Pundits say Browne’s accusations of vote-padding in St. Peter is a ‘red herring’ to divert attention from his own admission
Persons are asking whether Prime Minister Gaston Browne can launch an investigation into registration operations for the St. Peter constituency, where he is alleging that the voters list was padded by independent MP Asot Michael.
Browne’s accusation is also being seen as a red herring, designed to divert attention from his own admission of voter padding from St. John’s City West.
Several weekends ago, Browne told his radio audience that voters had been transferred out of his constituency and into other areas to give his Labour Party colleagues an unfair advantage.
Since then, he has been facing a backlash and public criticism, with several people and institutions – including the Free & Fair Elections League and the United Progressive Party (UPP) – calling for the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) to investigate the matter.
Former ABEC Chairman Bruce Goodwin has also called on the Commission to launch a probe.
Accordingly, pundits says that Browne is trying to throw a monkey wrench into the discussions by moving the spotlight from him and onto the St. Peter MP, who convincingly won his seat.
Legal sources say that only the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) can investigate such matters under Section 82 of the Representation of the People Act, which speaks to corrupt practices in elections.
Therefore, it will be interesting to see whether Browne actually writes to the DPP requesting the investigation – and whether the request is honoured – since the prime minister, in his own capacity, cannot proceed on the matter.
Despite this limitation, Browne has announced that an investigation into the significantly increased number of transfers into St. Peter will be launched this week.
The prime minister is claiming there was an unusual augmentation to the St. Peter numbers prior to the January 18 General Election; and this, reportedly, was drawn to the Cabinet’s attention in September 2022 by Labour Party candidate Rawdon Turner and former MP Dean Jonas.
Jonas allegedly reported to the Executive that constituents of St. George had been paid to transfer to St. Peter; but that claim has not been substantiated.
Browne – who has been at loggerheads with Michael for a few years now – alleges that these people were transferred to improve the independent member’s chances of winning the seat.
However, last year, Michael linked the surge in numbers to the residents of the new National Housing project in Paynters, about which the Browne Administration has repeatedly boasted. And he subsequently defeated his three opponents by a margin of hundreds.