She wowed Cop26 by lambasting dithering world leaders for handing down a ‘death sentence’ on island nations, then made headlines around the world when she ditched the Queen as head of state, installing the singer Rihanna as an official national hero.
On Wednesday, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley hopes her soaring international profile will translate into a second term when the country goes to the polls in a snap general election.
Like Rihanna, whose umbrella is now on display No. 1 in the Barbados Museum, Mottley is known locally only by her first name. His Barbados Labor Party (BLP), which won all 30 seats in the 2018 elections, runs with the slogan: “It’s safer with Mia – stay the course”. Bumper stickers dismiss the opposition with the caption: ‘The rest is not ready’.
Posters of the 56-year-old hang on palm trees and lampposts across Barbados declaring the smiling incumbent “strong and caring”.
She called the election on December 27, more than a year earlier than needed. His opponents accuse him of disenfranchising more than 5,500 Bajans who are in Covid-19 quarantine and will not be able to vote as the Omicron variant sweeps Barbados.
On Monday evening, Mottley embarked on a tour of the island, which has a population of 287,000.
Arriving at a basketball court in Gall Hill in the eastern parish of St John, she danced to her dancehall campaign song Mia Again and launched into a speech focused on hyperlocal issues: the craggy potholes that make driving east “like a Disneyland carousel” and the modernization of pit toilets – open latrines still common in parts of an island renowned as a playground for the rich and famous.
Other campaign promises include building 10,000 homes and developing a Barbadian Wealth Fund to give Bajans money from government assets and land.
Wearing gold hoop earrings and a red ‘Safer With Mia’ branded jacket, she then rushed to Carrington Village in St Michael on the West Coast where she went on the defensive about briefings on the ” fake news” in the weekend papers.
Lucille Moe, a former minister who advised the opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP) after Mottley sacked her last year, called Mottley a dictator in an interview. “She’s autocratic and doesn’t allow anyone to have a contrary view or opinion. Everyone has to be in Mia Mottley’s choir,” Moe said.
Mottley’s administration also been criticized for accepting an investment from the Chinese government, including a $115m (£84m) loan for road repairs and $210m (£154m) to upgrade the water system and sewers on the south coast.
But she struggled to tell the loyal Gall Hill crowd that she wanted the wealth to stay in Barbados. “We don’t just focus on people coming from overseas,” she said.
Chinese contractors are rebuilding Sam Lord’s Castle, once the island’s flagship hotel. The BLP is committed to give up one’s property of the site and to offer shares of it “as an investment opportunity to ordinary Barbadians and the credit union movement”.
An MP since the age of 28, Mottley is Barbados’ first female prime minister and eighth since the island declared independence from the UK in 1966.
The DLP, which was in power from 2008 to 2018 before its electoral annihilation, is largely trying to win votes by arguing that Barbados needs an opposition.
Its leader, Verla de Peiza, a UK-educated lawyer like Mottley, has spoken out against the “one-party state”. His manifesto promises a more socially democratic Barbados, “much more than a cosmetic republic”, as well as an overhaul of the island’s tourism industry to focus on “heritage tourism, eco-agritourism, the yachting community and community tourism”.
Pollsters predict a comfortable victory for the BLP and Mottley, with the party losing a handful of seats to the DLP.