- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

ST. JOHN’S, ANTIGUA (AP) - Antiguan voters worried by the fallout from an alleged fraud scheme involving their richest man were deciding Thursday between the ruling party and the one that welcomed R. Allen Stanford to the Caribbean nation nearly two decades ago.

Both main political parties have promised to strengthen Antigua’s economy, which was hit hard after Caribbean regulators took over local banks controlled by the Texas financier.

Police said voting was peaceful. But electoral officials reported numerous problems, including polling places opening late due to problems with voter lists. Hundreds of voters were still in line late Thursday at the scheduled closing of polls.

Official results were not expected until Friday.

Stanford is one of the island’s most prominent citizens and its largest private employer. Hundreds of people work for his two restaurants, one newspaper, cricket grounds, a development company and a three-branch local bank, as well as the headquarters of his Stanford International Bank.

Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, whose United Progressive Party is seeking to retain its majority of 17 parliamentary seats, has said his opponents sought to “literally give away Antigua and Barbuda to Allen Stanford” when the financier brought his offshore bank here from Montserrat in 1990.

Spencer’s opponent, Lester Bird, a close Stanford ally, denies the claim _ although his Antigua Labor Party was in power at the time.

The ALP dominated island politics for 28 years before Spencer wrested control away in 2004.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has accused Stanford and his top officers of an $8 billion fraud related to certificates of deposits and other investments. An attorney for Stanford has denied the allegations made in civil court.

The alleged scandal has Antigua worried about potential damage to its reputation and banking sector, and residents concerned about their economic future.

Spencer says he fears Stanford might not be able to pay some 700 workers. The Stanford Development Company, which provides maintenance, IT and other services to local Stanford companies, has already dismissed 94 employees.

The Senate has voted to confiscate about 250 acres (100 hectares) of Stanford’s property, including businesses that formed the basis of his empire.

Both parties have pledged unemployment assistance, with the ALP promising to help impoverished families by canceling old power and property tax bills. The UPP also seeks privatization of key state entities, such as power and telecommunications.

Thursday’s voting problems affected even the candidates themselves, as Spencer reported having to wait while his voting station opened late.

Elsewhere, an embarrassed electoral commission chairman apologized after a polling clerk denied Bird permission to bypass a long line of voters, as is tradition.

At one station, a man lay down in front of a bus filled with departing electoral officials and ballot boxes in an apparent protest to be allowed to cast his vote. He eventually got up.

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