BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) -- The prime minister of Barbados asked
voters on the Caribbean island to judge him by his record on the
economy as they go to the polls on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Owen Arthur went door-to-door in his home district of St.
Peter on the north coast Tuesday, solidifying support in what was expected
to be an easy re-election for his Barbados Labor Party.
Challenger David Thompson shook hands in his stronghold in central St.
John on Tuesday before rallying supporters at Independence Square in
The vote comes ahead of what could be a defining moment in the history
this easternmost Caribbean island, as it considers cutting its remaining ties to
the widely admired British monarchy.
The winner will likely set the tone of the largely symbolic divorce. Arthur,
who is seeking a second term, and Thompson generally agree the monarchy
should be traded in for a republic, with Queen Elizabeth II replaced by a
Barbadian head of state.
Both campaigns have focused on the economy.
"One good term deserves another," was Arthur's campaign slogan as he
took credit for reducing unemployment from 22 percent to 11 percent. He
promised to reduce it to nothing if re-elected.
Arthur promises 'new and unprecedented prosperity'
The 48-year-old economist promised "new and unprecedented
prosperity...through the attainment of full employment and the eradication of
poverty in the first decade of the new century."
Arthur may benefit by many voters' association of Thompson with unpopular
austerity measures adopted at the insistence of the International Monetary
Fund in the early 1990s, when he was Minister of State.
The reforms, which included an 8 percent pay cut for government workers,
stabilized the Barbados currency but were widely resented.
Thompson, a 37-year-old lawyer, has argued that the economic growth
under Arthur has left half of society behind and that the drop in
unemployment is a mirage created by heavy government hiring and public
Thompson points to economic disparity
"The benefits of economic growth are not being fairly shared, and we are
forced to ask: economic boom -- for whom?" Thompson said during a rally.
Thompson has also focused on an increase in violent crime. While overall
crime rates have declined, Thompson noted that homicides increased from
11 in 1997 to 20 in 1998 and six have been recorded so far in the first two
weeks of 1999.
Arthur's party currently holds 19 seats in Parliament while Thompson's
Democratic Labor Party holds eight. The National Democratic Party holds
one but is not contesting this election and has allied itself with the Democratic
The two men's campaigns are very different, with Arthur's swinging to an
upbeat calypso theme song called "Goin' with Owen" and Thompson's
featuring smaller rallies and a focus on speeches rather than singing and
Both candidates have promised to reverse IMF-backed pay cuts on
government workers. Thompson has also said he will eliminate sales taxes
on items ranging from food and clothing to children's books and sports
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.