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Antigua’s opposition alert

agnewzBy Rickey Singh, Trinidad Express

The parliamentary opposition Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) has alerted the secretariats of both the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to what it views as a serious threat to constitutional, democratic governance in that twin-island  Eastern Caribbean country.

This dramatic initiative yesterday came against increasing indications that the governing United Progressive Party (UPP) of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer may be moving for a snap general election in the wake of losing high profile court cases both at home and before the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.

What triggered yesterday’s complaint to the OAS and Caricom by Opposition Leader Gaston Brown was his party’s anger over what it referred to as “another unlawful move” by the ruling UPP in Parliament last Friday.

That involved a controversial move by the UPP’s parliamentarian, Harold Lovell,  to successfully secure, with a one-vote majority,  an addition to the Order Paper—the first reading of a draft law that was not included in what was officially circulated before the sitting commenced.

The intention by the government, as claimed by the opposition in its letters to the OAS and Caricom, is to have the draft legislation debated and approved by the parliament this coming Friday.

At the core of the opposition’s expressed fears is that the UPP administration “is setting the stage to make lawful many unlawful acts” undertaken by the Prime Minister, starting two years ago and which were deemed to be illegal by the courts.

Primarily, the fears revolve around the government’s misuse of its power to undermine the independence and integrity of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, including, as confirmed in a ruling by the Eastern Court of Appeal, the unlawful removal of the commission’s chairman, Sir Gerald Watt.

In the reasoning of the opposition, the government is currently in the process of  setting the scene for submission in parliament of a second draft report from the Electoral Commission, having felt compelled to withdraw the first draft based on an earlier court ruling.

According to the opposition, the government is moving to make a mockery of decisions by the courts in relation to political interference in the functioning of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

The ultimate goal of the government, according to the opposition, is to continue with its politics of gerrymandering of electoral constituencies that makes a farce of free and fair elections and by extension undermines constitutional and democratic governance.

At the last general election Prime Minister Spencer’s UPP succeeded in securing its current five-year second term but with just a majority of one, winning eight to the ABLP’seven seats.

Now under the new leadership of Gaston Brown who replaced the veteran Lester Bird at the party’s convention last year, the opposition’s prospects of regaining state power are encountering mounting political roadblocks by a government that considers itself deserving of a third successive term.

It remains quite on the offensive against the opposition, taking full advantage of state-controlled media and wielding  its influence over privately owned radio and print media.

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