Monday, April 22, 2024

Boasts and realities for Antigua poll


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THE PRIME Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Baldwin Spencer, told the Caribbean Media Corporation last week that he was “confident” of his ruling United Progressive Party (UPP) being returned to government for a third term at new general elections, constitutionally due by March. 
Well, in party politics all things are possible; and when it comes to boasting of “achievements” – dubious as they may be – there’s no limit to that of an incumbent party preparing for new parliamentary elections, in contrast to opposite claims by the primary opponent. The vagaries of electoral politics at independently supervised free and fair elections have often surprised contesting parties as well as pollsters.
In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, the old Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), now under the leadership of Gaston Brown, is equally confident of reversing the outcome of the 2009 general elections when the UPP secured a narrow victory with nine of the 17 seats and the opposition registered approximately 46.9 per cent of the valid votes amid recurring claims of electoral fraud.
Now, amid ongoing political skirmishes over the conduct of registration of voters for the coming elections in favour of the prime minister’s party, there are growing controversies between the UPP and ABLP over the state of the economy. The opposition has been referencing data from regional and international financial institutions in support of its claims that Prime Minister Spencer’s previous and current administrations have succeeded in “wrecking” the country’s economic foundation. 
With unemployment estimated at 30 per cent – half of that being youths between 17 and 24 years – plus accumulated national indebtedness of approximately EC$4 billion (BDS$4.4 billion) since the UPP came to power in 2004; and both the education and health sectors in decline, the World Bank’s report for last year ranked Antigua and Barbuda at 71 in its annual Doing Business Report. That, incidentally, was five places down from 66 in the bank’s 2012 report.
The UPP administration is faced with the challenge of arguing against the hard data being offered by the ABLP that under its watch debt to GDP ratio had risen from 40 per cent in 2004 when it came to power to 89 per cent.
Despite the introduction, for the first time, of both personal income tax and value added tax (VAT) from which it has been harvesting some EC$900 million, the country’s GDP growth remains weak at approximately 1.04 per cent. According to the opposition this compares quite unfavourably to the recorded six per cent growth during its 1994-2014 period in government.
Apart from the controversies over lack of economic growth and the ongoing decline in social services and spreading criminality, there remains the battle for hearts and minds when it comes to arrangements being made to ensure free and fair elections amid recurring claims by the opposition, and denials by the government, of political skullduggery in the registration for a new voters roll and erosion of independence of the Electoral Commission.
We must await Prime Minister Spencer’s announcement of the date for the coming parliamentary elections for which he has already predicted a third term victory. For his part, the ABLP’s Browne thinks the time for change has come.
•? Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist. Email


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