An opposition leader's decisive election victory ends the half-century dominance of the Bird dynasty in Antigua and Barbuda.
BY COLIN JAMES
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua -- Longtime opposition leader Baldwin Spencer was sworn in as prime minister Wednesday after a decisive victory in elections that ended the half-century dominance of the Bird dynasty in Antigua and Barbuda.
Spencer, a 55-year-old labor activist, took the oath of office at the governor general's residence before hundreds of supporters and politicians. He said the government would get to work right away.
''There is no honeymoon period in this business,'' Spencer said.
``We have to get down to work because we have a packed agenda.''
His predecessor Lester Bird conceded defeat earlier Wednesday.
With all votes counted, preliminary results of Tuesday's elections showed Spencer's United Progressive Party with 12 of 17 parliamentary seats.
Bird himself was unseated by Errol Cort, a former attorney general whom Bird fired in 2001.
''I think that the people have decided that it was a time for change,'' he said.
A whopping 91 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots, up from 65 percent in the last elections in 1999, electoral officials said.
SINCE THE 1950S
The Bird family has dominated politics here since the 1950s, when Bird's father, the late Vere Bird Sr., was a revolutionary labor leader defying British colonizers to demand higher wages for cane cutters. The elder Bird led his country to independence in 1981.
The elder Bird led his country to independence in 1981 and was prime minister until his retirement in 1994, when his son Lester won election.
Results showed Bird garnered only 45 percent in his district, and his Antigua Labor Party came away with just four seats, down from nine.
Bird's government has been badly damaged by scandals that in recent years have centered on allegations of bribery, misuse of funds in the national health insurance plan, and a 13-year-old girl's charges that he and his brother used her for sex and to procure cocaine.
Bird, 66, denied the last charges and organized an inquiry that found no evidence.
Among opposition winners was Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, a 37-year-old consultant who becomes Antigua's first woman to hold a House seat.
Spencer's party has pledged greater unemployment benefits and funding for school uniforms and lunches.
The new leader named four ministers to his Cabinet, including lawyer Harold Lovell as foreign minister and Cort, who defeated Bird, as finance minister.