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Antigua and Barbuda
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Antigua and Barbuda's political rights rating improved from 4 to 2, and its status from Partly Free to Free, due to free and fair parliamentary elections that brought an end to the political dynasty of the tainted Bird family, providing significant opportunities for the promotion of democratic practices and the rule of law
The defeat of Prime Minister Lester Bird by opposition figure Baldwin Spencer in free and fair parliamentary elections in March 2004 ended the political dynasty of the tainted Bird family, which had dominated politics in Antigua and Barbuda for decades.
Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the British Commonwealth, gained independence in 1981. In 1994, the elder Vere Bird stepped down as prime minister in favor of his son Lester. In the run-up to the 1994 election, three opposition parties united to form the United Progressive Party (UPP), which campaigned on a social-democratic platform emphasizing rule of law and good governance. Parliamentary seats held by Bird's Antigua Labour Party (ALP) fell from 15 in 1989 to 11, while the number for the UPP rose from 1 to 5.
After assuming office, Lester Bird promised a less corrupt, more efficient government. Yet the government continued to be dogged by scandals, and in 1995, one of the prime minister's brothers, Ivor, received only a fine after having been convicted of cocaine smuggling. In the March 1999 elections, the ALP won 12 parliamentary seats; the UPP, 4; and the Barbuda People's Movement (BPM), 1.
On March 23, 2004, after a hard-fought, and at times vitriolic, campaign, the UPP, led by Baldwin Spencer, defeated the ALP. The vote was deemed to be generally free and fair by Commonwealth observers, and the election's results, which were not contested, were a crushing defeat for the ALP, which retained only 4 out of the 17 seats in parliament. The UPP won 12 seats, while the BPM, an ally of the UPP, won the Barbuda seat in a runoff election. Both the prime minister and his brother Vere Bird Jr. lost their seats in parliament.
The endemic corruption of state institutions continues unabated. Only 4 of the 14 people named in a 2002 Royal Commission of Inquiry, which concluded there were serious instances of fraud in the medical-benefits program, had been indicted before Bird left office. The Medical Association has alleged official obstruction and emphasizes that improprieties continue. One of the former prime minister's brothers, Vere Bird Jr., continued to serve until the 2004 elections as minister of agriculture despite an arms-trafficking inquiry that concluded he should be barred from government service.
Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda can change their government democratically. The 1981 constitution establishes a parliamentary system: a bicameral legislature is composed of the 17-member House of Representatives (16 seats go to Antigua, 1 to Barbuda), in which members serve five-year terms, and an appointed Senate. Of the senators, 11 are appointed by the prime minister, 4 by the parliamentary opposition leader, 1 by the Barbuda Council, and 1 by the governor-general.
Political parties can organize freely. However, the ruling party's monopoly on patronage makes it difficult for opposition parties to attract membership and financial support. The government has been planning to reform the electoral system by establishing an Independent Electoral Commission to review electoral law and redraw constituency boundaries, creating a new voter registry, and introducing voter identification cards; however, the relevant legislation has not yet been introduced. The Electoral Office of Jamaica commission was contracted to prepare a new voter list; deceased and absent voters have not been removed from the list since 1975.
Although the government introduced anticorruption and integrity legislation in parliament in October 2002, no significant action had been taken as of November 2004. The Integrity of Public Life Bill passed parliament and immediately caused outcries by the Antigua Labour Party because of a clause interpreted to sanction same-sex relationships; the country has an anti-sodomy law. The Integrity Bill requires that public officials make an annual declaration of assets, with failure to comply becoming a punishable offense. In January, the country became the fourth member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which requires public officials to declare their assets and liabilities, improves cooperation on the collective fight against corruption, and strengthens corporate accounting practices. Antigua and Barbuda was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The family of former prime minister Lester Bird continues to control television, cable, and radio outlets. The government owns one of three radio stations and the television station. One of the Bird brothers owns a second station, and another brother owns the cable company. Opposition parties complain of receiving limited coverage from, and having little opportunity to present their views on, the government-controlled electronic media. There is free access to the Internet. The Declaration of Chapultepec on press freedoms was signed in September 2002.
The government respects religious and academic freedom.
Nongovernmental organizations and labor unions can organize freely. The Industrial Court mediates labor disputes, but public sector unions tend to be under the sway of the ruling party. Demonstrators are occasionally subject to police harassment.
The country's legal system is based on English common law. The ALP had manipulated the nominally independent judicial system, which had been powerless to address corruption in the executive branch. The islands' security forces are composed of the police and the small Antigua and Barbuda Defence Forces. The police generally respect human rights; basic police reporting statistics, however, are confidential. The country's prison is in primitive condition and has been criticized for the abuse of inmates, though visits are permitted by independent human rights groups.
An increasing level of crime led to calls in August to post police officers at gas stations; the police commissioner declined to honor the requests citing insufficient personnel. Increased patrols and the reintroduction of roadblocks and stiffer fines for firearms violations were offered as a response. The crime wave has been used by the UPP to attack the mixed economic record of the Bird administration, while the ALP has accused the administration of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of pursuing poor economic policies that have increased unemployment and crime.
A resolution to ratify the International Labour Organisation Convention Concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value was presented to parliament in late 2002. Social discrimination and violence against women are problems. The governmental Directorate of Women's Affairs has sought to increase awareness of women's legal rights.