ST. JOHN'S, Antigua – Antigua & Barbuda's ruling party faced an uphill battle for a third term in office in Thursday's election in the tiny Caribbean country, which has been hit hard by the global economic crisis.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and his United Progressive Party have led the twin-island country since 2004, but an independent poll conducted by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services group has given the edge to the Antigua & Barbuda Labor Party led by lawmaker Gaston Browne.
The two main parties and a handful of smaller factions are vying for 17 seats in Parliament.
The Labor Party argues that Spencer's government has mismanaged the economy and failed to create jobs. It has vowed to abolish the personal income tax, construct 500 homes in 500 days and lower corporate taxes.
Spencer says his administration has fulfilled most of the promises it made before the 2009 election, when his party won nine of the 17 seats. His party pledges no new or increased taxes and says tax cuts of up to 20 percent are in the works for some.
Nearly 50,000 people are registered to vote in Antigua & Barbuda, which has a population of roughly 90,000.
The islands' tourism-dependent economy was severely hobbled by the global recession and a budget gap worsened after the 2009 collapse of fraudster R. Allen Stanford's Antigua-based financial empire. The Texas financier helped fund the government and was the Caribbean country's largest private employer until U.S. authorities accused him of defrauding investors in his offshore bank.