The Supervisor of Elections, Dame Lorna Simon has welcomed a High Court ruling dismissing a contempt of court motion filed by independent candidate, Asot Michael, regarding the nomination of Rawdon Turner to contest the St Peter constituency in Wednesday’s general election on behalf of the ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP).
Michael, the four-term representative, had been prevented from contesting the seat on a ticket of the ruling party and had warned of bringing “contempt proceedings against any and/or all electoral officials who facilitates a breach of the High Court Order”.
Michael had based his position on there being “a clear order of the High Court” and that “all High Court Orders are to be obeyed unless varied or set aside. The nomination of Rawdon Turner on the ABLP ticket is a direct violation of that Order”.
But Simon said in a ruling late on Monday, the High Court judge, Justice Dia Forrester, dismissed the motion filed by Michael against her and the Returning Officer for St. Peter for proceeding with the nomination of Turner.
“I am very relieved because contempt meant that both the Returning Officer and I could have been sent to prison or fined for breaching the court’s ruling regarding the selection of Mr Michael. So I am very happy at the outcome and that things can proceed according to our plans on Wednesday when the polls open at six am (local time),” she told the state-owned ABS Television.
Simon said that while in the past she had been before a tribunal regarding election issues “but this is the first time I have actually gone before the courts in my capacity as Supervisor of Elections”.
She told television viewers that she expect that the written judgement will be “delivered in a couple days”.
But in a response to the ruling, Michael said it did not validate Turner as the legitimate candidate for the election, saying that the ABLP candidate was not before the courts.
He said the action was taken against two senior election officials regarding an earlier decision of the High Court.
In a statement, Michael said he reserved the rights to bring fresh contempt of court proceedings to include the ABLP executive members including Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
The ABLP has since welcomed the court ruling with its chairman E.P Chet Greene saying that the decision validates the party’s decision to continue, “free of any hindrance with Rawdon Turner as the legitimate and only candidate for St Peter”
Greene said the ABLP acts only within the law and “this is why we were always confident of the position we took in this matter despite the assertions of Asot Michael”.
The ABLP is the only party contesting all 17 seats in the general elections with the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) contesting 16 seats each. There are three independent candidates.
Meanwhile, Simon says plans are well advanced for the staging of the elections that will be observed by a number of local and international teams from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Commonwealth..
“The only thing left to be done, and we are working on those right now, are the registers that will be used in the polling stations…those are being printed because we start issuing supplies to presiding officers (Tuesday)”.
But she said there is also a “the large number of persons who have been applying for lost or replacement cards and our office has been flooded with persons….and it is kind of perturbing that persons wait until the very last minute ….and I am sure we are going to have people here on Wednesday as well”.
She reminded electors to locate and keep securely their cards which are needed in order to vote, “join a line, know the correct constituency, the polling district, the polling station.
“We will have information officers at the entrance to each polling centre where there is more than one polling station and we urge persons if they are unsure which queue to join to check with the information clerk and go out and just exercise your franchise,” Simon added.
Meanwhile, the Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group, Danny Faure, is encouraging citizens to vote on Wednesday.
“The importance of the elections in a democracy as the ultimate expression of the will of the people cannot be understated. Casting a vote is a fundamental human right and we hope the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda will keenly exercise this right on elections day.” said the former President of Seychelles.
The group said from Tuesday, its members will be deployed across the country to observe the pre-election preparations as well as voting, counting and results processes at polling stations. An interim statement of their observations will be issued shortly after election day.
“The task we have been given is one we take seriously and will undertake solemnly in compliance with international standards for the conduct of international observers.”