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Posted: Thursday 12 March, 2009 at 9:23 AM

Antiguans head to the polls to elect their next government

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By: VonDez Phipps, SKNVibes

    ST. JOHN’S, Antigua – THOUSANDS of nationals and residents are turning out in their numbers today (Mar. 12) to exercise their legal franchise in voting for who they would consider to be the most ideal representatives to lead Antigua & Barbuda through the next four to five years. 

    Prime Minister Hon. Baldwin Spencer dissolved Parliament on February 9 and shortly after announced the highly anticipated general election date. Both the incumbent United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Lester Bird-led Antigua Labour Party (ALP) stepped up their political campaigns and Antigua was decorated with red and blue. Both parties held free concerts over this past weekend with ALP bringing in mega Dancehall and Reggae acts and UPP opting for a gospel concert.

    UPP, which has been the ruling party for one term, will contest the 17 constituency seats in hopes of remaining in power for a second term against former PM Bird, whose family had an unbroken period of almost thirty years at the political helm. 

    Representing the UPP, in support of Prime Minister Spencer are Eleston Adams, Hilson Baptiste, Elmore Charles, Lorenzo Codrington, Leon Errol Cort, Wilmoth Daniel, Colin Derrick, Chester Hughes, Lenworth Johnson, Bertrand Joseph, Harold Lovell, Hubert Maginley, Joanne Massiah and Jacqui Quinn-Leandro. 

    Steadroy Benjamin, Gaston Browne, Gail Christian, Charles Fernandez, Osbert Frederick, Paul Green, Dean Jonas, Daven Joseph, Molwyn Joseph, Eustace Lake, Ronald Maginley, Samantha Marshall, Asot Michael, Arthur Nibbs, Maureen Payne-Hyman and Robin Yearwood are the nominated representatives for the ALP.

    According to observers, the 2004 Elections were “well contested” as both parties were consistently paced in a neck-to-neck challenge. However, The UPP was able to capture 12 of the seventeen seats with its modest 21 892 votes, winning the favour of 55.25% of the populace. The ALP was therefore displaced from its rule winning only 41.75% of voters totalling 16 544 in support of its representatives. However, many residents have expressed that this year’s elections may not be as easy a win for either party.

    Similar to any other Election year, the preceding weeks were met with many challenges for both parties. There was a notable increase in violent crimes, including the murders of three tourists, followed by a series of seemingly politically-motivated offences.
    And, within days of PM Spencer’s Election announcement, the nation’s economy was plunged into chaos following the fall of one of its most prominent foreign investors Allen Stanford. However, Spencer declared that although Parliament had resumed specifically to redress the Stanford issue, his government remained resolute that the Election commence on the scheduled date. 
    There had also been much conflict with the Antiguan Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Free and Fair Election League as both groups described the transfer of voters affected by changes in the Boundaries Commission as “illegal”. Other concerns were aired in relation the composition of the Voters’ List and registration.

    Consequently, a Commonwealth contingent of Observers arrived in mid-February to ensure that free and fair elections were undertaken, making it the third Elections being observed by the Commonwealth. The team, led by Former Canadian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Hon. Christine Stewart, consisted of Chief Electoral Officer of the Elections and Boundaries Commission of Belize Ruth Arleen Meighan, and David Yhann Jr., former Project Director of the Elections Monitoring Project by the Electoral Assistance Bureau of Guyana.

    Last Thursday (Mar. 5), the government was able to secure another group of observers from the Organization of American States (OAS). Both groups are expected to assess the overall conduct of the Election process and make appropriate recommendations for the future, with the aim of enhancing the electoral process in Antigua and Barbuda. The teams are expected to depart at the end of their observation missions on March 16. 

    Police issued a caution to voters and offered guidance relating to proper code of conduct during the process as polls open between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The fate of Antigua and Barbuda’s democracy would be revealed after today’s General Elections and the winning party will assuredly have an enormous task setting about rebuilding the nation’s fragile economy.


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