Some political analysts say it may be time for a fresher, younger political leadership of the United Progressive Party (UPP), considering that the party has been in opposition for the last two election cycles, while suffering a near clean sweep on the last occasion.
Yesterday, on OBSERVER’s Big Issues, Professor of African and Caribbean Studies at Arizona State University, Dr. David Hinds reasoned that that’s because Prime Minister Gaston Browne has transformed the Antiguan and Barbudan political landscape from the politics of ideology to the politics of personality.
“I think what Gaston Browne has done is he has rebranded the Antigua Labour Party. I don’t think that the old Antigua Labour Party has persevered; what we have is a new Antigua Labour Party around the personality of Gaston Browne,” he explained, adding that the age of ideological politics has ended in the Caribbean.
“With the exit of the age of ideology, there is also the exit of the political party as the binding phenomena around which people organise. I think it is more the individual and the individual’s representation of the brand,” he said.
He added that if it seriously hopes to contest the next general election, the UPP must find a political leader who can connect with the younger generation, who are not wedded to a political party,.
“If the UPP is to catch up with the ABLP, I think it has to try to find that charismatic leader who is going to be able to reach out to the newer and younger generation who are not wedded to political party or ideology, but who are more wedded to the form of politics rather than substantive politics,” he said.
Political analyst, Peter Wickham argued that in Antigua and Barbuda, there seemed little to no ideological difference between political parties, and thus election contests tend to boil down to who can present themselves as a better candidate.
“It appears to me that the UPP has taken a position that they have no problem with the income tax, while the ABLP has entrenched itself in opposing income tax—that is the limit of philosophical difference between the two.
“In that environment, what you have to do is to build your personality over time… The UPP has to decide if it wants to get itself back into office in under three terms; how quickly it can mobilise forces, build its tent, get Joanne Massiah back on board, look at questions of new and exciting leadership. Anything other than that, it could look like 15 years in the wilderness,” he said.
Meanwhile, legal commentator and master’s student in Public Policy, Carlon Knight believes that it was a significant mistake by the UPP to re-elect Harold Lovell as its political leader during its recent party convention.
“Harold Lovell, with all due respect, has been a great public servant to Antigua and Barbuda but his political shelf life has come to an end and the United Progressive Party has to look to the future and get away from Harold Lovell and the so-called intelligentsias of the party,” Knight said.
However, the Caribbean region has never been unaccustomed to one-party domination in the political arena, with Grenada’s New National Party, on three occasions, receiving a clean sweep elected to the Parliament.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Unity Labour Party under their current Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has been holding political power since 2001; previously James Mitchell of the New Democratic Party held political power from 1984 to 2001.
Knight argued that if the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party wins another term in office, that could spell the end of Harold Lovell.
“If this is going to be three-term wilderness, the United Progressive Party is going to have to choose another leader at the end of this next election, which is why I think Massiah missed an opportunity by leaving because this should have been her time to come out as leader of the United Progressive Party.
“If she comes back, the United Progressive Party must look at persons like Joanne Massiah and others as the future of the party,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wickham questioned the future of Jamal Pringle, the current Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representative, if Joanne Massiah decides to rejoin the UPP ranks.
“The party needs to look towards new and exciting—unless they have someone waiting in the wings that is more exciting than Joanne Massiah, then she would be my pick for the leadership of the party, which raises the question of [Jamal] Pringle and what happens to him,” he said.