By Kadeem Joseph
The main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) has launched its campaign ahead of general elections, which are constitutionally due in 2023, and pundits are weighing in on whether the early start will ultimately be beneficial or injurious to the party.
Dr George Brathwaite, political commentator and Lecturer in the Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology at the University of the West Indies, Cavehill, is advising the party and its candidates to pace themselves to avoid potential burnout in the absence of an election date announcement.
He said that from here on, the UPP must be “strategic” in not only their messaging but in how they engage different communities.
“If they have launched now, they have to keep up some momentum with doing some activities… they can’t go too big too fast,” he warned. “… Otherwise, I am sure the prime minister, as strategic a thinker as he is, I am sure he will continue to tease and tease maybe into another 8, 12 months, 15 months before he calls an election because he has that advantage.”
While elections are constitutionally due in Antigua and Barbuda every five years, the prime minister can force premature elections by dissolving parliament early.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has been hinting at the prospect of an early election, as was the case in March of 2018.
Brathwaite believes that giving enough lead time for the society to get to know candidates is good but warned that the prime minister could use the uncertainty of an election date to press the UPP to “waste resources.”
Last week’s campaign launch saw the revelation of party plans, the second unveiling of its slate, the announcement of its campaign logo and slogan, and an upgraded website.
The party’s official launch took the form of a drive-in rally at the Potters playing field.
Meanwhile, political and socio-economic affairs commentator – Carlon Knight, speaking on the same programme, believes that the United Progressive Party’s launch is a declaration that the party will not be caught off-guard.
“I think that certainly what we are seeing is a United Progressive Party that is clear that it will not be caught with its pants down like the last time where they were scrambling to get people in place, scrambling to get an election campaign mobilised, scrambling to put all the pieces together because the prime minister called a snap election, for which it was clear in the eyes of the ordinary public that they were not ready,” he said.
Knight believes that this time around, the massaging from the party is one that seeks to portray it as being “serious,” “ready,” and with a campaign that is “fit for purpose,” which he believes is a “good thing.”.
The commentator also agreed with Dr Braithwaite on the question on the longevity of the party’s campaign, noting that it depends on the UPP’s strategy.
In underscoring that there is a difference between a campaign laugh and a full-fledged campaign, Knight explained that while he does not envision a major campaign effort until towards the end of the year, he believes the country will see more frequent engagement and meetings with the public to get the electorate more familiar with the UPP’s plans.
“I think what we are seeing very clearly is an opposition which says we will be ready for whenever an election is called. It will not catch is by surprise, and tell the prime minister to bring it whenever he wants to bring it,” he surmised.