Thursday, December 14, 2017

Crucial D-Day for Antigua

IF, as seems likely, the latest results of an established and independent public opinion poll prove correct, then the official host for next month’s annual Caribbean Community Heads of Government Conference in Antigua and Barbuda will not be Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer—leader of the ruling United Progressive Party (UPP).

Rather, based on projections for tomorrow’s general elections by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), that honour is being reserved for first-time leader of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), Gaston Brown.

Mr Brown’s name is not yet well known among Caricom citizens beyond the sub-region of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). But stay tuned.

Of the 17 parliamentary seats at stake, CADRES’ political scientist Peter Wickham predicts a minimum of ten constituencies for the ALP. Except for the single seat for tiny sister-isle of Barbuda, all the constituencies are spread across Antigua.

However, despite the CADRES assessment and the robust ALP campaign meetings and their motorcades choking the streets with supporters, according to various reports out of St John’s, Prime Minister Spencer was maintaining his feisty mood with the prediction of an “overwhelming voters’ response” for a consecutive third five-year term for his ULP.

The Caricom Secretariat in Georgetown has organised a nine-member team of observers to monitor the conduct of the elections.

There will also be observer missions from the Commonwealth, the Organisation of American States and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.

The hope is that this time around there would be no repeat of bitter claims of gerrymandering of constituency boundaries, manipulation of ballot-counting and other improprieties that had characterised the 2012 elections which also marked the last political hurrah for the ALP’s Lester Bird.

Traditionally regarded as the Birds’ family party, founded and nurtured by the late veteran trade unionist and politician Vere Bird, the ALP was first defeated by Spencer’s UPP with a landslide victory in 2004 amid spreading disaffection over alleged political cronyism, financial corruption and economic mismanagement.

Ironically, some of these allegations had also surfaced by the early years of the UPP’s second term.

More recently, Prime Minister Spencer has been pushed to defend his administration against allegations of financial malpractices in the operations of the still-fledgling “citizenship for investment” programme by which foreigners acquire Antigua and Barbuda citizenship without having to reside in the country and with which they secure access to countries of choice.

For now, we await the official results of tomorrow’s general elections to know who will be sworn in as Prime Minister to host next month’s Caricom summit.

We also need to await the assessments from the visiting missions observing the elections to ascertain whether or not electoral fraud was again a sad feature in order to determine the legitimacy of either Spencer’s UPP, or first-timer Brown-led ALP to govern Antigua and Barbuda.

Rickey Singh is a noted Guyana-born, Barbados-based Caribbean journalist