KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) has defended Peter Wickham, the Barbadian pollster who reportedly told U.S. officials that the ULP used money and other hand outs to sway voters in hard-fought constituencies in the December 2005 elections.
The ULP was returned to office after it won 12 of the 15 parliamentary seats in 2005. The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which won the three remaining seats, complained about voter irregularities, especially in three constituencies, where it lost by 35, 22, and 16 votes, respectively.
“I want to state categorically, up front, that I have not lost confidence in Peter Wickham neither has this party,” said ULP General Secretary and campaign manager Sen. Julian Francis on Tuesday.
“We believe that Peter is being misrepresented in these matters,” Francis added.
According to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Wickham told U.S. officials in Barbados in 2006 that he believed that a sudden injection of US$350,000 in the last two weeks of the December 2005 election campaign allowed the ULP to sway voters in a handful of hard fought parliamentary races by helping people pay overdue bills, fix leaking roofs, and buy groceries.
The cable said that Wickham told the officials that it was the cash that won the elections for the ULP, since his polls showed the party could very well have lost.
The leaked document further said that Wickham believes the ULP flew about 400 people to St. Vincent from the United States for the election.
Wickham, in a press statement, denied having conveyed information to U.S. Ambassador Mary Kramer.
“Specifically, I can state categorically, that I have NEVER met privately with former US Ambassador Mary Kramer, who is alleged to be the author of this cable,” Wickham said in his statement.
The pollster was last Friday fired from the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in Barbados, where he was the resident analyst on the company’s radio and television stations.
The cable contains information that Wickham is said to have communicated about three prime ministers in the region.
“Peter Wickham is a professional in the Caribbean. He is a pollster and we have been using Peter Wickham since 1998 and we have every confidence in Peter Wickham and we will continue to support Peter Wickham and will continue to employ Peter Wickham,” Francis said on behalf of the ULP.
He said that the polls that Wickham and his firm Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) has done for the ULP “have always guided us in the right direction”.
“Had it not been for Peter Wickham and had we not followed Peter Wickham in quite a few areas of his advice, we may not have been in government today,” Francis said of the ULP, which came to office in 2001 and also won the 2005 and 2010 polls.
Francis said some of the contents of the cable “are so negative and dirty”, adding, “… it is the usual listening by these American people to the opposition”.
“I make no bones in saying that I do not think that the Unity Labour Party is a favourite party to the U.S. administration right now. I do not think so. And, when they listen to some of these things that the opposition say, they try to put these things out to public and use other means and other individuals to try and cover documents that they have released,” Francis said.
He noted that Wickham’s efforts to seek clarification from the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown was met with the response that they cannot discuss the contents of these documents since there is no certainty that the documents are authentic.
Francis said that the reference to using money to sway voters was “utter rubbish”.
“This is utter rubbish when you talk of one, the figure is utter rubbish and, two, this matter of the Unity Labour Party swaying people at the last minute by helping to pay overdue bills. It sounds like an opposition statement that the U.S. people believe and they are just carrying it on.”
He said that statements that his party flew in people to vote in the elections were also “NDP propaganda”.
“Let me state categorically that we did not pay to bring in anybody from overseas. … I have documents in my office that show me that the opposition are the ones who brought in people,” he said.
Francis however said that the government flew in Vincentians students from Trinidad and Barbados.
“That is the maximum of our involvement in bringing people home to vote. We don’t believe in it. We can’t spend that kind of money. But, I will say to you, categorically, that the NDP brought in well over 400, 500 people.”
Francis further clarified the extent of Wickham’s involvement in ULP electioneering.
“Peter Wickham is not involved in our campaign in any way with regards to finance and inside strategy outside of that of his polls. Peter advises us on strategy, he advises us on details and he interprets the polls for us and we ask him for advice on certain matters. Peter does not know how much money we spend. Peter does not know what we spend it on. He does his work, he submits his bill and we pay him. That’s all that Peter knows,” Francis said.