Owen Arthur calls snap election in Barbados

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, December 21, 2007 – Barbadians will be voting in general elections on January 15, 2008 in what a pollster says is too close to call.

Opinion polls indicate that the reign of the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP) could end.

Owen Arthur announced the snap election on Thursday – five months before they are constitutionally due and at the height of a so-called “Hardwood” controversy in which his government is embroiled and which could cause it to suffer at least one casualty. Polls were last held May 21, 2003.

The Opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has been leading an assault on the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) over a construction contract by a company named Hardwood. It escalated into a no-confidence motion in Parliament against the junior finance minister, Clyde Mascoll.

The DLP has also been boycotting parliament over issues surrounding debate on the matter.

Political scientist, Peter Wickham, of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) says Owen Arthur remains the most popular man to lead the country but at the same time people want a change. The most recent CADRES poll showed a 5% swing away from the BLP with the party losing nine of the 23 seats it currently holds in Parliament. That could tip the balance in favour of the DLP with a 16-14 result. However, Wickham said it is still too close to call.

“I hope you enjoy this campaign as much I intend to… this election has been called and the labour party (BLP) is ready, Arthur told reporters after making the announcement.

He is seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in office but the DLP says that won’t happen.

“We’re ready and have been ready for many months,” DLP leader David Thompson said, starting the rivalry by launching a salvo at Arthur, saying it was “insensitive” of him to call elections during the Yuletide season.

Thompson said his party would respect the season and put campaigning on hold until the New Year.

Both parties have selected a full slate of candidates to contest the 30 seats in the country’s House of Assembly.

A third group – the fledgling People’s Empowerment Party – said it also intends to make its mark when it faces the electorate for the first time.

Fielding four candidates, leader David Comissiong explained that while the party cannot win the government, it will act as a pressure group to get government back on track.

Rising cost of living is the major issue affecting Barbadians; 40% of those surveyed in a CADRES poll indentified it as such.

Other minor issues included crime, unemployment, inadequate housing and the economy.