Barbados elects its first president, replacing Queen Elizabeth as head of state

Barbados, the U.K.’s overseas territory, on Wednesday elected its first president, replacing Queen Elizabeth as head of state in a symbolic move that will give the tiny island chain more autonomy. The win for…

Barbados elects its first president, replacing Queen Elizabeth as head of state

Barbados, the U.K.’s overseas territory, on Wednesday elected its first president, replacing Queen Elizabeth as head of state in a symbolic move that will give the tiny island chain more autonomy.

The win for incoming Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, 37, was the result of a coalition of supporters who believe the rocky Caribbean island is too economically dependent on the United Kingdom for its own good.

It was a monumental victory for Mottley, who would have had little chance of holding office without the support of the People’s Partnership for Barbados and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Her party, Bajans United for Change, won all four parliamentary seats, further cementing a new generation of politicians in charge of the island.

The People’s Partnership government, which has dominated politics since 2006, walked away empty-handed after winning fewer seats than expected.

Mottley, a former real estate agent, campaigned as an outsider who would take back control of the country’s economy and uproot bauxite and mining operations the neighboring British island of Antigua and Barbuda had dominated.

Her party pushed through early approval of a bill that would strip Barbados’ legal protections from bauxite and mining, enabling the businesses to re-open.

The ruling People’s Partnership gained control of the government through a 2009 vote, beating out its main political rival by only 2,000 votes.

Founded in 1763, Barbados is the namesake of an island in north Atlantic, which is among the several in the sub-region that have royal bloodlines. Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952 after the death of her father, George VI.

Barbados is located in the southwestern Atlantic off the coast of Central America, roughly midway between Africa and South America. It is similar in size to Maryland, which is the British empire’s largest colony.

The island, which was home to long-ago slave traders, has been roiled by race riots in recent years as it fights against an increasingly violent crime wave. That has prompted the Caribbean’s so-called 13 wives to put pressure on governments and international organizations to push them into making real strides to rid themselves of slavery-era legacies.

Two prominent members of the Bajans United for Change campaigned as staunchly anti-slavery, including current member of Parliament Nigel Dharamlall, 33, and Patricia Graham, 33, the party’s director of elections.

Criticized for their lack of experience in politics, Mottley won 17 percent of the vote in the Aug. 4 election, a negative-only margin that may have enticed investors, who might have been put off by the low vote tally.

“It was a very low-turnout election, but as we did well, people on the outside recognized that she was the one to beat,” Mottley said after her victory.

With heavy infighting, the People’s Partnership government fell out of favor with voters. Voters never gave the government a strong mandate to advance key agendas, including when to lift restrictions that keep a growing segment of the population below the poverty line.

The South Atlantic nation of 1.8 million has experienced economic stagnation over the past three years, particularly in the wake of the collapse of natural gas production in 2013.

Amid an unfavorable situation, the People’s Partnership leadership stood by their candidate during the campaign and looked like they could be losing ground to the People’s Partnership’s upstart competitor.

But the People’s Partnership government failed to campaign hard, and increased support for other parties, while others pointed out that both of the parties were very similar in philosophical persuasions.

The People’s Partnership had won less than half of the vote when it held office and fell in office the next election, by a landslide. In the Aug. 4 vote, the ruling party won no more than 57 percent of the vote.

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