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Spencer facing Antigua defeat


Peter W. Wickham

Spencer facing Antigua defeat

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ON THURSDAY of this week, the first Caribbean election for 2014 will be held and in many ways it is not being held in the finest of Caribbean traditions.
 This election is effectively three months “late” since it is being held exactly three months after the fifth anniversary of the previous election and is one of very few instances where a Parliament in this region has “dissolved itself”. Mercifully, Prime Minister Spencer announced the date a few weeks shy of the point when the election would effectively have “called itself”, which would have been yet another precedent that is not worthy of emulation.
The legal and constitutional technicalities need not be repeated, but the effective outcome is a Caribbean government that has remained in office for five years and three months and an electorate that is weary from one of the longest election campaigns in this region’s history.
The governing UPP’s propagandists have been very specific in laying the blame for this situation on either the opposition ABLP or the courts. However, those among us who monitor Antigua and Barbuda’s politics will notice a curious similarity between the level of electoral confusion that prevailed during the 2009 poll and that which continues to prevail there.                      The profound inefficiencies manifested in 2009 should have been an embarrassment to the government of the day which has responsibility for such matters.  It is therefore fascinating that as this electoral debacle emerged, the UPP government’s propagandists appear to have successfully “thrown off” responsibility (yet again).
It is noticeable that there is a curious similarity between the “arms-length” management styles of Prime Ministers Spencer and Stuart that result in these types of scenarios and it is therefore not surprising that many have suggested that Spencer will prevail in much the same way that Stuart did.
This brings us to the anticipated outcome of the election that brings into focus the perspectives of CADRES and CASURO, polling organisations which are effectively seeing two different outcomes. The CASURO perspective is based on polling which ended roughly two weeks ago and saw the UPP’s support strengthening to the point where it would hold all the seats it currently has and recapture three that it lost in the 2009 election.
 
Lose support
 
There is mutual respect and a longstanding camaraderie between the principals of CADRES and CASURO; hence we accepted the CASURO assessment as a genuine “snapshot” of public opinion that followed the announcement of the election date.  Although CASURO has conceded that there could be a national swing away from the government, it contends that the swing pattern will be as irregular as it was in Barbados and as such the UPP could lose support nationally, but gain seats.
This analysis relies on the assumption of irregular swing patterns here, while the reality is that there was a negative swing against the government of Barbados, but it was insufficient to cause a change.
The CASURO projection, if properly interpreted, is an indication that the UPP has grown in popularity since 2009, which means that Antiguans and Barbudans have endorsed the performance of the UPP government and are ready for more. In the case of Barbados; however, it could be argued that we were “less happy” but just not “unhappy enough” to change.
The CADRES polling last week suggests that the situation has evolved significantly and our reading of the ABLP’s three weakest seats, along with Barbuda, suggests that the ABLP is unlikely to lose any seat it currently holds and has strengthened its hold on all three to the extent of between 3% and 7%. In the case of Barbuda, events of this week have created a most favourable environment for the ABLP which is also leading comfortably there in CADRES polling.
CADRES intends to execute and release polls on the UPP’s three weakest seats during the course of this week. However, the margins are such that the ABLP needs only win one of these seats to capture the government from Spencer.
In this regard, both CADRES and CASURO have agreed that the Rural North seat held by the UPP’s John Maginley is likely to be captured by the ABLP on Thursday.  If this outcome is a worst case scenario for the ABLP, it would scrape home with victory the size of the UPP’s last government.
If, however, the types of swing identified in the constituency polls to-date are reflected in other seats held by the UPP, the conversation reverts to the 6 per cent swing scenario CADRES projected since November 2013 with a resulting additional four, or possibly five, seats changing hands.
The Barbados example has demonstrated the extent to which a Caribbean electorate can be difficult to read and as CADRES argued in the case of Barbados. If the UPP is able to manage itself well on Election Day in four marginal constituencies it could yet hang on. This outcome seems less likely and CADRES is therefore anticipating the first change of Government in the Caribbean for 2014 on Thursday.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).

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