Is St Peter a battleground constituency or straight forward contest?

(From left) Running for St Peter will be DNA candidate Chaneil Imhoff, ABLP candidate Rawdon Turner, independent candidate and incumbent MP Asot Michael, and UPP candidate Trevaughn Harriette
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By Robert A. Emmanuel

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Four political candidates and one constituency – St Peter – have become the focus of many, ahead of the general election on January 18.

A constituency that has been held by the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) since 1971 has now taken front stage due to the ongoing feud between former ABLP member and independent incumbent MP Asot Michael and his former ABLP political colleagues.

Michael, who has held the seat for almost 19 years, is looking to rely on his personality and connections in the area to defeat his Labour Party replacement, Rawdon Turner.

Speaking to Observer at his party’s political rally on Monday, Turner said he was convinced that the St Peter constituency will elect him as their representative.

“I believe my campaign is leading by far; the response from the people have been very supportive and I am confident that the tradition of St Peter being in the win column of the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party will continue,” Turner said.

Michael was removed from the Labour Party following allegations of corruption and blackmail against him in 2017.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne and his party removed Michael as a member of the party as the strained relationship between the two men became public with accusations and lawsuits rife in the last few years.

On December 19, Prime Minister Browne again sought to distance his party from Michael whom prior to 2017 was a high-ranking ABLP member.

“St Peter is finally getting a representative that they deserve in Rawdon Turner, to replace the rotten element Asot Michael, who… is ungovernable, has propensity to abuse power and has no place in the contemporary governance of our country,” Prime Minister Browne posted on social media.

Michael later sought to run as an independent following a decision by the ABLP to remove him as their candidate.

“[Prime Minister Browne] wants to kill me politically and determine my political fate and determine whether I can represent my good people of St Peter,” Michael told Observer last week.

“All he is touting is that Asot Michael is corrupt, but he did not know that Asot Michael was corrupt when he sat at [my] table and had [me] financing the Labour Party.

“I am committed to continuing my service to the people of St Peter—that is my message—and to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.”

Meanwhile, candidates for the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Chaneil Imhoff and United Progressive Party (UPP) Trevaughn ‘Peter Redz’ Harriette are hoping to take advantage of any split between the two candidates as they seek to become the first non-Labour candidates to win the constituency.

“We have a situation where, with a voter population of about 4,000 and four candidates who need roughly 1,000 votes to win, people are now being given options and can make a more informed decision,” said Imhoff in an interview with Observer.

She added, “I have experience not only in politics, but in areas that will help to empower the people of St Peter…I believe that we can elevate ourselves from the ‘check your minister’ culture that has kept us back for so long.”

Harriette shared similar sentiments. “I see St Peter this time around being very interesting; I think in a three-horse race this is the best chance we can get to take the St Peter seat,” he said.

“No matter which side you support [Asot Michael or ABLP] there will be a split between the two, and that is in our favour.”

Earlier this month, videos of Asot Michael and Rawdon Turner both bringing truckloads of gifts and toys to constituents were circulated on social media.

Harriette and Imhoff were asked how they intended to compete with the two financial juggernauts.

“The situation between the ABLP and Asot is interesting to watch unfold. Over the years, he has been a major financier but has always been the centre of a lot of contention,” said Imhoff, adding that Michael’s relationship with the UPP was interesting to note.

On the other hand, Harriette spoke about the need for constituents to “look on the condition of the constituency which has been Labour since inception”.

He added, “Although there is a lot of activity between the Labour Party and the current MP…as long as we make connections, show the people exactly how it is and they have a viable option in myself, I think that the people of today are prepared to vote against the Labour Party.”

However, Turner said that despite the finances being spent in the constituency during this election cycle, it will have little effect on election day.

“I don’t think money is going to be a factor in St Peter; I think people are genuinely yearning for proper representation.

“I have already started a number of projects within the constituency to show people that I have the capacity to deliver compared to someone who has connections and money over the years.

“[Asot Michael] has done nothing for the constituency and that is where my campaign differs from his,” Turner said.

Candidates from all three political parties also spoke about their priority for the development of St Peter.

“We need to focus on developing the constituency into a proper economic hub; parish councils will be set up immediately and the development of the harbour, community centres and business sector will be high on the agenda,” declared Imhoff.

Harriette, on the other hand, focused on how to improve the quality of healthcare services offered within the constituency.

“I think that in St Peter, we lack serious healthcare…[we] only have one functioning clinic and that is in Parham and on any given Tuesday, the clinic line can run from the clinic to the end of the basketball court.

“If we could make the clinic in Pares operating again, it would not only ease the strain on the clinic in Parham, but stop the elderly from having to travel far,” Harriette explained.

Turner spoke about infrastructure in St Peter being his “number one priority” stating “road works, curbs and drains are the first thing to tackle”.

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