It’s a general election that has been long in coming, even though the constitutional deadline is March 2023.
But when the estimated 60,916 people, who are eligible to cast ballots in Wednesday’s general election, begin the process of exercising their franchise at 6:00 a.m. (local time) for the next 12 hours, it would have officially put to an end a campaign that started many, many months ago to elect a new government in Antigua and Barbuda.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who is seeking a third consecutive term in office, had been teasing the electorate about calling the election ahead of the constitutional deadline, given that the last poll here was held on March 21, 2018.
Browne led his Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (SBLP) to a convincing 15-2 victory at the polls with the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) winning the other two seats.
But this time around, the odds are against a repeat of that margin of victory.
The Barbados-based political scientist and pollster, Peter Wickham, who did a public opinion poll here in November, said while it showed that the ABLP was ahead then, he still remains comfortable “the election is theirs (ABLP) to lose.
“Certainly they have a majority of seats and they have a significant advantage. The (main) opposition has a single seat, the opposition leader is not a member of parliament and those are the factors that are really in play.
“So my sense is that the Opposition is stronger now than they were before and I think they will gain a seat or two or some seats, but I am not convinced they will gain enough to win the election,” Wickham told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), adding he has since been on the ground here and “I suspect it will be an Antigua Labour Party victory again”.
But another pollster, Lindell Winter, does not share that view and believes a resurgent UPP will spring a surprise.
“I would not be surprised if the Labour Party is unseated. At the same time I think it boils down to the constituency to constituency,” he told a radio audience.
He named a number of constituencies “as being critical” to a UPP victory.
The UPP, headed by the former Finance Minister Harold Lovell, whom Browne had defeated in the past two elections, is quietly confident of pulling off a victory.
“Elections are such that it is the will of the people, we served for 10 years and then the people decided that they wanted a change. This government has served for nine and a half (years and) we will see what happens on Wednesday,” Lovell said as he addressed young people during an election forum at the Antigua State College earlier this week.
One political observer summed up the choices facing the electorate this way “to be frank, the whole election is boring…It can go either way. People are fed up with Wurl Boss (Prime Minister Browne) and his arrogance and alleged blatant thievery…and the utter incompetence and irrelevance of the UPP. What a choice!”
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