BARBADOS ELECTIONS 2008
Owen Arthur Swung Out of Power
The Call and the Campaign
Owen Arthur called the elections shortly before Christmas for January 15th 2008 ensuring that
the campaign would be foreshortened by the Christmas festivities and hence short and sharp.
The sharpness of the campaign was evident in the last two weeks as allegations of corruption
were hurled back and forth between the parties and even the Taiwanese government was drawn
into the electoral conflict in respect of campaign financing.
The Barbados Labour Party campaigned on its successes in managing the economy over the last
three terms, including bringing unemployment down to 7.1%. It also promised to lower taxes on
individuals and small companies, liberalise exchange controls “as soon as reasonably
practicable”, open up special development areas and new economic activities, and protect the
most vulnerable in the society.
For its part, the Democratic Labour Party campaigned on what it saw as the excesses of the
BLP’s years in office which resulted in concentration in economic power in fewer hands, gated
communities, spiraling cost of living, and the inadequacy of the social safety net. It promised to
address the cost of living, improve access to affordable housing and ‘owning a piece of the rock’,
provide health care for all, and free education at all levels. In respect of economic policy, the
DLP expressed caution about capital account liberalization in the context of a continued fixed
exchange rate regime, but promised to remove exchange controls on non-residents and allow
residents to hold foreign currency-denominated accounts, provided these were not funded from
the conversion of local currency. Interest on these deposits would attract a tax of only 5%.
By 11 p.m., it was clear that the there had been a significant swing away from the incumbent
party and that attorney at law, David Thompson, leader of the DLP, would at last secure a
resounding victory, after a long wait in opposition. In 1999, the DLP had secured only 2 seats in
the then 28 seat Parliament. In 2003, Thompson’s party grabbed 7 seats in the expanded
Parliament, and then saw Clyde Mascoll defect to the ruling party. (Mascoll ran for the BLP in
the same St. Michael North West seat he had secured for the DLP in 2003 and lost to Christopher
Sinckler of the DLP.)
The final seat count is Democratic Labour Party -20 seats; Barbados Labour Party -10 seats. The
other parties and independents who contested the elections failed to make any impression
whatsoever, even at the constituency level.
1999 2003 2008
The chart below (based on preliminary vote counts) shows that the swing factor has operated to
vicious effect in previous Barbadian general elections and on this occasion, it operated to
decimate Owen Arthur’s party at the polls, despite his government’s undeniably good
performance in managing and growing the economy and maintaining Barbados’ legendary social
stability. The swing vote has simply said that it was time for a change after 13 years of one
party in power, irrespective of how well that party had performed. The BLP would have
obtained, in absolute numbers, fewer votes than it secured in the 2003 and 1999 campaigns,
while the DLP has seen significant increases since 1999. (The same swing factor operated to oust
the PNP in Jamaica in September 2007 after four successive terms for that party.)
Number of Votes Cast for BLP and DLP
56 9 61 9 66 9 71 9 7 6 9 81 9 86 9 91 9 94 9 9 9 0 0 3 0 0 8
19 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2
New Policy Directions?
Whatever the rhetoric of the campaign trail and the more measured attempts in the DLP’s
manifesto to differentiate its proposed policies from those of the outgoing Barbados Labour
Party, one should expect to see no major shifts in the policy posture of the new regime.
Barbados is perhaps the most conservatively managed of the Caribbean territories and it is not
likely that David Thompson’s government will be inclined to embrace new initiatives which are
dramatically different from those of its predecessor, or which might put a delicately balanced
tourism economy at risk.
The exchange rate will remain sacrosanct, and liberalization of the capital account may be
delayed a bit. Thompson however, comes to power at a time when the international economy is
decidedly less propitious, and there may be very tough times ahead. He will have a team that is
new to government, though at the central bank, he will have a cadre of experienced managers of
monetary policy who will be vigilant in seeking to steer the government away from inflationary
deficit financing and from overly bold moves in respect of exchange control policy.
There is likely to be no change in the posture of the Barbados government toward CARICOM,
even if Owen Arthur’s unswerving commitment and championing of the CARICOM Single
Market and Economy cannot be immediately duplicated.
The DLP’s proposals in respect of energy policy centre on conservation and in effecting a move
toward greater use of solar power. No mention is made of exploration for oil and gas offshore or
utilisation of pipeline gas from Trinidad and Tobago or compressed natural gas for power
generation, but these issues are likely to need urgent attention from David Thompson’s new
On governance, the DLP has promised to introduce integrity legislation requiring a declaration of
assets by public officials, a code of conduct for ministers, a new Freedom of Information law and
new constitutional provisions to rationalize the powers of the Prime Minister. The DLP might do
well to study the sad Trinidad and Tobago experience with inappropriate and ineptly
implemented integrity legislation requiring the declaration of assets before it rushes to do the
January 16, 2008