CONTEMPT POLITICS IN ANTIGUA ‘recolonising’ Turks and Caicos

I WAS following post-election political developments in Antigua and Barbuda last week when the Caribbean Community made public its concern over the threat to democracy in the Turks and Caicos Islands by Britain’s announced intention to resort to direct rule from London in that Associate Member territory of CARICOM. How refreshing it was to note this militant stand by CARICOM as Prime Minister George Brown’s administration was laying the legal basis in parliament for the reintroduction of old-style colonialism, possibly by the end of next month.

The interim report has already painted an ugly picture of “clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and general administrative incompetence” in the territory.

The embattled Premier, Michael Misick, who was obliged to resign under a cloud of unsavoury allegations, had done so only after formally requesting last Monday CARICOM’s intervention to “stop the onset of modern-day colonialism” in his homeland.

CARICOM is currently monitoring developments in the TCI, having appropriately raised the public alarm against Britain’s threat to impose direct rule through its enactment of legislation suspending the Executive and Legislative branches of government in that territory.

The Community Secretariat cannot, however, be so preoccupied with the TCI’s future political status while also complying with its regular work agenda that it finds it too difficult to also pay heed to the very disturbing trends that mock democratic governance in Antigua and Barbuda. 

The Secretariat has received, prior to the recent March 12 general election and since, correspondence from the parliamentary opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP) of former Prime Minister Lester Bird, alerting it – and, by extension, all member governments — to stated claims of the undermining of democratic norms that are increasingly threatening good governance and political stability.

At the time of writing, Secretary General Edwin Carrington, was in possession of a letter of complaint from Bird pointing to the failure by Governor General, Dame Louise Lake-Tak, 12 days after the March 12 poll, to have him sworn in as parliamentary Opposition Leader, consistent with the Constitution and tradition of the country. A letter signed by all seven elected MPs had requested that this be done.  

However, it only suddenly occurred last Tuesday, only after the ALP’s letter to Carrington — and ahead of any kind of intervention by the Community. The response was a mixture of political hilarity and contempt in the mode of appointment of the 71-year-old former two-term Prime Minister,

It was via a hand-delivered letter from Her Majesty’s Governor General to “Her Majesty’s ‘loyal’ opposition leader” at his home.

So, there in the country where the foundation was laid for the Caribbean Community with the inauguration of CARIFTA, a second-term government of the United Progressive Party (UPP) that effectively dominates the local media landscape — like no other CARICOM states — and with a party-political aligned Governor General, seems determined to embarrass and generate conflict with the parliamentary opposition in the wake of a closely fought general election. 

Indeed, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, who held such promise for improved governance and democratic norms on winning his first assumption to State power at the March 2004 general election, now appears to be quite disturbed by the verdict of the Antigua and Barbuda electorate over the extent of support received by the ALP at the March 12 general election, although his incumbent UPP Progressive secured a second-term by a two-seat majority.

New poll campaign?
So disturbed, in the face of the less than four per cent plurality of votes cast for his UPP’s nine seats for the 17-member House of Representatives, compared to the ALP’s 47.07 per cent and seven seats, that his political and communication strategists are presenting the 60-year-old Prime Minister as if already on a new election campaign. 

This latest post-election political behaviour that mocks traditional swearing in ceremonies by a Governor General, was the brief, five-line note from Dame Louise informing Bird to “find enclosed your instrument of appointment as Her Majesty’s loyal opposition…” 

It was a humiliating first since the days of internal self-government in Antigua and Barbuda, and long before the birth of CARICOM, an astonishing departure from what is also the established norm within member states of our Community, with either a President or Governor General as Head of State.

It is in the political records of Antigua and Barbuda that Governor General, Dame Louise Lake-Tak had openly campaigned with the UPP for the 2004 general election that brought a 12-4 victory under Spencer’s leadership, and an ignominious defeat for the ALP. She was soon to become the new Governor General.

In the current scenario, a troubling question has surfaced: Is the Spencer administration blinding itself to the social, economic and political consequences for Antigua and Barbuda, in its haste to now humiliate Bird and his ALP after a very surprising electoral ‘comeback’? 

Still to come are the election petitions challenging the validity of the UPP’s victory in three of the nine constituencies won, plus one in Barbuda. Having taken the moral high ground during the campaign to castigate Bird and the ALP as too corrupt and unfit to be back in government –language and posturing reciprocated by the opposition — the feeling was that with the election over, the two parties would have adopted a matured approach to governance, at a time of a daunting financial and economic crisis.

Instead, the country seems trapped by the political venom flowing from both sides, instead of any effort to cool tempers and engage in matured dialogue for governance, in a climate of stability and reconciliation.

CARICOM, therefore, needs to also interest itself with developments in Antigua and Barbuda, while being engaged over moves to recolonise the Turks and Caicos.

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