Certain developments at the Antigua & Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) have aroused the suspicions of Leon Chaku Symister, the United Progressive Party’s Spokesman on Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
Having studied the list of Returning Officers for the General Elections of 2023, Symister tells REAL News he is concerned that nepotism or cronyism could be at work at ABEC.
Among the names listed, he says, are five persons known to be related or closely connected to a senior officer of the Commission.
“Five out of 17. That’s almost one third of the Returning Officers,” he notes. “And while I am not casting aspersions on anyone, or doubting their abilities, on the face of it, it does not look good,” Symister, an attorney, says.
“The electorate must be able to have confidence in the Commission. And no matter which way you are leaning politically, this list raises questions,” he adds.
Reportedly, the selection was made after training and testing by ABEC’s newest Commissioner, Vernest Mack. “Are you telling me that only these persons applied for the position, or passed the test? Well, I’m telling you that I find this awfully convenient,” Symister says.
Additionally, the Spokesman says, certain administrative promotions and transfers of staff have sparked his fears that ABEC is being “packed” with persons who are able to influence the outcome of the impending General Elections.
“It appears to me that they are putting people in place deliberately,” Symister says.
He notes that there is already some degree of controversy about the number of new electors and transfers into key constituencies – to the degree that even the Cabinet has threatened an investigation.
While Symister has said the Executive has no authority to launch any such investigation, he notes that the decision to register voters is concentrated in virtually one person – and a Registration Officer could be influenced in any direction.
Residents are still being forced to register outside of their constituencies, he also notes, which goes against the law and is “a disincentive to registration and a type of voter suppression,” Symister says.
Given these concerns – as well as the fact that more than 2,000 Voter’s Identification cards are still uncollected at the Commission – the Spokesman says a meeting with ABEC is in order.
Accordingly, he says he will advise his Party to seek an audience with the Commission to lay these concerns on the table.
“The Commissioners have an obligation to address the people’s fears and, where necessary, to rectify certain situations,” Symister charges.
“General elections determine a nation’s future: how we live, whether we eat or starve, who gets work and who remains jobless. They influence our water capacity, the condition of our roads, our children’s education. Everything.
“Therefore, we have to do whatever we can – without fear or favour – to ensure that elections are fair and free of any type of influence,” Symister concludes.