Mark Wilson #2

The writer is an international journalist based in Port of Spain

I think the Americans have something or other fixed for November 3, but forget that. Belize, Barbados and St Vincent have mid-pandemic elections next month.

Barbados votes on November 11. It’s just a by-election – but it’s the first test of opinion since Mia Mottley’s landslide win in May 2018, when her Barbados Labour Party took all 30 seats.

Since then, she’s fixed the beach-front sewage overflows, rescheduled foreign and domestic debt, and won dewy-eyed admirers in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) without offending her own people. She seemed to have everything set for recovery. Then Covid-19 hit.

Despite reopening to tourists and returning nationals in July, the Barbados daily infection rate has been low, hovering around five per million since mid-August. That compares with just short of 30 this week in T&T – and more than 80 at the peak of T&T’s September spike.

But pandemics aren’t good for tourism. Knocking on for half the Barbados workforce is jobless – though the shock is cushioned by state unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, Mia struck stardust last month with her governor-general’s forward-looking Throne Speech and proposals to dump the Monarchy.

For Ms Mottley, the by-election could almost have been tailor-made. Well-liked Gline Clarke, representative for St George North in the heart of the island, has been appointed high commissioner to Canada. Her new candidate is Toni Moore, who is general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union and (oddly) was until this month an independent Senator.

Will Mia suffer mid-term blues? I doubt it. A friend who lives in the St George complains it has more pothole than road – but remains enthusiastically BLP.

Barring earthquakes, the interesting battle is for second place.

The BLP’s traditional rival is the Democratic Labour Party, which historically had a rock-solid base going back to its founder Errol Barrow’s days as Independence leader. But the party’s 2018 wipeout left it with no MPs or senators. Their well-liked candidate is Floyd Reifer, a former Barbados and West Indies middle-order batsman.

But the official opposition leader is Joseph Atherley, an evangelical bishop who broke faith with his constituents by crossing the floor right after Mia’s 2018 win to run his own People’s Party for Democracy, appointing three senators and two members of a new Elections Commission which takes office on November 1. If he splits the opposition vote down the middle, he will make Mia’s life even easier.

Belize also votes on November 11. That one is a full general election, with a change of leader 100 per cent certain.

Long-serving prime minister Dean Barrow is stepping down after 12 years in office and three successive election wins. He turns 70 in March: his brother Denys is a judge of the CCJ.

The 42-year-old education minister Patrick Faber will be prime minister if Barrow’s United Democratic Party scores again.

But it won’t be easy. Money is ultra-tight. Belize teeters on the edge of a debt default. Its investors have already suffered three haircuts 2006, maybe a world-beating record. The Caribbean Court of Justice has ordered enormous payouts to companies connected to Lord Ashcroft, a big-time billionaire businessman and former deputy-chairman of Britain’s governing Conservative party. Meanwhile, gang crime is big trouble; astonishingly, 28 prisoners escaped on Monday.

Faber was not his party’s first choice. He lost a February party convention to the then national security minister John Saldivar – but Saldivar had to stand down days after his victory, when a court in Utah heard he had received bundles of cash from an Armenian-origin businessman on trial for an alleged US$470 million biofuels fraud.

Faber’s track record as education minister is a mixed blessing. Plenty of disgruntled teachers have professional scores to settle.

Covid-19 is a real worry for Belize. With borders shut, tourism has tanked. Although the international airport reopened this month, there are few bookings. Belize’s infection rate has intermittently topped 100 per million from mid-August – that’s way worse than T&T’s September spike. Campaigning in these conditions will be a nightmare.

If Faber loses, the next prime minister will by John Briceño, whose People’s United party lost office in 2008 after a string of corruption scandals. The party has rebranded, campaigning with its colour-name “Blu.” For younger voters, past sins are ancient history. Many would be happy for a fresh start.

St Vincent votes six days earlier, on November 5. Prime minister since 2001 is the Unity Labour Party’s “Comrade Ralph” Gonsalves, now 74. He’s enjoying his country’s current two-year term on the UN Security Council, and is expected at some point to hand over to his son Camillo, the current finance minister. As everywhere, the economy has been hard-hit by Covid-19 — but there have been no new infections this month.

Last time round, “Comrade Ralph” scraped home with 52 per cent of the vote and a single-seat majority. He won a solid block on the Windward side of the main island, leaving most of the Leeward side, the Grenadines and the capital Kingstown to the opposition New Democratic Party.

This time, his supporters are confident. “Five in a row,” runs Luta’s catchy campaign song: “Ring the bell, ring the bell, let we send them home.” He may be in with a chance.

And Trump? Let’s leave that one for later.

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