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King booted as Opposition Leader

NATASHA BECKLES, [email protected]

King booted as Opposition Leader

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CASTRIES – Former University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer Dr Gale Rigobert has been recommended to take over the position of Opposition Leader in the St. Lucia parliament as the 50-year-old United Workers Party (UWP) moves to restructure itself ahead of the next general election constitutionally due in 2016.
Rigobert will take over the position held by former Prime Minister Stephenson King, who had earlier indicated that he had no intention of resigning in the wake of reports of infighting within the leadership of the party.
Rigobert told reporters that she intends to work closely with her colleagues and party to ensure “that we can serve as an effective political surveillance on the actions and policies of the current Labour Party administration”.
UWP chairman Ezekiel Joseph told reporters Tuesday that while the party’s National Council had voted by a 50-4 margin to replace King, the final decision had been left in the hands of the parliamentary caucus that called for his removal on Monday.
He said a majority of the six opposition legislators had recommended that the Governor General Dame Pearl Louisy be informed of King’s removal and his replacement by Rigobert, a deputy political leader and the Member of Parliament for Micoud North.
Once confirmed, Rigobert, who taught international relations at the St Augustine campus of the UWI, would become the youngest and the island’s first female Opposition Leader.
UWP leader Allen Chastanet, who defeated King for the leadership opposition of the party last year, has welcomed Rigobert’s recommendation, calling it a significant step forward for youth and women.
“I expect her to be constantly a champion for those two groups,” he said, adding that the island needed an Opposition Leader who would “act as a cohesive voice in Parliament to challenge, represent and guard the interest of the citizens of this country”.
He said such a person would need to challenge Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, whom he said “operates in a high-handed manner” by making significant decisions “without public consultation or even brought to the parliament for discussion”.
On Monday, King had issued a statement refuting comments made by “party insiders” that he had agreed to resign as Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition.
He confirmed that the National Council had sought to replace him with Rigobert indicating that “this was rejected by the delegates for a number of reasons, among which was the fact that it could not be used as it spoke to actions taken immediately after a general election”.
He said instead a motion was moved and carried which gave the mandate to the elected legislators to meet on Tuesday to decide on the issue.
“For “party insiders” to now tell the public that he had agreed to resign is not only mischievous but a blatant fabrication of the truth. In fact this appears to be an attempt to intimidate and deliberately mislead the public and more so traditional supporters of the United Workers Party.
“The Leader of the Opposition wishes to state categorically that he has not and will not resign his constitutional position, – a position provided for under the Constitution of St. Lucia and for which the process for removal is clear,” King said.
Chastanet said that the “new leadership of the United Workers Party both in Parliament and externally will restore confidence and accountability to the running of the country by working towards demanding answers and the provisions of documents on issues and relations made with rogue governments that have never been questioned by the former leader of the opposition”.
He said “the new dispensation must institute greater checks and balances on the government power” and brushed aside suggestions that the decision to oust King was “his decision”.
Chastanet, who served as tourism minister in the last King administration, insisted that King’s removal was a step taken by the entire party, and was simply a matter of honouring the UWP’s constitution. “The decisions that we have had to make, as difficult as they are have been made substantially easier by the process that we have recently been through in developing a vision, mission and values of the party,” he said.
On Monday, Joseph told reporters that the UWP had emerged from the emergency executive meeting on Sunday “stronger than ever”.
The meeting had been called amid to consider changes in the party’s leadership in Parliament and follows the recent exchange of letters between King and Chastanet.
The letters, which were leaked to the media, point to disagreement over the direction the party, which lost the last general election in November 2011, by six seats to 11 to the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP).
It was the first time a UWP government was removed from office after only one term since the party’s  formation in 1964 by Sir John Compton, who went on to become its legendary leader and long serving Prime Minister of St. Lucia.
Sir John died in September 2007, nine months after he had led the party to victory at the polls following almost 10 years in opposition. (CMC)