It is generally accepted that among the powers of a sitting administration is the privilege to select individuals to serve on boards, commissions and in other key positions. Logical thinking is that the appointees understand – the power bestowed upon them by the Constitution of Antigua & Barbuda notwithstanding – that their service should be in tandem with the rationale of the administration to which they owe their position.
Another logical thought is that appointees, whether they got a letter or instrument of appointment, should understand that when interests collide, it is right to resign for the greater good.
The reality that the UPP is waking up to these days is that it has lost control of the reins of power.
For sure, if a sitting administration, which had the opportunity to select the majority of members on the Electoral Commission, winds up, in the middle of an unexpected campaign season, in a knock-down, drag-out fight that will require constitutional muscles to determine the winner, that administration and its leader, unless it makes a decisive move, will be exposed as a toothless tiger.
With the Antigua Labour Party camp waiting to pick off the carcass of the six-year-old United Progressive Party administration in either by-elections or general elections, and with widespread concern over the integrity of the voters’ register, instead of making wrong right, the Electoral Commission dispatches a hubristic press release that tells Baldwin Spencer and his UPP from which high bridge they should jump.
But as we heard at the MBS Commission of Inquiry in 2002, “that’s what friends are for.”
The Electoral Commission has been a source of concern for some time now. Just ask former commissioners Agnes Blaize, Bishop Ewing Dorsett and Ambassador Bruce Goodwin.
Further, the work of the commission came in for closer scrutiny and damning criticism in the wake of the 2009 general elections. On March 31, with the ruling of Justice Louise Blenman that voided the elections of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, John Maginley and Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, the only people in doubt that a shake up was required at the Electoral Commission, and possibly with electoral law, were the electoral officers themselves.
UPP bravado and legal opinions about the appeal notwithstanding, it is quite possible that residents could go back to the polls in the three affected constituencies, with the prime minister hinting that general elections are also possible.
Sufficient doubt has been cast on the voters’ list, even by past commissioners who presided over the compilation of the list as it exists today, to cause rational, honest people to conclude that democracy would be perverted if elections are held on the same reportedly flawed list.
But the commission has dug in its heels, on the matter of re-registration and resigning, in the face of public criticism and a loss of faith, even by the very machinery that appointed the majority of the members.
There is a truism that says who don’t hear will feel, and, today, Baldwin Spencer, who was reportedly warned that this would come to pass if he continued to let inaction be his trademark, knows that truer words have never been spoken.
He must also be holding his head after Tuesday’s meeting with the chairman of the Electoral Commission to realise that he has found a foe where he was once certain there was an ally.
Having said that in the absence of co-operation he would take whatever action necessary to correct perceived wrongs at the Electoral Commission, and with the commission daring him – with taunts that he is ignorant of the Constitution, attempting to mislead the public and working for cheap political gain – we think that the PM has no choice but to cause the governor general to announce that a tribunal has been established to probe ABEC.
In the while, we fully expect that the work of the commission, including re-registration, will continue.
The PM’s hands are full, with a challenge to his seat and his government, as well as his authority and ability to lead.
Much is at stake right now, and the balls are up in the air. We hope the PM can catch, at the very least, two.