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Recent events surrounding the United Progressive Party’s (UPP) decision to boycott and organize a ‘People’s Parliament’ have been met with criticism from many members of the public.
The latest voice to express their disapproval is Joanne Massiah, the leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), who referred to the situation as “pickaneerga politics”.
This comment has added to the ongoing conversation about the role of political parties in promoting constructive dialogue and democratic values.
“Given where we are in this country, the people must reject that kind of pickaneerga politics that the UPP seems intent on practicing,” Massiah said.
Massiah mentioned a mock parliament is a practice that should be undertaken by youth parliamentarians and not elected MPs.
“It needs to be taken up by students in schools who are learning about what democracy means, what it should entail, and for people seeking to hone their debate skills. People who are aspiring for leadership whether at the community level, a local government level, or even at the national level,” she added.
The relationship between Massiah and the UPP has been tumultuous, to say the least. Massiah used to be an instrumental member and former parliamentarian for the party in the All-Saints East and St. Luke constituency. However, due to disagreements between herself and several members, particularly the former leader Harold Lovell, Massiah was expelled from the party in 2017 and later formed the DNA.
Recently, after the budget presentation on December 15, a date of December 18 was proposed for the debate. However, the opposition objected, saying that they needed more time to prepare and demanded a week’s standard timeframe. As a result, the date was postponed to December 19.
Despite the postponement, the opposition reiterated that they needed more time and stated that they would not attend the debate if it occurred before their given date. After a vote, the budget debate was set for December 19, and subsequently, the opposition was absent from the discussion.
This move was met with criticism from Prime Minister Gaston Browne and other members of the ABLP government. However, the UPP’s Chairperson, D Giselle Isaac, was among those who came to the support of the party.
“Why would the Senators go into there today when you have clearly said we don’t want to hear from the UPP? We made it plain that one business day was insufficient, unfair, unreasonable, draconian, to expect us to come in and properly deliver,” Dame Gisele stated.
Then, Isaac revealed the party’s intention to stage the event. It was held on January 11 at the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) where the elected UPP contingent rendered their presentations.
According to the UPP, the event was a success as dozens of citizens attended and logged on via live stream.
In a recent statement, the leader of the DNA party expressed her disappointment with the UPP’s conduct, urging the public to not tolerate such behavior from elected officials.
She emphasized that the actions of some parliamentarians are undermining the political system and urged citizens to remain vigilant in upholding the integrity of their democracy.
“They are making a mockery of elected representation, and I feel that the people of this country must reject that kind of behavior,” Massiah said.
Many would argue that Massiah’s comments about a mockery of the political system in Antigua and Barbuda would fall on deaf ears as the viability of her party has been called into question from inception.
Although there have been claims that Massiah is a third party, these claims have always been denied. However, with recent resignations of members, the question of whether a third party can be sustained in the political climate of the twin island nation cannot be ignored.
In the 2018 general election, the young party put forward 13 candidates and received 654 votes, which accounted for about 1.68 percent of the ballots cast.
In the January 2021 election, the number of candidates increased to 16, but the votes dropped to 466, accounting for 1.09 percent of the 42,849 ballots cast. It’s worth noting that Barbuda was the only uncontested seat.
In late 2022, the party was rocked with resignations from St George caretaker Kelton Dalso, former Chairperson Malaka Parker, former First Vice President Bruce Goodwin, and former Secretary General and candidate for St John’s City West Gatesworth James.
Luis Rivera and Gameal Joyce followed shortly after in March of 2023.
Seven months later, Chaneil Imhoff and Avoy Knight resigned.
The most recent resignation was that of Andrew Antonio in the St. Mary’s South constituency.
Antonio was the candidate in both the general and by-elections in 2023. He later resigned after being unsuccessful both times.
Imhoff ran in the St Peter constituency and received 29 votes.
Knight ran in All Saints East & St Luke and garnered 52 votes. The second highest for the DNA.