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Election déjà vu

This country is in a time capsule. It is March 9, 2009 all over again. Except for a few changes, the players are all the same. The issues are no different. The Antigua & Barbuda Electoral Commission is in charge of overseeing the general elections. What’s different this time round? Nothing!

It will be a cold day in Hades before this nation forgets the fiasco of the 2009 polls. Everything that could go wrong did — last minute rush to print identification cards; late opening of polling stations; shortage of ballots; equipment failure; and the printing of lists that were eventually ruled unnecessary.

Unfortunately, that was not the sum total of the mayhem. For almost two years this country hobbled in limbo while the courts looked at the constitutionality of six of the winners, including the prime minister.

Who takes responsibility for what could easily have turned into a constitutional crisis? Not the electoral commissioners, for sure. The supervisor of elections eventually took the fall, but then she never fell, for to this day the good lady is very much still a part of that august body.

Exit the capsule and we are in September 2013, six months away from another general election, and it is almost unbelievable the scenarios being played out since Sunday at the Antigua & Barbuda Electoral Commission.

We were somewhat relieved when the date for re-registration was announced. Almost on cue, the opposition Antigua Labour Party declared its intention to stop the process by court action.

This could easily have been a signal, for within days we hear of glitches in an IT system for which we paid top dollar and which was declared ready for use.

While we have no intention of weighing in on the rightness or wrongness of the dismissal of the IT manager, there are more than a few pertinent questions that demand answers.

This country could easily be the only place on earth where the repository of something as important as electronic, electoral data resides with one person.  We recognise that the electorate’s personal information is sensitive data, but so is one’s bank information and medical records. These are accessible to more than one individual who would need the information to make decisions of one kind or another, or worse, in an emergency.

In the wake of the manager’s dismissal cum suspension, several of the commissioners have taken to the airwaves, in what can only be seen as public displays of open hostility and harsh criticism of the decision to discipline the employee. Accusations of lies, duplicity and deception have been hurled at the embattled chairman, whose authority is being questioned at every turn.

More far reaching, though, is the claim by one commissioner that has cast doubt on the whole re-registration exercise. Not only has he declared the exercise unnecessary, he charged that the date for re-registration was never a matter of consensus and that the chairman chose the time period arbitrarily.

Adding fuel to the inferno, yesterday, was the former chairman, who always feels the need to add his brand of expertise, every time a question is asked of the commission. This time round, it was déjà vu, as he jumped into the fray, giving freely his advice on the current imbroglio.

As has become the norm, he was scathing of the chairman, adding more heat rather than light to a very troubling situation.

Any Antiguan and Barbudan who heard yesterday’s discourse, for want of a better word, between commissioners Paddy James, Anthonyson King and chairman Juno Samuel, on OBSERVER AM, should be extremely concerned.

It could not be that this is what the architects of an electoral commission envisaged when it was determined that that ought to be the body responsible to see to the good running of the country’s electoral system.

Two years ago the Representation of the People Amendment Act reconstituted the commission such that it was more broad-based and a better representation of the electorate. The object, no doubt was to eliminate some of the personality and other issues that plagued the commission going into the 2009 polls.

To say the changes have achieved this goal is to fly in the face of the evidence being played out these past few days and which is likely to continue right up to the general elections.

The point is: The people of Antigua & Barbuda deserve better. We deserve to have a functioning electoral commission staffed by men and women guided by professional standards of conduct and behaviour, whose mandate is enshrined in the tenets of the law which brought their tenure into being.

What we have been hearing can only serve to undermine confidence in the electoral process. All right thinking nationals should be demanding a higher standard from these commissioners. These very public displays do not augur well for the general elections, which will come with their challenges, given the short lead-time for preparation.

The electoral commission ought to be above the political fray. It function transcends mere politics. It is the bulwark or the very heart of our democracy. We deserve better and we ought to say so in our loudest collective voices, until we are heard.

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