Editorial: The Opposition

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Ten votes! That is what separated the United Progressive Party (UPP) from securing a seat in the 2018 election and from it suffering a political whitewash. And those 10 seats came in the last box in the contest for the All Saints East and St. Luke constituency between newcomer Jamale Pringle and the Antigua and Barbuda candidate Colin James.
And we must keep in mind that this was considered a “safe” seat for the UPP! To understand the gravity of the situation, we need to go all the way back to 1984 when then Antigua Labour Party secured 16 seats, and Eric Burton secured the Barbuda seat as an independent.
We can only conclude that there will be fallout. There must be fallout!
Where does the UPP go from here? The party’s leader, Harold Lovell, was unable to secure his seat in St. John’s City East against his Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) competitor Melford Nicholas, and one of the party’s most senior members, Wilmoth Daniel, was decimated by Gaston Browne, securing just 565 votes to Browne’s 1457. His predecessor, Colin Derrick, who was criticized by the party for not being able to deal with Browne, did better than that in 2014, a year of change, when he secured 732 votes. As we continue to connect the dots, the “safe” seat that Daniel vacated was safe no more. The UPP handed St. Phillips South to Chester Hughes with every expectation that he would ‘bring it home’ and he lost it to Lennox Weston. Even Baldwin Spencer’s old seat in St. John’s Rural West, which has been under the party’s control since 1994, fell to the ABLP candidate Londel Benjamin.
There is no doubt that the ABLP had a distinct advantage being able to call the election date and get better prepared but at the same time, there was also a total mis-read of the electorate by the UPP. With few exceptions there was a complete swing toward the ABLP in percentage of votes cast. In fact, the only person who lost ground was St. Mary’s South’s Samantha Marshall, and it was not much.
It is time for a reckoning and introspection. We would say quiet introspection but we suspect that there will be, and probably should be, a fair bit of cussing and fighting. No one wants to man-up and take blame for what just happened. The knee jerk reaction so far by senior members of the UPP and some of its rabid supporters is to say that it is our fault. Yes! You read that right. Instead of seeking answers to the serious problems that afflict the party, they have decided to place the blame for this political drubbing on OBSERVER’s shoulders. Apparently, we did not “support” the UPP and “cozied-up” to the ABLP. If finger pointing is the strategy adopted to solve the problems, then we predict that the party is going see those final 10 votes disappear in the next election.
Every strong democracy requires a strong opposition. There must always be a balance. While political parties love a weak opposition or none at all, their tenure in office is legitimized via a strong opposition. No one should revel in the fact that those in power have absolute power; we all know where that leads. It is essential that out of these political ashes an opposition phoenix must rise.  
The UPP may want to look at some political history to see how to rebuild from the ground-up. And they do not need to look too far. In 2004, their political nemesis, the ABLP, entered the election with 12 seats. After the votes were counted, the party was reduced to just four seats, and they spent the next 10 years rebuilding. Although they were wounded, they formed a formidable force as the opposition and demonstrated to the people that they had the ability to make a comeback. In 2009, they took advantage of a disillusioned public and they clawed back three seats to sit in opposition with a total of seven. Three years later, they changed leadership of the party. Out with the old and in with the new face of Labour, Gaston Browne. They even changed their name and, as they say, the rest is history.
As they lick their wounds, the UPP will probably see this as though we are kicking them when they are down, but nothing could be further from the truth. The party needs to first establish a plan to provide the most effective opposition front that they can in collaboration with Trevor Walker of the Barbuda People’s Movement. Secondly, and if at all possible, simultaneously, they need to look inward and chart a new course. They need to determine who their best people are and build a foundation around them. Do not be anchored in the past and in tradition because if there is one thing that they should have learned in this past general election it is that “traditions” and “safe seats” don’t win elections.
Democracies require a strong opposition and, in times like this, it requires those with strong majorities to show restraint. Everyone needs to remain cognizant that even though the swing favoured the ABLP this time around, more than 40 percent of the voters cast their votes against the incumbent. With a voter turnout of just 76.5 percent versus the 90 percent of 2014, you can see how the numbers can start to swing quickly in another direction. But we will look at those numbers at another time.
For right now, the nation needs a strong opposition to rise. What form that takes is yet to be seen but we cannot stress enough the urgency of the situation. To lighten things up a bit, we will end with a sports analogy. Every great athlete requires another great athlete to push him or her to success. Few world records are broken if there is no rivalry. It is the same in politics. Politicians are best when challenged, and Antigua and Barbuda needs the best.

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