BBC Caribbean
March 22, 2004

Pollster predicts win for Antigua opposition

After several weeks of intense campaigning by Antigua's two leading political parties, voters will decide on Tuesday whether to keep the Antigua Labour Party in power or vote in the opposition United Progressive Party.

Most opinion polls have predicted a closely contested election with some tipping the UPP as winners.

One such poll that gives the UPP the edge was conducted by Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). They have also done polls in Barbados, St Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago and St Lucia.

Political scientist and CADRES director Peter Wickham told BBC Caribbean Service that in the constituencies they polled, Antiguans have expressed a desire for a change of government.

"We're not really seeing a strong swing of landslide proportions but it's fairly clear from the constituencies we've polled that Antigua is on the way to a change of government."

Wickham did not however want to stick his neck out on the outcome of the election, because of the unpredictable nature of Antiguan voters.

"Of course I always caution that in Antigua it has been known in the past for polls to predict the outcome of one election and then that not happen," he said.

"Antiguans are very strange voters and they are apt to change their minds at the last moment but all things being equal, we should see a change of government in that country after Wednesday."

The Antigua Labour Party has been in power since the country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1981.

The party was led by Vere Bird Snr and on his resignation in 1994, his son Lester took over.

The ALP currently holds nine of the 17 seats and Prime Minister Bird believes that his party’s track record is enough for the voters to return him to power.

Wickham believes that even though the ALP has history and tradition on its side, many Antiguans are willing to give their backing to the UPP.

"The ALP has a strong tradition, the ALP machinery started very late in terms of their campaigning so certainly when we did this poll which was really a few weeks after the election was called, I don't think the 'Big Red Machine' as they refer to the ALP was in full flight - apparently it is now," Wickham told BBC Caribbean Service.

"With that I am not sure what change would come in public opinion but I am certainly anchoring my views in the fact that we did earlier polls and they did not show this. Hence there seems to be a movement, a distinctive movement in favour of the UPP that should take them into office."

The UPP currently holds four parliamentary seats and their leader Baldwin Spencer is confident that his party can win at least 12 seats come Tuesday.

Mr Bird has dismissed the Cadres poll as "simplistic and not scientific".

He told BBC Caribbean Service last week that his party has been running a tracking poll led by American pollster Ron Lester who is working with the Democratic Party.

The Antiguan leader insisted that the CADRES poll was "not a realistic prognostication of what's going to happen".

Electoral officials say they expect large number of the 43,000 Antiguans registered to cast their votes.