ST JOHN’S – Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) leader Trevor Walker has applied to the High Court for an interim injunction to stop the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) from conducting polling for Barbudans in Antigua on Election Day.
The application names as respondents Nathaniel James, the ABEC chairman, and commissioners John Jarvis, Anthonyson King, Paula Lee, Suzette Charles, and Genaris Robinson. Jeanette Charles, another commissioner, was not included.
In addition to blocking the polling in Antigua, the order also seeks to restrain the respondents or their agents, “from denying the applicant his constitutional right to vote in the ensuing general election in the Constitution [sic] of Barbuda where he resides [sic].”
Walker’s move to the court comes in the wake of ABEC’s statement that eligible voters registered for the constituency of Barbuda would be required to vote in Antigua because of the “prevailing circumstances” on the hurricane-hit island. But Walker is challenging the legal basis on which ABEC pinned that decision and contends that to require him to vote on the mainland instead of where he is registered is “tantamount to disenfranchisement.”
In a letter dated January 26, 2018, James had indicated to prime minister Gaston Browne that the commissioners had decided that the poll for the constituency of Barbuda would be done in a constituency in Antigua based on the “prevailing circumstances resulting from the hurricane which ravaged the island of Barbuda”.
The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Irma in September resulted in the destruction of some 90 per cent of the island’s infrastructure and the evacuation of its 1,600-plus residents. A two-year-old child was the lone fatality.
In the supporting affidavit, Walker stated that he had met the ABEC chairman and the supervisor of elections on Monday to convince them to review their decisions, but he was told that the commission’s decision will stand.
The BPM leader argues that the Commission’s invocation of special circumstances because of the hurricane destruction amounted to a misinterpretation of the legislation being relied on.
According to him: “There are no impediments at present that would prevent the Electoral Commission from conducting the ensuing general elections in Barbuda. In fact, the nomination of candidates for the general election, which is a requirement of the law, will be conducted in Barbuda next week.”
Nomination day is set aside for individuals desirous of standing as candidates in general elections and involves the submission and verification of the nomination forms, a process overseen by the returning officer.
Earlier in the day, on Observer AM, Browne had indicated that ABEC was confident that its action was on solid legal ground.
“The ABEC would have gotten legal advice to confirm that what they’re doing is indeed legal, there’s no crisis. Yes, you have a special circumstance here in which they are declaring that the voting will take place here in Antigua and they’ll make adequate arrangements to transport perhaps the less than 100 voters on Barbuda.”
The PM said he believes the government should foot the transportation bill.