EDITORIAL: To the victor goes the election advantage

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The launch of the ‘thief in the night elections’ was a grand affair.  It was a free concert thrown by the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) to announce the general election date, and all were invited.  International acts, like Wyclef Jean, Destra and Spice headlined the show along with locals like Menace, Drastic and Ricardo Dru.  Claudette ‘CP’ Peters was also on the billing but she would have had to make an early appearance because, across town on the same night, was the Super50 Cricket Festival After Party featuring Tian Winter and CP at the Coolidge Cricket Grounds.
There were more than a few grumbling that, once again, foreign acts had been brought in to beef up the crowd and sway opinions.  This time though, they were particularly upset that the event clashed with the cricket and the after-party.  That said, the matter of foreign artists playing for and endorsing local candidates is pretty much played out as a controversial topic for most in our bit of paradise.  And, one party cannot point fingers at the other because they all do it.  ‘Who can throw the better concert’ has been an election contest for a number of years and there is no sign that the practice will stop any time soon.
The fact that the election would be called early has captivated the nation.  Some say it is because the ABLP is losing ground and afraid of going the distance, what with so little to show for their stewardship.  Then there is the flip side with Labour supporters and the party itself saying that it is just smart politics to take advantage of timing and also, they are trying to “protect” new projects that are in the pipeline (over $1 billion, apparently).  
This election will be called more than a year early, and although Prime Minister Gaston Browne had hinted at possible timing, no one knew the date until it was announced at the big event.  (In case you missed it, the date for the ‘thief in the night elections’ is Wednesday 21st March, 2018.)  Flanked by his comrades all dressed in bright red jackets, and smiling broadly, the PM laid out the schedule.   He said that the writ of elections would go out on 27th February, and then he added the boast, “I am giving them (the opposition) 21 days to give them 17-none!”
That lit up social media.  Already there has been a lot of talk about the natural advantage given to the incumbent administration in being able to call the date of elections. More and more, people have been questioning why Antigua and Barbuda does not change the way elections are timed and introduce fixed-date elections. They
believe that all parties should have the same notice of an incoming election and there should be no advantage given to anyone.  The talk began in earnest after the PM gave
his first hint of an early election, but it reached fever pitch when news made the rounds recently that the ABLP was at the port clearing flat racks of lumber and plywood along with election paraphernalia.
When the massive customised “Big Red” election trailer showed up at the port, the talk went into overdrive with persons using it as a prime example of an unfair advantage.  Generally the argument is that, even if the opposition parties wanted a big rig, then they would not have the time to design, order and have it delivered.  Certainly not in 21 days.  The “Big Red” trailer instantly became the “Big Rob” trailer and with the ‘thief in the night’ description of the election, the label might stick.
The reality is that we have had this system for all of our elections.  We inherited it along with our parliamentary system of government and each incumbent has held the advantage of calling the date of elections.  It is just that some use the advantage and others let it slip through their fingers.  Should we change how we set elections, so as to give everyone a fair and equal chance at preparations?  Probably. (We say yes!)  But that is not going to change this election, so for all of those whining about the unfair advantage, please note that nothing will change unless the push for change comes from the people.  Once a party is in power, it becomes hard to give up that advantage, so they dance around the topic until it falls into the background of consciousness – only to become a topic again during the next election.
There are a lot of advantages that come with fixed-date elections and chief among them are cost and planning.  It is very difficult for the Electoral Commission to be in a constant state of readiness.  Being able to throw an election in 21 days is not a task you begin planning on day t-minus 22 (the day before).  Knowing when an election is scheduled allows the Commission to properly plan, and those in charge can acquire the resources they need to best service the voters and the democratic process on election day.
This is not a political thing, it is a democracy thing.  If the ABLP loses on March 21st, we are pretty sure that they would prefer to know when the next election was due so that they could properly plan.  Maintaining a ‘when I feel like’ system for setting the dates for elections seems antiquated and it is certainly not fair for those who constantly wonder ‘when do you think he/she will feel like?’ So, after this one, can we have a serious conversation on this topic, please?
 We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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