It could be considered a truism that in the game of politics nothing is ruled out and everything is suspect. So that when, as the law mandates, the Boundaries Commission reconvened a week ago and word leaked that it might be advising changes to constituency boundaries, a hue and cry was raised.
It mattered not, as it turned out, that the changes had not even been written down, and in fact were only proposals to be mulled. The alarm bells were sounded loudly. The panic button was pushed by members of the Opposition Antigua Labour Party, and threats of court action to forestall any changes were made.
In an attempt at stemming the hysteria, the chairman of the body announced that the proposals were just that and the commission was doing what the law says it should do: review the constituency boundaries every time an election is pending.
According to the Constitution, the Boundaries Commission should be instituted no fewer than two or more than five years after the last election. Hence, the time is just about right for such a body to make its presence felt, as an election is due in another two years or so.
As premature as the claims of gerrymandering by the opposition may have been, a member of the commission is on record saying they are understandable.
It would appear that as soon as governments declare they are interested in re-aligning constituency boundaries, opposition parties think they will be placed at a disadvantage and that the party in power is seeking to gain the upper hand by shifting the goal post.
It would never occur to the opposing side that realignment could just mean that the playing field might be getting levelled after years of being lopsided.
In the case of Antigua & Barbuda this just might be so. As a member of the commission, Linley Winter explained for years the Boundaries Commission had noted the need for changes to be made to the boundaries of many constituencies.
According to the member, based on the electoral register, the number of voters in many constituencies is way above the average, while others fall below the mean. This, he adduces, skews representational politics.
It is not hard to imagine that something must be amiss when the difference in the numbers of constituents each Member of Parliament represents is so wide. A case in point is the Rural West Constituency, which is away and by far much larger than even the closest contender. And of course, there is the Barbuda Constituency, which is no larger than a small village.
Although it would be virtually impossible to have each constituency being of the same size, it is desirable that each comes as close as possible to being so.
Oftentimes, when the goodies are being shared in the form of infrastructure, the smaller constituencies suffer because they are not considered as important as their larger counterparts. As unfair as this may seem, it is a fact that the member of Parliament who represents the larger constituency is considered to be more important.
However, Winter’s arguments for change extend even further as he noted that shifts in boundaries should be part of a greater need for a relook at election machinery in general. He is of the view that the Boundaries and Election Commission ought to be one and the same.
Not for the first time, it has been suggested that these two bodies should be so intertwined as to be inseparable. Indeed, their interests are one and the same – the fair administration of elections in the state of Antigua & Barbuda.
The election process ought not to get stuck in gear. It should respond to what is happening on the ground. It is no longer satisfactory to say what obtained yesterday ought to be today. Elections by their very nature are dynamic. Each is different and this is how it ought to be.
Elections in 2014 are to be held under differing conditions from those of 2009. There will be fresh contenders; a brand new register of electors; a reconstituted Electoral Commission, along with some new rules to guide the process. Maybe just what we need to bring the process full circle just might be new constituency boundaries.