Michael creates history as first sitting of Parliament convenes

History was made during yesterday’s swearing-in of the House of Representatives. Not only is there now an independent MP for the first time in Antigua’s history, the margin between the ruling party and opposition members has never been narrower. Among those representing the UPP are (from left) Richard Lewis, Algernon Watts, Jamale Pringle and Kelvin Simon. (Photo by Johnny Jno-Baptiste)
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By Carlena Knight

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For the first time in Antigua’s history, an independent candidate has been sworn in as a Member of Parliament.

Asot Michael took his oath on Friday morning in front of a packed crowd of supporters and other well-wishers.

It’s been a rocky road for Michael who was essentially given the boot from the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) despite his many claims that he is still legally a member.

Then there were the public disputes with his former friend, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who over the months leading up to the January 18 general election left the long-serving ABLP member off of his slate, replacing him with newcomer Rawdon Turner.

There have been several legal battles where this is concerned, but Michael, despite the negative press, managed to regain his seat in St Peter winning by a monumental margin, becoming the first independent candidate in Antigua to win a seat.

The win, he said, belongs to not just himself, but the people of St Peter.

“This victory is not for Asot Michael, this victory in creating history today belongs to the people of St Peter.

“It is the people of St Peter who resoundingly and overwhelmingly voted for me as their independent candidate, and all the odds were against them to send me into this House of Representatives for a fifth consecutive term.

“I feel great joy, great pride, and I will live up to their expectations and my responsibilities as an independent candidate in Antigua and Barbuda,” Michael said.

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Michael, while making his oath of allegiance, was cheered on by family, friends and supporters (Photos by Observer’s Samantha Simon)

It was a gratifying moment for the United Progressive Party’s (UPP) Kelvin ‘Shugy’ Simon as well, whose candidacy remains the subject of legal debate.

Although the matter is still wrapped up in the courts, Simon was sworn in yesterday after a High Court judge ruled in his favour earlier this week on an injunction seeking to prevent him from taking the oath.

With Simon being allowed to be sworn in at the first sitting of Parliament, the court now has to decide whether his nomination contravened the constitution and Civil Service Act which prohibits civil servants from being elected to office. Simon quit his Ministry of Education post a week after being officially nominated but a fortnight before the election.

Despite it all, Simon who is a first-time member of the Lower House, was filled with emotions as he took his oath of allegiance in front of his family, friends and supporters who cheered on the Bolans resident.

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Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Jamale Pringle (left) and St George MP Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts were also sworn in yesterday

“It’s a momentous occasion. I feel really proud. It was a lot of hard work indeed to get here, and as they say hard work pays off, so it is a proud moment for myself, my family, my friends, my supporters.

“It’s a learning curve for me, as we know, I am new so I am opening my mind and putting my best foot forward to learn as much as I can so I can have a strong debate and, of course, the people in St Mary’s South elected me to be here, I’ll be their champion, I’ll be their warrior.

“I will be fighting for them every step of the way in Parliament,” Simon vowed.

Meanwhile, there was thunderous applause for media personality Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts as he too was sworn in on Friday, joining Simon, Richard Lewis and All Saints West’s Anthony Smith as the newcomers for the opposition in Parliament.

“I was nervous, believe it or not, this was a monumental occasion. I am thankful for all the people who came out on the 18th of January and voted for me and gave me the opportunity to be here to represent them fully, fearlessly, but honourably.

“I am still me, you know, I don’t plan on changing me. I will do my work in here admirably and honourably as I said earlier for the people who put me here, but I will be doing it as me,” Watts said.

Watts, who is also the Managing Director of Observer Newsco,secured the highest votes of any of the 50-plus candidates in the election, amassing 2,146 votes compared to the ABLP’s incumbent Dean Jonas who got 2,005, and the DNA’s Benjamin Quinland who received 54.

Returning to the Parliament was Jamale Pringle who retained his position as the Leader of the Opposition, along with Barbuda MP, Trevor Walker.

On the government’s side, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Attorney General Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin, Melford Nicholas, Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, Sir Molwyn Joseph, Maria Bird-Browne and Robin Yearwood were sworn in, the latter as the Deputy Speaker of the House.

The government now has nine seats in the Lower House and the Opposition eight – the narrowest margin the House of Representatives has ever seen.

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