FFEL says PM’s vote-padding statement causes it to question whether election outcome was, indeed, the will of the people

The Free and Fair Elections League Inc. is expressing concern about the statement made by Prime Minister Gaston Browne in which he admits to vote-padding in the recent General Election.

Browne, two Saturdays ago, admitted that voters were moved from his constituency to other areas in order to give Antigua Labour Party (ALP) candidates an unfair advantage over their political opponents.

In a public statement put out by the League, the body expresses its extreme concern with the prime minister’s admission on the Browne & Browne show, on Pointe FM, on April 15.

The League says it is shocked that Browne admitted that he facilitated the transfer of voters out of his constituency, St. John’s City West, to help his colleagues in other constituencies to win their seats.

As an elections-watchdog organization, the League states that free and fair elections are the bedrock of any democracy.

And as one of the agencies that observed the January 18 elections and concluded that it was free and fair, it says questions must now arise as to the veracity of the pronounced outcome.

Additionally, the League says, “one must now question if the results truly reflected the will of the people.”

If what PM Browne said is the truth, then it also brings the integrity of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) into serious disrepute, the statement adds, since it is the body responsible for the management of the elections.

Several other persons – including former ABEC Chairman Bruce Goodwin – have expressed concern about Browne’s statement, while calling for an investigation into transfers ahead of the 2018 and 2023 polls.

In response, last Friday, April 21, ABEC put out a statement on the prime minister’s comments, saying the issue had been discussed at its Wednesday meeting and is of concern to the members.

While not totally distancing itself from the statement, the Commission went to great lengths to explain the transfer process.

But a senior civil servant tells REAL News the process is only as safe as the people who carry it out.  “If those in charge of these procedures are bent on circumventing the checks and balances, then ABEC’s talk about integrity is nothing but words,” she says.

Several of the United Progressive Party candidates in the last elections have told REAL News, repeatedly, that their claims and objections were totally ignored by ABEC, despite the branches having submitted written complaints.

“And the directive to ignore us came straight from the top,” one branch chair asserts.  “So ABEC’s statement about ‘the process’ does not discredit anything that Gaston Browne said.”