The upcoming January 18, 2023 general elections seems to be increasing tension between prime minister Gaston Browne and St Peter MP Asot Michael.
On Thursday, Mr. Browne made scathing comments against Mr. Michael, at one point referring to him as “a criminal” who would not be accepted back into his government. “Asot Michael is too rotten to serve in our parliament,” he insisted.
Regarding court applications filed by Mr. Michael to challenge the nomination of Rawdon Turner as the Antigua Barbuda Labor Party (ABLP) candidate, PM Browne was adamant that his party did not violate any court order.
“Asot is just a mischief maker” … “Asot as an independent candidate cannot win. He can’t do nothing for the people,” he told reporters during a side interview following the signing of a technical agreement between the Peoples Republic of China and Antigua and Barbuda on Thursday morning.
The four-time St Peter MP was forced to register as an independent candidate on Wednesday after he was replaced, “unconstitutionally”, he claims, by the ABLP as a candidate.
However, tensions peaked on Friday night when both Mr. Michael and Mr. Turner were canvassing a residence in Pares. Mr. Turner was accompanied by prime minister Browne.
Sometime during their encounter, a circulating video shows Mr. Browne threatening to strike the MP in the face.
“If you come within my space, I will thump you in your face,” he said repeatedly, as Mr. Turner stood by shaking his head.
It is not clear what transpired before his remarks but both political camps have issued statements about Friday night’s encounter.
In a statement to the press, Mr. Michael said that the prime minister had “threatened to commit a criminal act of violence” against him.
He also claimed that “a contingent of masked officers from the Special Security Unit (SSU) armed with machine guns” then followed his campaign team around Pares Village for the rest of the evening “in an obvious attempt to intimidate them on behalf of the Labour party leader and his candidate”.
The labour party on the other hand has claimed that Mr. Michael was “disrupting the culture of campaigning by acts of provocation”.
E. Paul “Chet” Greene, Chairman of the ABLP told the public not to be “fooled” by the press release and an edited video widely circulated by Mr. Michael.
Mr. Greene explained that what the video and press statement by Mr. Asot Michael does not reveal is that for two hours yesterday, the ABLP campaign team was deliberately trailed by Mr. Michael.
“Mr. Michael’s tactics were completely contrary to the culture of political campaigning long established in Antigua and Barbuda, “he remarked.
He explained that the “campaign culture, always respected by the political parties, is that neither side interferes with the other when conversations are being held with potential voters”, adding that “campaigners on both sides give space to the other”.
But according to Mr. Greene “Mr. Michael trailed the ABLP team, and eventually entered the home of an elector while the Prime Minister was talking with potential voters and refused to leave or give way”.
He claimed that “in a deliberate act of provocation”, Mr. Michael planted himself next to the Prime Minister, restricting him from talking freely.
“When the Prime Minister asked Mr. Michael to respect honoured traditions and to give him space to talk with the voters, Mr. Michael bluntly refused, causing the Prime Minister to tell him what action he would take if Mr. Michael persisted in his tactics of intimidation and provocation”.
Mr. Greene claimed that the Prime Minister’s response came only after Mr. Michael ignored a caution by the police not to disrupt the peace and to allow others the same freedom to campaign as he is accorded.
He also said that contrary to Mr. Michael’s claim, no armed and masked police followed him.
“That is pure invention and part of the new and unwholesome tactics that Asot Michael has introduced into the traditions of peaceful campaigning that political parties in Antigua and Barbuda have always followed,” he stressed.
The ABLP Chairman said that he intends to make an official request to the Commissioner of Police of Mr. Michael’s “provocative and intimidatory activity with a request that he be warned to desist”.