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UWP takes shape


Peter W. Wickham

UWP takes shape

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While changes in the Office of Prime Minister “mid-stream” are still quite rare (Jamaica under Golding/Holness being one recent exception), there have been frequent changes recently in the office of the Leader of the Opposition across the Caribbean as some political parties attempt to make themselves more attractive.
Not so long ago in Barbados, the man who ultimately became Prime Minister replaced Mr Clyde Mascoll as Leader of the Opposition in a “coup” which inspired Mascoll to create history by being the first Caribbean Leader of the Opposition to cross the floor and assume a ministerial post in the government he previously opposed.
A few short years after the Mascoll debacle, the BLP Opposition Leader was also replaced; however she had the good sense to persist with the same organisation and is now once more “Prime Minister-in-waiting”.
As such, last week’s news of the appointment of a new Leader of the Opposition in St Lucia was not historic, nor was it surprising to those of us who understand former Prime Minister Stephenson King’s weaknesses.
It was, in the opinion of this author “good politics” for several reasons, not least of which is this “King factor”. There are several good reasons why it makes political sense to replace Stephenson King as Leader of the Opposition at this time and the most obvious is the fact that he led the UWP into an electoral defeat on their most recent electoral excursion. In this business there is no silver medal awarded for the second place and serious political parties are realising that if a leader cannot deliver a victory, then they should be replaced by others who appear to have the potential to perform better.
In King’s defence, one appreciates that he inherited an almost impossible situation with a global economy that was trending downwards, along with the fact that he inherited a weak government (a mere two per cent lead on the SLP).
There were also well-publicised internal battles which King did not have the parliamentary majority or political capital to deal with decisively. This environment was directly related to the fact that John Compton died “suddenly” and while there were two other persons within who were more likely successors, Compton appeared to prefer King as he represented the path of “least resistance”.
Such a compromise is often a good way of solving a short-term leadership challenge, but as we are currently seeing in Barbados, there can be longer term negative political impacts.
In the final analysis, King was never the type of politician that one saw leading St Lucia and his promotion therefore represented a political windfall. Therefore instead of seeing himself as someone who was “hard done” by the UWP, King should consider himself fortunate to have been among one of seven St Lucians who has held this post and as such, has written his name on history’s page.
The battle that faces the UWP in 2016 will be an interesting one and it is useful to note that the narrative of 2016 will be a continuation of the 2006 political scenario.
At that time, St Lucian’s turned to Compton, who was an 80-year-old retired leader, which reflected a lack of plausible alternatives within the UWP.
The “experiment” with Dr Vaughan Lewis failed miserably and the UWP’s presentation of Compton was very much an admission that they had nothing new to offer. It is therefore not surprising that when Compton died and UWP offered King (who was available in 2006), the electorate agreed with the UWP that he was unsuitable.
St Lucia has an interesting history regarding succession and the introduction of “fresh” faces. In the not-too-distant past, both the SLP and UWP have effectively “parachuted” leaders into their parties and both have had strong academic backgrounds.
Admittedly the experiment with Dr Kenny Anthony was more successful than the Lewis experiment, but both demonstrate that the country’s politics is disposed to accepting a fresh political face with strong credentials.
In such an environment the switch to Dr Gail Rigobert seems both logical and consistent with the finer traditions of St Lucia. She is a well-lettered and articulate woman who is now well-placed to mount an effective response to the SLP in 2016.
The UWP’s choice and also the timing of their decision is prudent since the party now has two solid years to repair any damage that might have been caused by King’s removal.
One is, however, mindful of the role of both Allen Chastenet, the UWP leader, and Richard Frederick, both of whom have been “troublesome” in the past. The latter individual is seen to have considerable baggage, while the former is handicapped by virtue of his not being a member of parliament.
 Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).

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