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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Chastanet’s test

Tennyson Joseph, [email protected]

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Chastanet’s test

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THE ANNOUNCEMENT by Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony of the June 6 date for the next general election in St Lucia provides a useful context for reflection on the broad political environment framing the coming contest. 

One of the most significant features of the political environment is the fact since its formation in 1964, the United Workers’ Party (UWP) has not won an election without John Compton as its leader.

The challenge facing current UWP leader Allen Chastanet is that amongst all the previous leaders (Dr Vaughan Lewis, Dr Morella Joseph and Stephenson King), he is perhaps the least grounded in the social and political life of St Lucia.

Dr Lewis was a respected regional academic from one of the oldest political families, was an elected parliamentarian, and had served briefly as prime minister, before he was afforded the opportunity to lead the UWP into the 1997 election. Similarly, Mr King was a long-standing parliamentarian and upon the death of Compton in 2007, had assumed the prime ministership, prior to leading the UWP into the 2011 election.

Only Dr Joseph rivals Chastanet in terms of greenness, outsider status and alien disconnection from St Lucian politics. She, however, was blessed with the presence of Compton, and the fact that she had been an educator of long standing and strong repute when leading the UWP in the 2001 election. 

In contrast, Chastanet, outside of his senatorial role as minister of tourism in 2006-2011, had no prior involvement in politics. The son of a wealthy businessman, he does not speak the native vernacular, and his political involvement has coincided with a hurried crash course in being Lucian.

Also, Chastanet has yet to win a seat. Having lost his bid for election in Soufriere in 2011, he has now chosen the relatively safe seat of Micoud South for the 2016 election.  His main effort as leader has been devoted to de-selecting old candidates, and hand-picking new candidates at the constituency level. This has alienated several constituency stalwarts from his leadership, and has compromised the newly selected candidates as being “specially chosen” rather than politically grounded. 

In policy terms, Chastanet’s interventions have revolved around elite concerns about Anthony’s “management of the economy”, while remaining silent on any commitment to social programmes. He has chosen the path of grandiose promises such as the abolition of VAT and negotiating away visa entry requirements to the United States, further evidence of his political inexperience and his under-estimation of the political nous of the St Lucian people. 

None of this is meant as an election prediction. However, it suggests that Chastanet will have a difficult time reversing his starting handicaps in a 14-day campaign.

(Disclaimer: The author is a former electoral candidate for the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP), a former SLP senator, and past administrative attaché to Prime Minister Kenny D. Anthony).

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: [email protected]