The Bahamas has begun tilling the soil to elect a new leader, following the resignation of Toby Harris after the opposition coalition successfully pressured him to step down in favour of a political outsider.
Harris, previously the opposition leader, resigned as prime minister on Monday after his governing coalition lost a confidence vote. That led to the byelections that were held on Tuesday in Harris’ constituency of Ocho Rios and in Wisbech in St Mary. The byelections follow Sunday’s resignation of Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, who has been replaced by the leader of the opposition, Perry Christie.
Mottley and Harris had sought to carry on in the wake of an unprecedented wave of anti-junta protests in the Western Caribbean nation over a decision to delay a major planned referendum on whether to scrap the kingdom’s 400-year-old monarchical rule. Although campaigning was forbidden, hundreds of Barbadians had protested through the streets of the capital of Bridgetown.
The votes in the byelections are non-binding, but are viewed as a first step toward sweeping a popular rebellion onto the political arena. The Barbados government has said it will press ahead with the referendum despite the setbacks, perhaps seeking to lure former members of the government who lost their seats in the recent byelections.
Christie’s Labour and People’s Movement, backed by the United National Congress, secured an outright victory in the St Mary byelection, with 28% of the votes cast compared with 25% for the challenger United Workers Party, according to preliminary results that had not been officially certified.
In the Ocho Rios byelection, the National Solidarity Party came second with 14%, and the Barbados Labour Party – a political ally of Harris’ now-defunct government – received 9%. The results are preliminary because a final count cannot be completed until all absentee votes are received.
In his resignation statement, Harris cited his “lack of confidence in the ability of the executive to lead the executive and the citizens of Barbados forward”. He also accused the government of “institutional corruption”.
Mottley had asked Harris to step down shortly after she resigned. The prime minister complained of the constitutional crisis triggered by the failed attempt to put a question about abolishing the monarchy to the people in a referendum last year.
The Barbados government indicated Tuesday that it would “remain steadfast in its resolve to seek the people’s decision on the issue”.
Harris had been under fire from the labour party and other opposition factions for months for failing to implement immediate fiscal reforms in response to a slowdown in tourism and sugar exports. He also was criticized for delaying the referendum, which was ordered after successive governments failed to hold a referendum since 2001.
Mottley’s administration has sought to tighten the state’s grip over the Barbados economy in recent months. The government recently announced plans to privatise state-owned industries, including power utility Caribbean Utilities Company and Barbados Liquefied Natural Gas Limited.