ALMOST 248,000 Barbadians are eligible to vote for a new government today when they go to the polls across the 166-square-mile island.
It will be a straight fight between the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), led by economist Owen Arthur, and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), which is being led by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, an attorney-at-law by profession.
Polling stations will open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. with counting scheduled to start at 8 p.m. Officials at the Electoral and Boundaries Commission are expecting some indication of the outcome by midnight for the 30 seats which will be at stake in the Lower House in the island's bicameral legislature.
In the last Parliament, Stuart's DLP held 21 of the seats having secured 20 in the last general election held in January 2008. One member of the opposition BLP, Hamilton lashley, subsequently crossed the floor to sit on the government's benches. Lashley, who had the distinction of entering Parliament on a DLP ticket, but subsequently crossed the floor to join the Bees, before switching back to the Dees, retired from active politics at the end of the last Parliament in January, even though he has thrown his support behind his successor in the St Michael South East constituency, one of those in the densely populated urban corridor. Twelve women are contesting today's poll, all representing the major parties.
For Stuart, it will be the first time that he is leading the DLP into a general election having taken over since the death of the party's former leader David Thompson. The 61-year-old DLP leader and his party are facing an uphill fight against the BLP led by Arthur, a former three-time prime minister. If Arthur, 63, and his party were to win today's poll, it would be the first time that the Barbadian electorate would have rejected a government after its first term in office.
The three-week campaign leading up to today's poll has been relatively incident-free with instances where two meetings scheduled for the same area on the same night being amicably resolved and one side moving on. The campaign itself was not heavily issues centred but focused on the leadership qualities of the two men and even though Stuart has risen dramatically in the public opinion polls, he still fell behind Arthur according to the latest survey done by the Peter Wickham led CADRES, the island's leading pollster.
Tough economic times
The Barbados economy has gone through some tough times in recent years, with the DLP administration indicating that it would be unwise to roll back some of the tax measures it has put in place, including a hike in value added tax from 15 per cent to 171/2 per cent or to try to solve the collapsed CLICO/British American insurance companies issue which has affected thousands of policyholders without involving the governments of the Eastern Caribbean which have also been affected. The DLP has also placed emphasis on protecting the island's foreign reserves while at the same time maintaining jobs and social services.
Arthur's BLP for its part has promised to put money back in people's pockets indicating that it will take measures to stimulate the economy, resolve the CLICO issue and role back a number of the tax measures the DLP had introduced while tackling the cost of living, an issue which has remained central to the electorate over the past five years.
After a period of hectic campaigning and selling their messages, via the traditional media, the social media, on the political platforms and outlining their plans in their manifestos, it is now left to the electorate to decide on who is best suited to take the island forward for the next five years.