Ruling party in Barbados wins in tight election

* Democratic Labour Party wins 16 seats in Parliament

* Opposition Barbados Labour Party wins 14

* Vote-selling allegations marred the election

By Robert Edison Sandiford

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Feb 22 (Reuters) - By the slimmest of margins, Barbadians returned the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to power in the southeast Caribbean country in general elections results announced on Friday.

Led by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, the DLP won 16 parliamentary seats, while the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) took the remaining 14 seats in the 30-member House of Assembly.

The voting ended a short and peaceful campaign after elections were called three weeks ago in the nation of 290,000 people.

"We are here tonight celebrating because this organization during the last five years touched actual lives by its policies and by its programs," Stuart told party members at the DLP headquarters on Friday.

Pre-election polling by the Caribbean Development Research Services Inc, or CADRES, had given a slight margin in favor of the opposition BLP. Despite holding onto power the ruling DLP saw its majority in parliament reduced from the previous 20 seats it held against 10 for the BLP.

At one point during the vote count it looked as if the elections would result in a 15-15 split of seats as the tallies in a few constituencies were close.

A hung parliament would have been unprecedented for Barbadians, who have enjoyed stable, majority-led governments since achieving independence from Britain in 1966.

Opposition BLP leader Owen Arthur conceded defeat early on Friday. "We would have wished that the results be otherwise. This has been a challenging, a very tough election, but the people have spoken, and we accept the will of the people," he said.

Both Stuart and Arthur comfortably won re-election to their seats, but the results indicated that the ruling party failed to convince the electorate that it has the answers to the island's economic struggles.

Stuart has had difficulty stabilizing a shaky economy that has suffered credit rating downgrades by Standard & Poors and Moody's Investors Service in the last seven months.

The BLP is considered conservative and pro-business, whereas the DLP is considered to be more mindful of working-class and middle-class needs.

Election day was marred by allegations that some candidates from both parties paid young people for their votes at polling stations.

"I deplore what I saw ... young men and women standing up, waiting for political opportunists to come along and to pay them for a vote that their forefathers had to fight so hard to get," said Stuart, adding he would look at ways to stiffen laws to penalize vote selling.

"In spite of the Democratic Labour Party's victory in this election ... we are a weaker country tonight because of the treasonous behavior of these political opportunists and these contenders for political office," he added. (Editing by David Adams and Vicki Allen)