The announcement by PM Browne that the ABLP will launch its 2023 Election Campaign on Monday 19th raises several intriguing political questions, the first of which relates to the timing of the election.
The dissolution of Parliament last week means that PM Browne has 90 days within which to call an election which means that he can technically remain in office until March of 2023, which is both uncharacteristic and unlikely.
It will be recalled that PM Browne headed back to the polls, two years early on the last occasion, which was a strategy exploited by PM Bird (Vere) in the past.
Certainly, this might have been his intention on this occasion; however, COVID made an early election complicated and he has opted for a more conventional approach.
In Antigua and Barbuda, a January/February election is always wise since that is the height of the winter tourist season and a time when most people are employed and would have money in their pockets.
It is therefore entirely unsurprising that we are to have an election around this time. The lingering question is the precise date and whether the PM will go for mid or late January, which will most probably depend on the availability of resources post Xmas.
Once the election is called, attention will turn to the matter of the possible outcome and with a deficit of 7 seats or a 9% swing (8,623 votes) to overcome, the UPP has a considerable hill to climb politically.
CADRES polling has to date suggested that an ABLP victory is more likely than not. Certainly, there are some localised issues of concern with both the Prime Minister and government, however the public still appears to consider the ABLP more suited to leadership at this time.
Consistent with the fact that the UPP holds one seat (All Saint’s and St Luke), the presumption is that it would want to take 7 additional seats, while the ABLP would want to defend as many of these as possible.
The data from the 2018 election is instructive and presents 7 marginal constituencies that would be the focus of considerable political interest over the next few weeks.
These are, St. Phillip South, St. Mary’s South, St. John’s Rural West, All Saints West, St. John’s City East, St. George and St. Paul.
In these instances, the UPP would need to gain anywhere ranging from a 1% swing to a 9% swing in St Pauls to claim victory. It should be noted that CADRES polling has demonstrated that the ABLP is leading in a majority of these; however, these would still be considered marginal based on the level of support from 2018.
In this election, there is also an interest in the feasibility of the DNA, along with the independent candidate Asot Michael.
The DNA is unlikely to surpass 2% in any constituency which means that it can at best hope for a spoiler effect in St Mary’s and St Phillip South, where the DNA participation could, at best, cost the UPP the seat.
In the case of St Peter’s, the independent candidate appeared not to have been resonating in earlier CADRES polls; however, it remains a seat to be watched in the event that the candidate is able to dislodge at least 20% of the ABLP support in the remaining weeks.
We should also pay close attention to the Barbuda seat, which is virtually always unpredictable, but where the BPM has recently suffered significant setbacks, which could impact the national outcome and provide the ABLP an unexpected cushion.
Regardless of whether the PM opts for a mid or late-January election, it will be a truncated campaign since the Xmas week is effectively eliminated as a period for anything other than soft campaigning.
2022 has been a year that witnessed several snap elections; however, this is one that Antiguans and Barbudans have been anticipating, which should generate considerable interest and could perhaps bring some surprises.