Election To Return BLP To Power

BMI View: Polling data continue to support our view that Barbadian voters will likely throw out the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, electing in its place Owen Arthur and his Barbados Labour Party (BLP). We expect that the election, recently called for February 21, will proceed smoothly, and that the BLP will maintain broad policy stability in the years ahead.

Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has called the next general election for February 21, and we continue to believ e that the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) will return to power after only one term in the opposition. We expect the election to be relatively free and fair and for policy to remain broadly stable under the new government .

Data gathered by the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) show that the majority of Barbadians want either BLP Opposition Leader Owen Arthur (39%) or BLP Minister Mia Mottley (17%) to be the island's next leader, while only 37% want the continued leadership of the DLP, with support divided 23%-17% between Stuart and Finance Minister Christopher Sin c kler.

Majority Wants A BLP Prime Minister
Barbados - Public Opinion Poll: Which Leader Would You Prefer? (%)

Moreover, 35% of respondents indicated that they planned to vote for the BLP, compared to just 25% for the DLP, with 15% undecided and 11% not planning on voting at all. Additionally, 47% of respondents felt that it was time for a change, 30% disagreed, and 23% were either unsure or unwilling to say. According to Barbados Today, CADRES projects that this lead will translate to a 54%-46% DLP victory, but we note that a significant portion of respondents either will not say or has not yet decided, meaning that the margin of victory may differ substantially from this projection .

BLP Lead To Narrow Slightly
Barbados - Public Opinion Poll: Which Party Do You Support? (%)

Historically, this level of support has been sufficient to ensure a solid majority for a given party, supporting our view that the BLP will likely return to office after the February election. In 2008, for example, a 6.7% national vote margin over the BLP propelled the DLP led to a 20-10 seat majority, and we expect the BLP, if its numbers hold, could win between 8-10 seats and control almost two thirds of the legislature after the upcoming election.

Small Victory At The Polls Creates Large Governing Majority
Barbados - 2008 Election Results, Share Of National Vote, % (LHS) & Seats In National Assembly (RHS)

As we have previously noted, we believe that much of the reason for the BLP's likely return to power is voter dissatisfaction with Stuart ( see our online service, August 14, 'New Government Increasingly Likely' ). As of mid-January, nearly twice as many respondents disapproved of Stuart's leadership than approved of it, 53%-28%.

Stuart's Ratings To Weigh On DLP
Barbados - Public Opinion Poll: Do You Approve Of The Work Being Done By ... ? (%)

According to CADRES, voters' top concerns are inflation, unemployment, and the economy, which we believe reinforces the polling data showing that Barbadians have turned against Stuart. Under the BLP, the economy has languished, with real GDP growth averaging just 0.4% each year from 2010-2012, and unemployment has remained in the double digits since Q409. That said , after hitting 9.5% in 2011, inflation trended downward in 2012, with prices increasing by only 2.9% year-on-year (y-o-y) in October , but we believe this improvement will prove to be too little, too late.

Barbados has a long tradition of relatively free and fair elections, in which power passes back and forth between BLP and DLP governments. This fairly reliable tradition of democratic transition is one reason that Barbados scores a 78.3 out of 100 in our proprietary Long-Term Political Risk Ratings, the highest of any country in the Caribbean. Additionally, we believe that policy will remain relatively stable. Both the BLP and DLP have historically supported maintaining the country's currency peg to the US dollar as well as an open economy oriented towards attracting tourism and offshore financial activity. We believe that Owen, who previously served as prime minister of BLP governments for a total of 14 years, will continue these policies.

Risks To Outlook

In a break from tradition, the government scheduled the election to take place during holiday of Lent, which could affect voter turnout in unforeseen ways. As political observers believe that the BLP's margin of victory will be relatively small - no more than 7%, according to some estimates - large fluctuations in turnout could significantly affect the outcome, leading to a much larger victory for the BLP or perhaps a come-from-behind win for the DLP, although we view this latter scenario as less likely.

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Country Risk
Geography: Barbados, Barbados

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