What of third parties?

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We were not particularly surprised when Joanne Massiah announced, in an oblique kind of way, that she would be starting a political party in time to contest the 2019 general elections, or whenever the elections are called.

“New, fresh and dynamic” is how she described the yet-to-come, new kid on the block of a third party, which, she said, will field candidates in all 17 seats. Warming to her idea, she said sooner rather than later ”the people of this country will welcome it.”

Her enthusiasm for the yet-to-be-named third party was obvious. She declared herself and her colleagues as “serious-minded people”.

We were happy to hear the pleasure with which Massiah announced that her hat will be in the ring come 2019, albeit under the umbrella of a different party ticket.

We venture to say she has a right to form her own party and given her travails this past two years or so when she came up against the political leader of the UPP, perhaps there was no other option open to her.

It does appear that she has burnt her bridges with the party on whose ticket she won her right to sit in the House of Representatives. She admitted as much when she was interviewed on the matter.

As much as we applaud her constitutional right to her course of action, Massiah must be aware of the history of third parties in Antigua & Barbuda and generally worldwide, except in places where the electoral system in place is proportional representation, as opposed to first-past-the post or winner takes all.

It is noteworthy that countries which practice proportional representation voting system, such as Germany, Italy, New Zealand or Guyana, have thriving multi-party systems as even minor parties are represented in the highest legislative bodies.

There is a multiplicity of arguments for or against third parties. In the 2014 election, and perhaps, the election before that and the one previously, there was a party or two or three on the ballot outside of the two mainstream contenders.

The parties, not to mention the candidates, could not garner enough votes to get back their deposits and the parties certainly never even came close to obtaining a seat in the House.

Third parties are generally viewed as asides, addendums to the main event. Take for example, the just concluded United States presidential elections. There were at least five other third parties – Veteran, Green, Constitutional, Libertarian and Reform– which contested the presidential election, alongside the Democrats and the Republicans.

However, third party candidates have played the spoiler role successfully. Looking back on the November polls, according to the data, the third-party candidates had an outsize impact on the election. Third-party candidates took solid portions of the vote in a handful of key swing states, leaving some too close to call for hours, by collectively outnumbering the votes that gave Republican Donald Trump a thin lead.

In Michigan, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, neither of whom cracked double digits in public polling, collectively took a little more than 222,400 votes, or about 5 per cent of the vote there. Trump, in contrast, held just over a 15,600-vote lead over Clinton.

In Florida, which was crucial to Trump’s victory, Johnson, Stein and two other third-party candidates on the ballot collectively drew over 293,000 votes — more than twice the 128,000-plus votes that Trump led with. And in New Hampshire, Johnson alone took over 28,800 votes — well more than the razor-thin 140-or-so-vote lead Trump posted. Collectively, third-party candidates took more than 35,700.

In Virginia, Clinton won the state by nearly 183,000 votes. Johnson, Stein and independent Evan McMullin collectively won more than 202,000 votes, taking approximately 6 per cent of the vote overall.

The question to be asked is: what is the future of third parties in Antigua & Barbuda? Is it limited to the spoiler role only? Are third parties consigned to irrelevancy?

One political analyst posited that third parties should provide fresh ideas and elevate issues into the mainstream political dialogue. “Essentially,” he said, “third parties should be national political laboratories, where ideas, issues and ideologies undergo experiments and evolutions before being elevated to the national stage. Some of these concepts even end up being co-opted by the big two.”

Laudable ideal. However, we can safely assume that as long as the country practices the first-past-the-post voting system, third parties will never gain sufficient strength to form the government.

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