By Carlena Knight
For the first time in Antigua’s history, an independent candidate has been sworn in as a Member of Parliament.
MP Asot Michael took his oath of allegiance on Friday morning in front of a packed crowd of supporters and other well-wishers.
It’s been a rocky road for Michael who was essentially given the boot from the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) despite his many claims that he is still a member.
Then there were the public disputes with his former friend and colleague, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who throughout the months leading up to the January 18 general elections shockingly left the long-serving ABLP member off of his slate, replacing him with newcomer Rawdon Turner.
There have been several legal battles where this is concerned, but Michael, despite the negative press, managed to regain his seat in St Peter winning by a monumental margin, becoming the first independent candidate in Antigua to win a seat – a win, which he said, belongs not to him, but the people of St Peter.
“This victory is not for Asot Michael; this victory in creating history today, belongs to the people of St Peter. It is the people of St Peter who resoundingly and overwhelmingly voted for me as their independent candidate, and all the odds were against them to send me into this house of representatives for a fifth consecutive term. I feel great joy, great pride and I will live up to their expectations and my responsibilities as an independent candidate in Antigua and Barbuda,” Michael said.
It was also a gratifying moment for the United Progressive Party’s (UPP) Kelvin ‘Shugy’ Simon, whose candidacy remains a matter to be legally settled at this time.
Although the matter is still wrapped up in the courts, Simon was sworn in yesterday after a High Court judge ruled in his favour earlier this week on an injunction seeking to prevent him from being sworn in as the representative for St Mary’s South.
With Simon being allowed to be sworn in at the first sitting of Parliament, the court now has to decide whether his nomination contravened the Constitution and Civil Service Act which prohibits civil servants from being elected to office.
Despite it all, Simon, who is a first-time member of the Lower House was filled with emotions as he took his oath of allegiance in front of his family, friends and supporters who cheered on the Bolans resident.
“It’s a momentous occasion. I feel really proud. It was a lot of hard work indeed to get here and, as they say, hard work pays off, so it is a proud moment for myself, my family, my friends, my supporters.
“It’s a learning curve for me, as we know, I am new so I am opening my mind and putting my best foot forward to learn as much as I can so I can have a strong debate and of course, the people in St Mary’s South elected me to be here, I’ll be their champion, I’ll be their warrior. I will be fighting for them every step of the way in Parliament,” Simon said.
Meanwhile, there was thunderous applause for media personality Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts, the MP for St George, as he too was sworn in on Friday, joining Simon, Richard Lewis and All Saints West MP Anthony Smith as the newcomers for the Opposition in Parliament.
“I was nervous; believe it or not, this was a monumental occasion. I am thankful for all the people who came out on the 18th of January and voted for me and gave me the opportunity to be here to represent them fully, fearlessly, but honourably,” Watts said.
“I am still me, you know, I don’t plan on changing me. I will do my work in here admirably and honourably as I said earlier for the people who put me here, but I will be doing it as me,” he added.
Watts, who is also the Managing Director of Observer media secured the highest votes out all of the 50-plus candidates in the election. He amassed 2,146 votes – edging out Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) incumbent Dean Jonas who got 2,005, and the DNA’s Benjamin Quinland who received 54 votes.
Returning to the Parliament was Jamale Pringle who retained his position as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and Barbuda MP, Trevor Walker.
On the government’s side, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Attorney General Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin, Melford Nicholas, Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, Molwyn Joseph, Maria Bird-Browne and Sir Robin Yearwood were sworn in, the last as the Deputy Speaker of the House.
The ABLP government now has nine seats in the Lower House and the Opposition eight, one of the narrowest margins that the party has ever had.