The COVID-19 pandemic and the problems that it has spawned are turning out to be the game changing issue of the 2022 general election due in under 48 hours.
As the daily confirmed infection numbers average around 500, it appears as though well over 6, 000 Barbadians will be barred from exercising their right to vote because of their infection status.
The Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has taken a pounding from the public for what appears to be a less than enthusiastic attempt to seek to accommodate voters who have been infected with the viral disease.
Outspoken lawyer, Michelle Russell, a staunch public defender of the unvaccinated not to be forced to take the jab, said she had assembled a team of lawyers who were ready to head to the High Court on the voters’ rights issue.
Interestingly, it was Russell, a Jamaican by birth, who successfully filed in a last-minute motion hours before the 2018 general election.
She had fought the EBC to be allowed to vote as a Commonwealth citizen residing here.
Russell lamented over the weekend that the time had run out for any COVID-19 positive patients to challenge the EBC dictate.
Another legal mind, senior counsel Garth Patterson, contended that to deny access to the poll for these voters represented a constitutional breach and the state could be sued successfully.
“No Government can freely ignore the law and because the right to vote is enshrined in the Representation Of The People Act, which The Constitution mandates must make provision for every qualified voter to have a reasonable opportunity of voting in an election, then it means the actions of the Government are certainly amenable to judicial review,” Patterson wrote.
Today on social media, there is near unison condemnation of the elections body, who in the minds of commentators, has failed to vigorously represent the interests of the electorate on such a monumental issue.
The Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) has already given its assessment that there is likely community spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
And if there are near 6 000 confirmed cases who are in home isolation and Government facilities, then there is possibly an unconfirmed group of an equally large number in various communities and workplaces who may be infected.
As much as the decision is being defended, the fact remains that for public health reasons, the 2022 election is disastrously ill-timed.
Commentators have vented about the fact that the poll falls smack in the height of the winter tourist season when our source markets of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada are being wrecked by the virus.
All three countries have partially reinstated earlier COVID- 19 mitigation restrictions as infections and hospitalisations rise to record levels.
We do not pretend to know why there was need for such an urgent return to the poll. What we do know is that COVID-19 has kept supporters away from public meetings, leading to depressed participation and intensity about the election itself.
On the ground, people are saying that between the pandemic, the restrictions on socialising, sporting activity and the mental health strain, rising levels of anxiety about the future and insecurity about the economy, there is little room for excitement about a general election.
All these factors are interplaying in a way that makes poll watchers and political pundits nervous. There is no way to tell who a low voter turnout will favour.
It is even difficult to measure what impact the sensational and intriguing revelations from former Government Senator, personal political strategist and confidante of Prime Minister Mottley, that she was now “afraid” of the country’s leader, and that democracy is in peril, will have on voters.
If there is any comfort for Prime Minister Mottley, during this pandemic is that she is not alone in her troubles as a political leader.
Her rival Verla De Peiza appears to be facing an uphill battle of her own, as political pundits have made clear, but we digress.
In the United States President Joe Biden, for all his efforts to sustain the American economy, and his Build Back Better Plan, is seeing his support plummet. Pandemic fatigue is a major contributor to his decline in popularity.
Even as Biden says there is no reason to panic “within the walls of the West Wing, there is recognition of the political peril that looms, along with an implicit recognition that the public is not willing to stomach more dramatic measures to combat the new variant” one journalist wrote.
“We’re still in the middle of fighting a pandemic and people are sick and tired,” a White House official noted.
Barbadians are also sick and tired of the pandemic and plunging them into a general election during a COVID surge has not made life any easier for them and certainly not for those seeking election to the House of Assembly.