Victory will be ours
It’s now a matter of hours before Antiguans and Barbudans go to the poll to elect a new government.The incumbent United Progressive Party led by Baldwin Spencer, which is seeking a third straight term in office, is predicting it would bring home the victory with a comfortable majority.
Editor-In-Chief Kaymar Jordan interviewed the UPP leader about the campaign and the issues at hand, including public sector retrenchment.
Q. Are you’re seeing this as a fight down to the wire?
A. Yes I would want to believe that it’s a fight. Sometimes they’re good fights, sometimes they’re not so good a fight, but that’s how it looks and I believe at the end of the day the UPP will be victorious.
Q. I’m hearing a little bit of hesitation in your voice though. Am I to read that as a very hesitant Baldwin Spencer or an apprehensive Baldwin Spencer?
A. Clearly apprehension is not an appropriate word. I’m reasonably confident, but as I always say I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched and that will be determined tomorrow but I am pretty confident we will succeed and victory will come the UPP’s way.
Q. We’ve been hearing suggestions you could lose your seat. Is that something we should entertain?
A. Every election I hear that so that is not unusual and people avail themselves of the democratic process and I’m satisfied that I will have that renewed support and confidence that has been bestowed on me in this constituency once again.
Q. Are you expecting a bigger victory, a smaller victory or just edging home? What kind of outcome are you looking at?
A. From our perspective we can look for a comfortable majority.
Q. Why are you so confident given all that has transpired? This is a tough economic race and people say once you’re an incumbent you’re on your back foot. What makes you think you will bring it home?
A. I think that the people of Antigua and Barbuda will be able to make a sound judgement as to what would be in their best interest going forward and be able to determine fact from fiction and would be able to decipher who will be best able to manage the affairs of this country going forward taking into consideration where we’ve come from and where we are likely to go and who will have the better prescription for the future of Antigua and Barbuda.
Q. Are you out in the hustings today?
A. As I speak, I’m in my headquarters in my constituency seeking to do some work and to ensure that all the Is are dotted and the Ts crossed and that we have everything in place so that from 6 o’cock from tomorrow morning we’ll be ready to roll.
Q. What are people telling you today? What are your constituents saying?
A. Everybody is fired up. This constituency is always a very lively constituency at election time and the liveliness is not on one side and things are happening. There are loudspeakers blasting, music playing, tapes rolling; all types of things are happening.
Q. You have to manage 17 constituencies. Are the people in the other 16 fired up?
A. I would want to believe so. I’ve been monitoring the situation and talking to my candidates as the day unfolds and getting a sense of how things are going so yes, things are
Q. Are you satisfied with the campaign that you’ve run?
A. Yes, certainly. We have waged a pretty good campaign. At one point, the opposition forces were out there and they never stopped campaigning since 2009, while they had the luxury of time to be out there spreading misinformation and doing all sort of mischievous things we had to be concentrating on governing.
When of course the time was pretty obvious that an election was pending and we started to engage the people of Antigua and Barbuda and to be out there on the hustings, clearly the situation would have changed. At one point people felt it was a lost cause for the UPP but we were not engaging yet, we were looking about taking care of the affairs of the people of Antigua Barbuda, which we continued to do right up to day . . . .
We were able to shore up our base; we were able to speak to the real issues. We were able to m`ake a clear distinction between facts and fiction, where we were able to show clearly how we were able to deliver for the people of Antigua and Barbuda in very challenging and difficult times, where we took Antigua and Barbuda from when we took office in 2004 in terms of this nation’s image and respectively in the Caribbean and
in the world.
We’ve done a lot of positive things to place Antigua and Barbuda in a position where we are no longer regarded as a rogue and vagabond state with a bunch of bandits running Antigua and Barbuda. Those things are all gone since we emerged as the government in 2004 and if it’s one thing I take a lot of pride and feel satisfied about, quite apart from a number of positive policies that impact a broad cross section of the Antiguan citizenship, I’m particularly pleased about the fact that we were able to repair and restore the image and respectability of Antigua and Barbuda in the eyes of the Caribbean and the world.
