By Elesha George
The United Progressive Party (UPP) has taken a head start over the ruling administration by commencing campaign activities, as rumours loom of the possibility of another snap general election.
On Thursday night, an estimated 300 people came out to witness the opposition’s official campaign launch at the Potters playing field, one day after the UPP unveiled a new logo, new tagline, and a new website.
Horns blared and upbeat music heralded candidates whose focus centred on familiar issues like inconsistent water supply, high cost of living, failing road infrastructure, lack of employment opportunities and the neglect of pensioners.
The candidate for St Mary’s North, Johnathan Joseph, kickstarted the campaign launch which saw representatives from 16 of the 17 electoral districts in Antigua and Barbuda.
Joseph, who will go up against the current Health and Environment Minister, Sir Molwyn Joseph, highlighted what he considered the neglect of the minister’s constituency, telling the crowd that “after nearly 40 years in office his heart has been turned to stone”.
He told those listening of his plans to improve sporting activities and computer/internet access for children, introduce “long-life learning” for adults and children, as well as improve care services for the elderly.
“The team that will redeem Antigua and Barbuda; the team that will bring about change” seemed to be the unison call for others who followed.
St Mary’s South representative, Corthwright Marshall, who called himself the “change agent” for the constituency, pledged to introduce a “round south initiative for sustainable empowerment rise” that will provide a foundation to allow his constituency to flourish with special focus on job creation around the revitalisation of the agriculture sector, the green economy, fisheries and animal husbandry sectors.
Seamlessly fitting in with his colleagues, St John’s Rural East representative, Sean Bird, came out in grand style singing “There’s a blue bird in the ring”, inciting excitement amongst the crowd and perhaps irritation amongst his family, whose lineage has supported the Labour Party since the country became independent.
He touted the message of “people first”, attempting to convince the crowd that it is a priority of the rebranded opposition team.
The youngest among them, St Peters representative, Tevaughn Harriette, promised to transform the Parham Fisheries, to continue to advocate for young entrepreneurs, and to ensure that sports development is a priority.
Among other pressing concerns, two of the three female representatives – Rural North candidate Pearl Quinn-Williams, and Rural South candidate Gladys Potter – highlighted what they believed to be the unsuitability of the prime minister and the distastefulness of his personal enrichment while in office.
St Paul’s candidate Cleon Athill meanwhile addressed the high cost of living, inconsistent water supply, lack of employment, and establishing rent to own initiatives.
Alister Thomas, the man who will run against Prime Minister Gaston Browne in City West, lamented the loss of various grassroots businesses in his constituency. He too highlighted the apparent decision of the prime minister to further enhance his family situation while he said so many people in the community have had to close their businesses.
Well-known political runner Algernon “Serpent” Watts left the crowd in an uproar with his inspiring speech that ended in a powerful call.
He insisted that, “the single best choice you have to make is to give your vote to the United Progressive Party on election day”.
It was a message that many speakers before him shared. The joint voices called on residents to make the “right choice” and to vote for the UPP.
Opposition Leader and candidate for the All Saints East and Saint Luke constituency, Jamale Pringle, who dubbed himself the “black panther of the south”, spoke of his achievements in his constituency and beseeched his constituents to allow him to retain his seat so that he may continue his work as part of the next government.
Meanwhile, St Phillip’s South representative Sherfield Bowen was absent from the event as he has been exposed to Covid, the host announced, while All Saints West representative Anthony Smith had to fly out of the country for work. He however addressed the crowd virtually.
UPP Political Leader and candidate for St John’s City East, Harold Lovell, ended the launch and said other events will detail the party’s plans to improve the country’s prospects.
He also promised to pay government workers who went unpaid for two months when the mandatory vaccination policy was in effect, to pay and prioritise severance and entitlements to displaced LIAT workers and to employ those currently unemployed to create new pathways in aviation where their skills can be utilised.
In addition, he promised to re-engage the heads of the Caribbean to seriously discuss regional air transportation and to tackle the rising cost of living.
Special guest speakers included the first-ever female minister to be elected in Antigua and Barbuda Jacqui Quinn, former prime minister Baldwin Spencer and former UPP minister Hilson Baptiste.
Spencer placed his full support behind Lovell.
The event ended in fireworks and fanfare.