Regional pollster Peter Wickham believes that former United Progressive Party (UPP) candidate, Lamin Newton, could be the best person to contest the All Saints West seat, if the current MP has to be replaced.
Michael Browne, of the ruling Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), resigned from his position as Education Minister in November after he was arrested and charged with a criminal offence.
“My sense is that, if the Prime Minister would need to look for a new candidate, then Lamin Newton would be a good option for the Prime Minister to consider. I think he would want to do that if he has to make a decision to choose an alternative candidate,” Wickham said.
Newton resigned from the UPP a year ago claiming that he was at odds with the leadership of the party. That was later demonstrated when both Lamin and UPP leader Harold Lovell engaged in verbal battles in the media.
Wickham said, however, the option may not be isolated to Newton, as he believes the ABLP has other options.
“He [Prime Minister Gaston Browne] has other options and I believe the ABLP has other candidates that could be interested … but for sure Lamin Newton would make sense,” he said.
However, the pollster — who has conducted several opinion polls for the ABLP — cautioned that the need for a new candidate may not be necessary if MP Browne is fully exonerated.
“It won’t be fair to consider candidate issues until such time as his future has been determined. I believe the case will go forward fairly quickly; if he is fully exonerated it is difficult to say that he should not be a candidate thereafter,” he explained.
“I am not of the mind that the accusation against Browne could make someone an unworthy candidate,” Wickham added.
Yesterday, Newton told Observer that he was humbled by Wickham’s suggestion. “I think that is predicated on the fact that I did very well during the last election and also because of the work I am now doing for the ABLP,” he said.
However, he added that his hope is that Browne will be exonerated and therefore be able to contest All Saints West on an ABLP ticket.
“MP Michael Browne has done a fantastic job and his matter is now before the courts. I pray that he is exonerated from that situation that he has found himself in. The main focus, however, is the party, because the party is bigger than all of us,” he admitted.
During the March 2018 general elections, Newton — who contested the All Saints West seat on the UPP ticket — lost to Michael Browne by 345 votes.
Meanwhile, Wickham said Prime Minister Browne may want to abandon any plans of calling an early election because the political adviser is of the view that the polls would not necessarily go in the ABLP’s favour.
And, although he believes the incumbent ABLP may retain power, Wickham said, however, that the party could fall short of a landslide victory.
Last year, PM Browne hinted that he may call an early election in 2021; however, Wickham suspects that the government is at a greater disadvantage now than it was five years ago.
His misgivings are based on several factors, to include the Covid-19 pandemic, the resignation of Michael Browne and the fallout with Asot Michael, the former Tourism Minister.
“He has the option to call it any time he wants. He has constitutionally the option to call it early. He threatened an early election, but I don’t think he should. My inclination is that the kind of strategic advantage he gained last time he wouldn’t this time.”
Wickham told Observer that it may be useful for the Prime Minister to settle some vexing issues before he can consider returning to the polls.
He even suggested that Browne should use all the time afforded to him constitutionally, since according to the pollster, “Browne has quite a bit of time before they [elections] are due”.
“There are too many issues that need to be addressed, in addition to the fact that so many people in Antigua and Barbuda are undecided,” he said.
The effect of Covid-19 on the country’s economy is a factor that must be addressed before Browne “ventures” into election mode, Wickham said.
Additionally, ensuring that all his candidates are in place is another factor that has to be determined, the pollster advised.
“He may want to replace some candidates too; especially those that are a little bit older,” Wickham added.