Prime Minister Gaston Browne has expressed his “utmost disappointment” at the failure of of his administration to get voters to support the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Antigua and Barbuda’s final court.
In a referendum on Tuesday, the preliminary figures released by the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) showed that of the 17,743 votes counted, the “No” vote secured 9, 234 as against 8,509 for the “Yes” vote.
Antigua and Barbuda’s final court is the London-based Privy Council and the island had hoped to join Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana as the only Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries that have so far made the CCJ their final court.
The CCJ also operates as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member regional integration movement.
“We knew that getting 67 per cent of the votes was an extremely daunting task, practically un-achievable without the support of the main opposition party,’ Prime Minister Browne said.
“The support of the opposition was very important to mitigate against the natural inclination of electors to vote no in a referendum and this is a point that I raised during the initial consultation (on the CCJ) ,” he added.
But the leader of the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell said that the results of the referendum should be viewed as a personal assessment of Prime Minister Browne’ stewardship.
“This was really a referendum about the prime minister….In Antigua it was a referendum about Gaston Browne and he was not able to bring out not more than 8,000 people …even though they were talking about he is going to command his people to do this and do that”
Lovell said that of the 20,000 odd people who voted for the ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) in the last general election held earlier this year, “only 8,000 came out and yet he is now blaming the United Progressive Party.
“Our position was take the politics out, let us build a coalition of people and listen to people and go forward with that approach. Cursing people,…calling people backward, stupid, dunce that type iif thing, that’s not how you build a successful coalition,” Lovell said.
He said the UPP would continue to support constitutional reform “and we believe this is a time when we must listen to what people are saying”.
But Prime Minister Browne told reporters that the opposition had succeeding in undermining the desire to replace the Privy Council accusing them of spreading lies and instilling fear in the population.
Browne said the results showed that “no one” won in the end.
“The outcome even though disappointing was not surprising. I am satisfied that my government discharged its responsibility by making the option available to the people of Antigua and Barbuda to make justice available to all at the Apex level and to bring our final court to the Caribbean.
“My biggest disappointment is the impact of this failure on future constitutional reforms. It is unlikely that my government will, in the circumstances and in the absence of political maturity and magnanimity pursue any further constitutional reform in the near future,” Browne said.
ABEC said that 33.5 per cent of the electorate voted in the referendum and that the “No” vote had secured 52.04 per cent with the “Yes” vote gathering 47.96 per cent.
The chairman of the National Coordinating Committee on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Ambassador Dr. Clarence Henry, said while he is disappointed in the results “the people have spoken and we accept the verdict.
“The result is a result that demonstrates democracy. The people have spoken and certainly we will need to reflect on the loss. However, I am of the firm conviction that as we move towards consolidation of the regional integration movement, our people whether in St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada or Antigua, the greater appreciation of the institutions that we have created will become even more appreciated, celebrated in order for us to find our place in the global community.”
Henry told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that it is imperative for the region to “build our Caribbean institutions, no matter the struggles, no matter the challenges and no matter the defeats.
“Head of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), Peter Wickham, whose organisation had predicted that the “yes” vote would have received the necessary support to take the island into the CCJ, expressed disappointment at the outcome.
“I am not Antiguan but I am disappointed for Antigua and the rest of the Caribbean. I think this is an unfortunate result equally so because the same thing was replicated in Grenada (Tuesday) and I really do hope that in the future we can get back on track.
“But the most I can say is that I am disappointed. I think this is an opportunity for Antigua and Barbuda to have created history and to set a course of a circle of development and ultimately the population said no,” he added.