BRIDGETOWN – The eastern Caribbean island of Barbados held a snap general election on Wednesday after cutting ties with Queen Elizabeth II late last year and appointing its first ever president to lead the world’s newest republic.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley with the Barbados Labor Party is seeking a second term for a five-year position she won in 2018, when she became the island’s first female leader. She faces opponents including Verla De Peiza of the Democratic Labor Party and Joseph Atherley of the coalition Alliance Party for Progress.
Mottley’s and De Peiza’s parties have candidates vying to fill each of the 30 seats in the island’s House of Assembly, while Atherley’s party has 20 such candidates. The Assembly is the lower house of the island’s Parliament, with 16 seats needed for a majority. No elections are held for the 21-member Senate because they are appointed by Barbados’ recently elected president.
Polling stations closed early evening, but Mottley noted that people who were still in line had the right to cast their votes.
She has promised that if her party wins, they would focus on issues including financial security, nutrition, renewable energy projects and housing, pledging to build 10,000 homes in the next five years. Meanwhile, De Peiza has said her party would push for fiscal responsibility laws, ease the tax burden for some groups, reduce import duties on certain goods, bolster credit unions and remove the foreign exchange fee, among other things.
Long lines were reported at some voting centers while others saw few people. More than 266,000 people on the island of more than 300,000 are registered to vote.
Barbados is one of the wealthier nations in the Caribbean, but the winner faces an economy battered by the pandemic and a still struggling tourism industry.
Opposition leaders widely criticized Mottley for holding snap general elections more than a year ahead of schedule and accused her of trying to consolidate power. Mottley rejected those accusations and said the elections are a stop to refuel and to continue transforming the country.
One opposition candidate filed an injunction in an attempt to stop Mottley from holding the elections given the number of sick voters. The NationNews newspaper reported that 5,700 people are unable to vote because they are isolated with COVID-19 infections.
Mottley made the elections announcement shortly after Barbados became a republic for the first time and appointed Governor General Sandra Mason as president. The island that gained independence from the United Kingdom in November 1966 had announced plans in 2020 to stop being a constitutional monarchy.
Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed.