woman Prime Minister who declared: “The victory is not mine, not the Barbados Labour Party; this victory is the people of Barbados victory.”
Stewart stood alone at the DLP headquarters in George Street and graciously conceded defeat accepting the burden of the bruising loss on his shoulders.
“Therefore let me unhesitatingly and unequivocally and frankly accept full responsibility for the defeat of the DLP in this election.”
History was indeed created.