Q. So you don’t think you waited too late to call the election? Are you happy with that decision in hindsight?
A. I would have preferred not to have had to wait until now because it’s highly unusual for us to have elections at this time of the year. Quite frankly, I don’t understand how one could make the argument that there was something that I had to gain by delaying the election. I had absolutely nothing to gain. In fact, it placed us in a bit of an awkward position. The reality is that we could not, under the circumstances, hold the elections earlier.
You cannot have fundamental issues pertaining to the vey election like what boundaries you’re going to use, what voter’s list you’re going to use and these things were being tied up in the court by an opposition that is just absurd in their thinking. But that’s the democratic process we have here; there’s the rule of law. You can use the court which they did effectively.
Q. What is the deciding factor tomorrow?
A. Deciding factor is the whole question of leadership, the whole question of who is better able to take care of the affairs of this country because this election is crucial for the immediate and foreseeable future of Antigua and Barbuda and I believe the people are going to make a judgement whether they return to the period of decadence, corruption, mismanagement and all what transpired or whether they’re going to keep on a path, which clearly suggests that Antigua and Barbuda is on the rebound, that we’ve done a number of things to place this country in a sound position.
Just look at what Forbes magazine had to say about Antigua and Barbuda. The reason why they’re saying that Antigua and Barbuda is poised to become one of the wealthiest nations among the developing world in two years time, is that they used the whole question of governance and that is crucial; that is crucial to the process and as far as we’re concerned that’s a feather in the cap of the United Progressive Party.
We have been governing this country for ten years and the United Progressive Party has demonstrated the capacity and the ability to govern in the best interest of Antigua and Barbuda.
Q. What about the economy? Antigua has its challenges, Barbados has its challenges. How big an issue is that for those going into the ballot box tomorrow?
A. Clearly it’s an issue and we are mindful of that and we appreciate the fact that it will be a major factor but at the same time I think the people of Antigua and Barbuda would also recognize that despite the economic challenges that we’ve gone through we have been able to keep this ship of state afloat in a way that did not allow for Antigua and Barbuda to descend into a chaotic situation where the country would have been ungovernable and there would have been major issues that would have reached a point where we would have been in total crisis.
We have had to withstand, that has never happened. We have had to withstand the debacle from the [Allen] Stanford situation, we have had to withstand the collapse of the CLICO/BAICO situation and this is quite apart from the situation involving the world economy so we’ve had a double triple whammy as we always say but at the same time we have been able to navigate the waters.
Q. That reminds me of a campaign statement you made that raised a few eyebrows over here about Barbados having to lay off people but Antigua not
A. We just made the point that despite our difficulties a very conscious and deliberate decision [was] that whatever it is we will not embark on that because we recognise that the private sector did not have the absorptive capacity to address that issue and we didn’t want to compound the injury that was taking place so we said whatever we do we have to hold the line on that. After all, we always talk about the party being a party that believes in people first, that the party is rooted in the ordinary men and women of this country. So to the extent that is, so we want to hold the line on that.
An argument could have been made quite successfully I suppose for the shedding of three to four thousand public servants or even more but we had to make a choice under the circumstances as to which way we ought to go.
Q. And you think that if you’re re-elected you’d be able to hold on to that promise of not sending home public servants in this climate?
A. Yes, I would want to believe so. It will be challenging to begin with but as I said we are seeing a rebound in the economy of Antigua and Barbuda, the prospects are looking good. Before 2014 comes to an end we will see some significant improvements in our economic fortunes and when 2015 comes around God’s willing I can assure you that Antigua and Barbuda will be moving forward and upwards with the United Progressive Party administration.
Q. What if you lose the election?
A. If I lose it means that the people of Antigua and Barbuda would have made a judgement; rightly or wrong they would have decided. So I would have to accept the verdict of the people of Antigua and Barbuda and wish the new government well and the people of Antigua and Barbuda well; but I somehow get the feeling that that is not what’s going to happen.