In extending our congratulations to the new prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, and his colleagues on their emphatic victory in Thursday’s general election, let’s not forget that, in spite of the eventual margin of victory, the result was always in doubt because of persistent allegations of widespread vote buying and other electoral manipulation by the now former government.
It is not, therefore, in our view, mere editorial hyperbole to say that congratulations are also due to the Antigua and Barbuda electorate in general for rising above such real or perceived impediments to the fair exercise of their right to vote and thus rescuing their own democracy.
Whatever the truth or otherwise to the several allegations of attempted election fraud, the question has to be asked whether the observation missions mounted by three organisations: the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth and the Organisation of American States (OAS), are capable of making any real difference to this kind of situation in Antigua and Barbuda or any other country.
First, it was reported locally that the questionable activities more or less ceased as soon as the observers arrived in the country just a few days before the election itself and they were thereby denied the opportunity of seeing for themselves what may or may not have been taking place.
Second, the OAS issued a 1,400-word, largely pro-forma, “boilerplate” preliminary assessment
within the space of a few hours of the results being announced, replete with predictable “recommendations”. Later on Friday, CARICOM issued a 400-word statement that was essentially devoid of any meaningful observations or recommendations – or indeed anything worth publishing.
Is there any real mechanism in place for monitoring the implementation of any recommendations that are made and/or sanctions in the absence of such implementation?
In other words, do these electoral observation missions have any real teeth or are they just for the purpose of paying lip service to the concept of free and fair elections?
Unfortunately, not one of the three organisations mentioned responded substantively to our requests for comment.
Finally, Mr Browne and the new government in Antigua and Barbuda have a largely clean slate from which to start, in that any baggage from previous administrations is minimal. We therefore encourage him and his colleagues to eschew the political favouritism, cronyism and outright corruption that seems to be endemic elsewhere in the region.
Antigua and Barbuda has an opportunity to become a role model for good, transparent and honest government in the Caribbean. We hope the new administration grasps it firmly.