By RON FANFAIR
Antiguans and Barbudans have given the United Progressive Party (UPP) and its leader, Baldwin Spencer, another five-year mandate to govern the twin-island nation.
The party secured nine seats, which is three less than it captured in the 2004 elections while its main rival, the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), increased its seat total from four to seven in the 17-seat legislature. Trevor Walker, whose Barbuda People’s Movement is closely aligned with the ALP, retained his seat on the island that forms part of the state of Antigua & Barbuda.
The elections were held in the wake of Allen Stanford’s alleged US$8 billion fraud scheme. Stanford, who was conferred with Antiguan citizenship 10 years ago, is the brash Texan billionaire who owns several high profile business interests on the island, including the largest commercial and offshore banks and the island’s biggest newspaper. He also established an impressive complex at the V.C. Bird International airport that includes a floodlit cricket ground, posh office facilities and the Sticky Wicket restaurant.
Antiguans and Barbudans have been skeptical about Stanford’s lavish spending – he has also doled out millions on Twenty/20 cricket tournaments in the past three years – and the support he received from the ALP when they were in power which held the opinion that Stanford was “good for business”.
Antiguan-born, Toronto-based community activist, Dari Meade, told Share that Stanford’s legal problems did not impact the results of the just concluded elections.
“Stanford has fed a lot of people here and helped in the development of the country,” Meade said from Antigua where he’s on business. “Both parties played political football with Stanford leading up to the elections, but that did not work in their favour because the expected rupture that the Stanford demise was expected to cause did not happen. People are still able to go to his financial institutions and transact their business. People returned to the core issues of the two parties and that’s what they used to determine which party they should vote for.”
Though the ALP failed to regain power, its former leader, Lester Bird, avenged the loss he suffered to Finance and Economy Minister Errol Cort in the last elections in St. John’s Rural East, winning by 96 votes. Cort served as attorney general from 1999-2001 in the Bird government before crossing the floor and is one of three UPP cabinet ministers to suffer defeat in their constituencies. The others were Education Minister Bertrand Joseph in St. John’s Rural South and Justice Minister Colin Derrick in St. John’s City West.
“Cort was the UPP’s rising star and he was developing national stature,” said Meade. “In fact, he was beginning to be perceived as the heir apparent to Spencer. Had he won his seat, it was strongly felt that he could have ascended to become the party’s leader in the next five years.
“He’s a very bright, ambitious and gifted politician. However, there is the belief – rightly or wrongly – that he’s super rich. There is a level of discomfort among some in his constituency with that perception even though he’s well loved there. He has skills and talent and he will be back. He’s not the kind of person who will just fold up his tent and walk away. I think he will get a portfolio in the new cabinet.”
Though he will once again be able to play an active part in Antigua & Barbuda’s politics as opposition leader with a seat in parliament, Bird has acknowledged that, at age 71, this is his last elections.
Bird chaired the ALP for 22 years before serving as prime minister for a decade up until 2004.
“He won his seat which means that he’s leaving on a high note,” Meade said. “However, Lester’s brand is damaged and it’s interesting to see who will emerge to represent the new face of the Labour Party.”
Once again, Independents and the Organization for National Development Party, which each presented four candidates, failed to win a seat.
“If you don’t belong to the UPP or the ALP, you have absolutely no chance no matter how correct your position and your goals may be,” said Meade, who is a co-founder of the Black Action Defence Committee in Toronto. “There is a two-party culture in Antigua & Barbuda and aspiring politicians have to find a way to participate in either party while staying outside of the party culture of name-calling and other cantankerous things. The independent voices were decimated again and this will continue to be the case.”
The ALP, meanwhile, has announced it’s filing legal challenges this week to the declared results in three constituencies that produced close results.
They are St. John’s Rural South where Spencer defeated Gail Christian by 506 votes, St. John’s City East where Tourism & Civil Aviation Minister Harold Lovell retained his seat by 181 votes and in Barbuda where Walker edged out ALP candidate, Arthur Nibbs, by one vote.