October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment
Who lives there?: Sir Viv Richards and 85,000 mortals. The full name of the country is Antigua and Barbuda – only 1,500 people live on the northern island of Barbuda. The uninhabited island of Redonda is also part of the nation.
How does the system work? (the theory): Antigua is a constitutional monarchy. The monarch is also the monarch of the United Kingdom. She is monarch of Antigua in its own right but as she cannot be expected to be in Antigua much of the time she appoints a Governor General as her representative on the island. The Governor General exercises power in name only and will always obey the wishes of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is elected by the lower house and as such is almost always the leader of the largest party in parliament. The Prime Minister appoints a cabinet and together they exercise executive power. The legislative is bicameral. The lower house (or House of Representatives) consists of 19 members. 17 are elected every five years by a first past the post universal suffrage election. Barbuda is constitutionally guaranteed to have at least one constituency to itself despite its small size. There are two further appointed members of the house, who are by tradition non political: the Attorney General (ex-officio) appointed by the PM, and the speaker, appointed by the rest of the house.
The upper house (or Senate) is the less influential house. 17 members are appointed by the Governor General. By tradition she appoints 10 on the advice of the Prime Minister, 4 on the advice of the leader of the largest opposition party and one on the advice of the Council of Barbuda. She also has two “free picks”, by tradition non-political, one of which should also be from Barbuda. Thus Barbuda is guaranteed at least one representative and two senators.
Barbuda has its own council which enjoys a certain degree of autonomy. It has 11 members. Nine are elected by first past the post for four year terms (near half are elected every two years, the entire island acts as one multi-member constituency, electing either four or five councillors at a time). The other two councillors are the island’s member of the House of Representatives and the islands council-nominated senator.
Antigua is split into 29 parishes for the purpose of local government. Each is run by a council of nine. Five councillors are elected by first-past the post (in one big multi-member constituency) and four are appointed by the Government.
How does the system work? (the practice): Antigua has a long tradition of free and fair elections – although acts of violence by supporters of the two main parties against each other are not unknown.
How did we get here?: Antigua enjoyed a peaceful transition from British rule to self governing colony to full independence, finally gaining the latter in 1981. As one would expect with such a system Antigua is very much a two party nation with the centre-left Antigua Labour Party and the centre right United Progressive Party holding all the seats in the house and having done so throughout recent history. Barbuda is fairly evenly split politically between the UPP aligned Barbuda People’s Movement and Labour aligned groups (at various times the strongest of these have been: the Barbuda People’s Movement for Change, the New Barbuda Development Party and the Barbuda Labour Party). It is not unheard of for the election result in Barbuda to be a dead heat.
For a while the extraordinary success of the Labour party, and of the Bird family within the Labour party, threatened to turn the Government of Antigua into exclusively a Bird family affair. Vere Bird was the first Prime Minister, and had been in charge of the island in one form or another since representation became meaningful in 1946. He was succeed by his son Lester – who is still the leader of the opposition. However the UPP did finally win an election in 2004 and have been in power ever since
Who’s in charge?: At the last election the UPP won 9 seats to the ALP’s 7 – with the UPP aligned BPM picking up the Barbuda seat. This ensured the re-election of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer.
Campaigning in Antigua is a festive affair, when the UPP won they held a street party for 15,000 in the capital St John:
Meanwhile the ALP got Beenie Man to headline their conference:
What does it look like?: Antigua is on the corner of the Caribbean – sticking out into the Atlantic:
Barbuda is further north and is mostly a coral reef – the highest point is only 38m above sea level.
What are the issues?: One issue dominates the politics of Antigua: Sir Allen Stanford or, more precisely, who is to blame for the way Sir Allen (the knighthood comes courtesy of the government of Antigua) destroyed the islands economy.
For those that don’t know the story: Sir Allen was a Texan multi-billionaire, allegedly a former drug dealer and CIA spy and certainly a fraudster. He invested heavily in the Caribbean, particularly in Antigua, and in sport, particularly Caribbean 20twenty cricket. His international business empire was based in Antigua and he owned multiple domestic businesses on the island too, including the largest bank and the largest newspaper. In early 2009 over 60% of the population of Antigua was in some way employed by one of Stanford’s companies or a company in which Stanford had a considerable stake.
At this point he was arrested for fraud, all his companies were wound up, and it transpired that much of his money didn’t actually exist. This has been a heavy blow to the Antiguan economy. The ALP have received much of the blame, as it was the Bird family who first enticed Stanford to the island in the nineties and he made several large donations to the ALP. However the UPP haven’t entirely escaped censure, many pointing out that allowing the economy of the entire nation to depend so heavily on one corrupt Texan wasn’t the smartest move in economic history.
A good source of impartial information is: the Antigua Observer.
A good book is: At some point someone will write an incredible book about the Stanford saga. I don’t know if Sir Allen and Me: An Insiders Look at R. Allen Stanford and the Island of Antigua is it, but it is certainly first out of the press. Tim Hector: A Caribbean Radical’s Story is by all accounts a fascinating tale of a really interesting individual which reveals a lot about Antiguan politics – but is ever so slightly botched in the telling. Perhaps the most famous Antiguan political author is the feminist Althea Prince, who’s latest book is The Politics of Black Women’s Hair.
When are the next elections?: Elections were held in 2009 and are next due in 2014.