By Orville Williams
Future general elections in Antigua and Barbuda could look a bit different, if they follow the trends being set across the region, most recently, in St Lucia.
In that country’s election on Monday, two independent candidates – former Prime Minister Stephenson King and former government minister, Richard Frederick – secured their contested seats, as the opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) defeated the incumbent United Workers Party (UWP).
That was a clear deviation from the norm, as earlier in the 2016 general election, all the available seats were claimed by the two major parties, with independents receiving very little votes in comparison.
Political Analyst, Peter Wickham, applauded Monday’s developments as a win for democracy and noted the move away from political tribalism and disregard for independent candidacy.
“I think that certainly, the contemporary logic regarding independents is that it’s a waste of time. Clearly, that logic has now been reversed and we’re seeing that there are opportunities for independents under certain special circumstances. I think that that is useful,” Wickham said.
The renowned pollster was speaking on Observer AM yesterday as he pointed to the prospects of the next general election in Antigua and Barbuda which, as mentioned earlier, could look different from previous elections.
In 2018, the two main political parties secured the majority of the votes, with the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) winning 15 of the 17 available seats, and the other two going to the United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM).
In that election, independent candidates could only muster a handful of votes.
Wickham said that, considering the emerging theme across the Caribbean and the circumstances surrounding one political hopeful in particular, Antigua and Barbuda should pay keen attention.
“Coming out of [the St Lucia election]…I think there are some important lessons that Antigua [and Barbuda] has to take on board, and one is, ‘what role do independents play in that environment?’
“Especially as you are also looking at Asot Michael’s situation and wondering whether he may very well either run as an independent, force an accommodation or alternatively, run on the UPP ticket. What impact would that have?”
Michael is currently the Parliamentary representative for the St Peter constituency, having secured that seat in the 2018 elections on the ABLP ticket. However, his future with the party remains precarious, due to a soured relationship with party leader, Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
Despite facing numerous scandals during his time in politics, the St Peter MP maintains that that time has not yet come to an end and has even threatened to run as an independent candidate in the next general election, if he is forced out of the ABLP.
The consensus among many political observers is that that threat should not be taken lightly, given the political experience and the financial clout that Michael wields.
Whatever happens when the next election in Antigua and Barbuda comes around though, it is highly unlikely that there will be a situation similar to the Cayman Islands, where independents secured a whopping 12 of the 19 available seats in the 2021 general election, ahead of the incumbent People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) with seven.
The next election in the twin-island state is constitutionally due in 2023, but PM Browne has publicly flirted with the idea of calling it earlier, even signalling the Electoral Commission to ready itself in the event he does decide to bring the date forward.
Wickham says, however, that would not necessarily be a smart decision, considering the sustained fallout from the pandemic could affect the security of votes, especially for the incumbent.
He referenced the ‘healthier’ political state that former St Lucia PM, Allen Chastanet and his UWP were in last year, before winning a mere two seats in Monday’s election.
“It’s highly unwise to call an election now, unless one absolutely has to. I would think that with an election in Antigua due in 2023, it would be in the interest of the incumbent to push that election as far away from this point as possible, when [they] can demonstrate real recovery.”
Last year, the PM hinted that the general elections could be held “as early as November next year”, as part of reaction to the UPP naming its first four candidates for the next election.
He also predicted that his party would improve on the 15 seats it won in the 2018 election, saying it would sweep all the seats the next time around.