By Michael Jarvis, International Correspondent
The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) has narrowly secured a third term in office under the leadership of Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
In early general election on Wednesday January 18th, three months ahead of the March due date, the ABLP suffered significant losses, dropping from its overwhelming 15 seats in the 17-seat parliament to just nine, giving it just a one-seat majority.
The main opposition United People’s Party (UPP) clawed back from the single seat it held on to in the last election, gaining a further five seats this year for a total of six seats.
However, a main casualty for the UPP was its leader Harold Lovell, a former finance minister and Deputy Prime Minister, in a previous UPP government.
Despite guiding his party’s comeback, he failed for the second consecutive election to win back his seat and consequently announced his decision to step down from the leadership of the party after conceding to Browne’s ABLP.
The other two seats went to independent candidate, Asot Michael, a former tourism and investment minister in the Gaston Browne administration, and Trevor Walker of the sister-island Barbuda People’s Movement(BPM).
A bitter rift between Mr Michael and his former longstanding political ally Gaston Browne featured prominently in the election campaign.
Mr Michael had resigned after he became embroiled in allegations of corruption coming out of a UK court case. He was arrested in the UK but not charged. Prime Minister Browne was quoted in the Antigua media as having said that the former minister was ‘encouraged to resign’.
Gaston Browne, who’ll remain at the helm for a third consecutive term, has expressed disappointment with the outcome and has said a postmortem of the election will consider deselecting unsuccessful candidates. In the meantime, he has cut the number of ministries in his new government and has taken on several additional key portfolios.
The UPP, despite regaining lost ground, is returning to the opposition benches with only one of its six MPs having had previous parliamentary experience.
In a vicious campaign which focused heavily on economic issues, this became one of the criticisms the UPP had to fend off with the ABLP targeting it as a main shortcoming saying the country and economy could not be trusted in the hands of novices.
The ruling party based its re-election strategy mainly on growing the economy, managing the COVID-19 pandemic, and raising the country’s global profile under the flamboyant leadership style of Gaston Browne.
The UPP accused the ABLP of corruption, economic mismanagement, and harming the country’s global profile, especially with the recently-launched Antigua Airways operating flights between Nigeria and Africa. There are reports of many African passengers being stranded in Antigua from the fledgling airline.
Antigua’s perennial water supply challenges was another key issue across the political spectrum.
Four parties contested the election; the ABLP(9), UPP(6), Barbuda People’s Movement(1), Democratic National Alliance(0), and independent Asot Michael formerly of the ABLP(1).
Many seats were won or lost by slim margins, some in single digits. Former UPP leader Lovell failed to retake his seat by six votes confirmed by a recount.
Voter turnout was 70 per cent.