Antigua’s PM reaches out to the Governor General on removal of electoral commissioners

St. John’s, Antigua – Antigua’s Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Baldwin Spencer has written to the Governor General, Dame Louise Lake-Tack asking that the matter of the removal of Electoral Commissioners, Sir Gerald Watt QC, Nathaniel James and Lionel Hurst be investigated.

In a letter sent to the Governor General Thursday (April 29) the Prime Minister noted that the citizens and residents of Antigua and Barbuda are entitled to have an Electoral Commission that is capable of exercising its functions under the law. He noted that on Election Day, March 12, 2009, it became clear within hours of the start of voting that the Commission was not ready or able to conduct the elections as required by law and expected by the people of the state. This he said, was despite the Commission informing the nation and world on the state-owned Antigua and Barbuda Broadcasting Service, weeks before the election, and again on March 11, that it was ready to conduct the elections.

Prime Minister Spencer said there are reasonable grounds to believe, and substantial grounds to support, a conclusion that the members of the Electoral Commission who were responsible for conducting the elections of 2009, demonstrated at the time of the election, and now, their inability to exercise the functions of their office as required by the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2001.

The Prime Minister cited several examples of this demonstration of inability. These he said, included the Commission allowing an undetermined number of persons who were not eligible to vote to register as electors and taking no action to correct this illegality.

Mr. Spencer said additionally, that the Electoral Commission, in violation of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2001, allowed a picture list to be used alone, in numerous constituencies, as the Register of Electors, and the register was never published as required under the Act.

He also pointed to the opening of polls between two and half hours and six and half hours late in the constituencies of St. John’s Rural West, St. Peter, St. George, St. Mary’s North, St. John’s Rural North and St. John’s Rural South. “This lateness was compounded by the absence of ink at certain polling stations (and) the picture list provided for St. Mary’s North included electors from St. John’s Rural West,” the Prime Minister said.

The failure of the Commission to conduct elections in every constituency in accordance with the representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2001, the Prime Minister pointed out, was in his opinion, a sufficient basis to examine whether the Commissioners had demonstrated their inability to exercise the functions of their office.

Prime Minister Spencer also informed the Governor General that the Commission had demonstrated its inability to exercise its function in voter education as required under section 6(3) of the Act. This failure, he said, resulted in mass confusion leading up to the elections relating to (a) the cut-off date for registration (b) claims and objections (c) the conditions under which cards would be replaced and (d) the manner in which transfers from one constituency to another would be managed.

“The Commission failed to take meaningful and necessary steps to ensure that voter registration cards that were stockpiled in its office were distributed in a timely fashion,” the Prime Minister said in the letter to the Governor General. He described the efforts of the Commission in this regard as being, “so negligible and haphazard that they were ineffectual at best”.

“The Commission’s failure to provide guidance concerning the procedure for addressing stolen, lost and defaced cards led to a last minute rush at the Commission’s office, by affected electors, resulting in confusion in the immediate days and hours leading up to the elections,” Mr. Spencer recounted.

The Prime Minister also brought to the Governor General’s attention, what he described as the partisan manner in which Commissioner Lionel Hurst has conducted himself since his appointment. As a consequence, he said, the removal of Mr. Hurst from the Commission for inability or misbehaviour ought to be investigated.

In support of his position, Mr. Spencer pointed out that since his appointment to the Commission, Mr. Hurst has acknowledged himself to be, and is publicly referred to in the media, as a spokesperson for the Antigua Labour Party.

Commissioner Hurst, the Prime Minister added, has since his appointment to the Commission, continued to be a regular host on the partisan programme, “Fire and Steel” on ZDK/Liberty radio and has voiced and demonstrated open political partisanship and bias.

Prime Minister Spencer advised the Governor General that a photograph of Commissioner Hurst dressed in Party colours and engaging in a partisan picketing outside the Magistrates’ Court has appeared in the press.

“Commissioner Hurst continues to function at the Executive level within the Antigua Labour Party and, upon information and belief, has discussed matters relating to the Electoral Commission with his political party and has been influenced directly and/or indirectly by the Antigua Labour Party in carrying out his functions as a Commissioner.

This behaviour of open partisan activism by Mr. Hurst, the Prime Minister said, is inconsistent with the intent of the election legislation.

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