Court halts Antigua-Barbuda electoral boundary changes

By Caribbean News Now contributor

ST JOHN’S, Antigua — On Monday morning, a high court judge granted an injunction preventing the Constituencies Boundaries Commission in Antigua and Barbuda from delivering its report to the speaker of the house and onward to the prime minister.

The temporary injunction also prevents the speaker from delivering the Boundaries Commission report to the prime minister, as required under the law; and, it prohibits the prime minister from delivering the same report to the governor general for her signature.

Next Monday, March 18, 2013, the high court will hear arguments from the lawyers representing both sides. At issue is the attempt to eliminate the constituency of St Peter, which is said to be unjustified. The court will also hear arguments about the splitting of the St John’s Rural East Constituency into two.

The report of the Boundaries Commission was signed by all four commissioners on Friday and post-dated. The court acted in part because, once the report is laid on the table in Parliament, it can be dispatched to the governor-general and would cause the 15 changed boundaries to prevail. No court can intervene after the governor-general signs the order.

Asot Michael, Antigua Labour Party (ALP) member of parliament for the St Peter Constituency

Antigua Labour Party (ALP) member of parliament, Asot Michael, said on Monday that, since 1951, with the coming of adult suffrage and the division of Antigua and Barbuda into eight constituencies, the St Peter Constituency has always existed. In 1951, Donald Sheppard was the ALP candidate, and in 1971 Joseph Myers became the new candidate, followed by Langford Jeremy and then Michael in 2004. St Peter’s has remained faithful to the ALP for more than 60 years. In 1971, 2004 and 2009, St Peter’s returned the ALP candidates to Parliament, when the majority of seats went to the PLM and the UPP, respectively.

“To erase St Peter’s is to inflict a wrong, through gerrymandering, on the people of St Peter’s and on Antigua and Barbuda,” Michael asserted. “Since 2004, I have continuously contested in each general election within Antigua and Barbuda and I have continuously and overwhelmingly been duly elected and returned as the representative for St Peter… In the general election of March 12, 2009, I won 63.10% of the vote cast, or 1588 of 2516 electors,” Michael said.

Michael expressed surprise that the Boundaries Commission altered the names of the constituency to eliminate St Peter’s. He expressed the view that one commissioner has shown hostility to him and that he was surprised that this commissioner actually signed the report, unanimously agreeing to the change.

In welcoming the high court’s decision, the leader of the ALP, Gaston Browne, said, “The actions of the UPP-dominated Boundaries Commission, by not consulting with the representatives or the people whose constituencies have been emasculated to suit the UPP, violate a basic principle of fairness in any democratic society, particularly as recognised by established common law and natural justice.”

Bowne, who is also leader of the opposition, added, “Since the last elections in 2009 when the UPP violated the law in many respects to unfairly win, the regime has used its power as the government and its majority in parliament to contravene the rule of law and to discard democracy and the rights of the people.”

“Recognising that the UPP’s intent was to sneak the seriously flawed report of the Boundaries Commission into Parliament and pass it into law so prohibiting the ALP to seek any redress, it was important that the party move to the courts today, and this is what we did”, Browne said.

The ALP leader said the report and recommendations are clearly “the work of handmaidens of the UPP regime designed to structure the electoral boundaries to the UPP’s advantage”.

Browne said, “This is another desperate act by a failed political party whose policies have pauperised Antigua and Barbuda. It is yet another attempt to hold on to power by brazen skullduggery of the worst kind.”

The ALP leader declared that his party “will advise every respected regional, Commonwealth and international organisation of this wanton gerrymandering by a totalitarian regime bent on disregarding democratic principles and common law to hold on to power”.

Browne said, “UPP leader Baldwin Spencer knows fully well that his party cannot win elections that are free and fair. Mr Spencer has set our country on a course of authoritarianism and despotism that every Antiguan and Barbudan must now fear and stand-up against.”

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