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Pollsters predict comfortable win for Mia Mottley, but she faces criticism of running a ‘one-party state’
She wowed Cop26 by castigating dithering global leaders for inflicting a “death sentence” on island nations and then made headlines around the world when she ditched the Queen as head of state, installing the singer Rihanna as an official national hero.
On Wednesday, the Barbados prime minister, Mia Mottley, hopes her soaring international profile will translate into a second term when the country goes to the polls in a snap general election.
Like Rihanna, whose umbrella is now exhibit No 1 in the Museum of Barbados, Mottley is known locally just by her first name. Her Barbados Labour party (BLP), which won all 30 seats in the 2018 election, is running with the slogan: “It’s safer with Mia – stay the course.” Bumper stickers dismiss the opposition with the legend: “Dem rest ain’t ready.”
Posters of the 56-year-old are on palm trees and lampposts across Barbados, declaring the smiling incumbent “strong and caring”.
She called the election on 27 December, more than a year earlier than necessary. Her opponents accuse her of disenfranchising more than 5,500 Bajans who are in Covid-19 quarantine and will be unable to vote as the Omicron variant sweeps Barbados.
On Monday night, Mottley embarked on a tour of the island, which has a population of 287,000.
Arriving at a basketball court in Gall Hill in the eastern parish of St John, she danced to her dancehall campaign song Mia Encore and launched into a speech that concentrated on hyperlocal issues: craterous potholes that make driving in the east “like a Disneyland ride” and the upgrading of pit toilets – open latrines still common in some parts of an island famed as a playground for the rich and famous.
Other campaign pledges include building 10,000 homes and developing a Barbadian wealth fund to give Bajans cash from government assets and land.
Wearing gold hoop earrings and a red “Safer With Mia” branded jacket, she then rushed off to Carrington Village in St Michael on the west coast where she went on the defensive about the “fake news” briefings in the weekend papers.
Lucille Moe, a former minister who is advising the opposition Democratic Labour party (DLP) after Mottley sacked her last year, called Mottley a dictator in an interview. “She is autocratic and does not allow anyone to have an opposing view or opinion. Everyone must be in the Mia Mottley choir,” said Moe.
Mottley’s administration has also been criticised for accepting investment from the Chinese government, including a US$115m (£84m) loan for road repairs and $210m (£154m) to upgrade the water and sewage system on the south coast.
But she was at pains to tell the loyal crowd in Gall Hill that she wanted wealth to stay in Barbados. “We are not only concentrating on people from overseas,” she said.
Chinese contractors are rebuilding Sam Lord’s Castle, once the island’s landmark hotel. The BLP has pledged to divest its ownership of the site and offer shares in it “as an investment opportunity to ordinary Barbadians and to the credit union movement”.
An MP since she was 28, Mottley is Barbados’s first female prime minster and the eighth since the island declared independence from the UK in 1966.
The DLP, which was in power from 2008 to 2018 before its electoral wipeout, is largely trying to win votes by arguing Barbados needs an opposition.
Its leader, Verla de Peiza, a UK-educated lawyer like Mottley, has spoken out against the “one-party state”. Her manifesto promises a more socially democratic Barbados, “much more than a cosmetic republic”, as well as a rethink of the island’s tourism industry to focus on “heritage tourism, eco-agro tourism, the yachting community and community-based tourism”.
Pollsters predict a comfortable win for the BLP and Mottley, with the party losing a handful of seats to the DLP.