Editorial: No burning desire for change

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Since the 2018 general election results became known, we have heard all kinds of theories as to why the Antigua Barbuda Party (ABLP) won and why the United Progressive Party (UPP) lost. As you would imagine, the reasons break down along party lines and the more rabid the supporter the more extreme the reason.
Be that as it may, we figured that we would give you our take on the campaign and the election.  Remember, we may be professional observers but we are amateur political analysis. Our opinion is driven largely by a review of history and the fact that the signs were there if you are willing to look at the election with an objective eye.
From our perspective, the election came down to a few simple factors that combine to drive any election. Ultimately, those factors determine whether there will be change or not. And, if you did not pick up on the important word of any election, we have just said it … change.
Put bluntly, the public decided that there was no burning desire for change. The reason for this is a combination of a number of factors but most relevant is the fact that the ABLP told a more convincing story than the UPP. They were able to persuade the public that, at this point in time, the country was ‘safer with labour’. On the other hand, the UPP was not able to mount a convincing argument that it was not.  
Notice that we referred to the public and not the voters and there is a good reason for this. Elections are won and lost by the swing voters and the overall feelings of the public. It is also won and lost on people’s desire for change. When people do not care whether the government changes or not, turnout is low. It could be that they are satisfied with the performance of the government or they simply do not care who runs the country. The former is obvious, the latter, not so much. It could be that the public has become disillusioned and sees that no matter what they do, they get exchange rather than true change.  That is just one reason but it is not a good situation for any democracy and although we cannot say with any certainty, we do not believe that is the case in our bit of paradise.
If we look at the numbers for 2018 and compare them to previous (recent) elections, you will better see what we are talking about. In 2004, there was desire for change. In that year, voter turnout was 91.19 percent. It demonstrated that swing voters were energised and it was not just the parties’ base supporters voting. The results were dramatic, with the UPP winning 12 seats and the ABLP (then ALP) winning just 4. Fast forward to 2009, and apathy set in, as we described above. People were not satisfied with the UPP’s performance but there was no burning desire to change.  
In 2009, there was a significant drop in voter turnout. Only 80.27 percent of eligible voters exercised their franchise. The ABLP was able to energise its base and eventually clawed back three seats to make the split in parliament nine to seven with the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) holding the Barbuda seat.  Jump ahead to 2014, and the desire for change returned. Voter turnout again rose to over 90 percent and change was delivered. The UPP was relegated to just three seats and the BPM, none.
This brings us to 2018.  The voter turnout was below 80 percent this time, indicating that there were no ‘winds of change’ to fill the UPP’s sails with ‘hope’. It came down to the political bases of each party voting and the ABLP won. On average, the ABLP gained just over two percentage points in the votes cast.  In every constituency, with the exception of two, the ABLP held or gained in the percentage of votes cast.  The two that slipped were Barbuda and St. Mary’s South. Barbuda was an obvious one and in fairness to Samantha Marshall the slip was only 1.4 percent. 
The lessons of 2018 have already been taught in previous years and in previous elections in Antigua and Barbuda. In fact, the fundamentals are true for all elections. If there is a desire for change, people come out to vote. If people do not care for change then there is no fever in the campaign and on election day, fewer voters turn out to cast their “X” – the parties must rely on energising their bases. There is no need to complicate everything with theories of vote buying, etc., because the numbers speak for themselves. We are not saying that irregularities did not happen, but we have no proof of that, so we cannot say that they did. 
Antigua and Barbuda is extremely lucky that we experience such high levels of voter turnout. For 75 or 80 percent of voters to turn out during a year where there is no desire for change shows that our participatory democracy is strong and regardless of which team you back, you, as a voter, should be proud of that fact.  

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