EDITORIAL: Political perceptions

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It is clear that the United Progressive Party (UPP) has taken Prime Minister Gaston Browne at his word that the next election will come “like a thief in the night.”  It has assembled its full slate of candidates for the next general election and presented all 16 political hopefuls to the public in an event recently held at the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union headquarters.
Until now, some of the candidates were considered seat warmers or “caretakers” of the constituency seats, to use UPP terminology. Assigning custodians was an interesting tactic employed by the party as many thought that delaying the announcement of candidates weakened the party’s chances of winning since it provided less time for the candidates to bond with their constituents.
The party and its political leader Harold Lovell defended the strategy and stated that there was sound logic behind the evaluation process.  He dismissed any suggestion that the party would be caught flat-footed when the ‘thief’ came, and insisted that the party would actually be better prepared for the election battle ahead.  
We have listened quite attentively, but we will all wait and see how the candidates fare in the next general election, and whether the strategy pays off.  The UPP has a considerable task ahead.  The party was turned from power for a variety of reasons, but chief among them were frustration and disappointment.  The people trusted the UPP to deliver change, but many eventually equated what they got with ‘exchange.’  
In recent times, the UPP has apparently abandoned the “justice” and “judgement day” planks of its platform and decided that it would rebuild Antigua and Barbuda by “Restoring Pride and Prosperity.” Now, all we need is for the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) to choose a variation of a ‘justice for the people’ slogan and the exchange deja vu would be in full effect.
Aside from the strong cohesiveness that the ABLP demonstrates during an election, the UPP has to rebuild the trust of the people who were disappointed.  And trust is one of those things that is extremely difficult to recover once lost.  Not impossible but difficult, and it will take a lot of work! We’re talking about face-to-face campaigning and not through a microphone on a public stage.
The UPP believes that the PM and his party are facing the same disappointment that the electorate experienced under their rule.  Listen to them and their supporters and they are of the opinion that people are fed-up with the lack of progress in the country.  They pin their hopes on their perceptions of frustrations related to a sluggish economy and the poor delivery of projects and promises.  The problem with perceptions and politics is they are usually fueled by kool-aid and rosy-tinted glasses.
The UPP will do itself no favours if it relies solely on its in-house perceptions, as those will provide a false sense of security and strength.  If any party is to have a chance against the ABLP, that party will have to look beyond its core supporters and prepare for a hard-fought campaign on the issues that the people deem to be important.  
The reality is that each party has a blind base of supporters who vote a particular way, no matter what.  The people who change administrations are the swing voters who have no blind political allegiance and place their “X” beside the candidate and party that best represent their vision for the country.  Or, as many people cynically put it, “the lesser of the two evils.”  We use the word “two” as a historical reference but, as we all know, there are more than two political parties.
The point is, with the general election constitutionally due in about 18 months, will people be voting for vision and leadership or will they be just settling for the lesser of the evils?  We hope that it will be the former, and the eventual winner will captivate us all with a vision that gets support across political boundaries and drives the nation to prosperity for all.
We suspect that campaigning will begin, one way or another, in the new year – or at least, we hope.  That gives us the opportunity to enjoy the upcoming Christmas season and keep an eye out for Santa – after that, we can turn our attention to watching for ‘the thief in the night.’
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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