ALL AH WE IS ONE: The Chastanet hoax
WHEN IT WAS CONFIRMED that Allen Chastanet had emerged as leader of St Lucia’s United Workers’ Party (UWP) and had positioned himself as a possible prime minister, the immediate concern of persons who understand the role of political parties as working class representative institutions, was that St Lucia was facing the prospect of creating a prime minister who had none of the accustomed institutional and personal experiences that would equip him for that office.
Indeed, so concerned was I about this eventuality, that I penned an open letter to a close relative who had chosen to make himself a candidate under Chastanet’s leadership. In that letter I stated that my “opposition to Chastanet arises from the fact that . . . he is not grounded enough in St Lucianness to represent the interests of the entire population, and that his private life and past experiences have not prepared him to occupy an office in which the hopes of an entire population reside”. I also offered the view that Chastanet was “merely using the UWP, and the political arena, as a platform from which he can advance the narrow economic interests of a very small clique”. Indeed, I felt that “his election as prime minister, if it happens, will be the hoax of our lifetimes”.
Whilst these interventions were levelled principally at the “political readiness” of Chastanet, his performance at the first sitting of parliament following the formal opening, has opened up equally troubling questions about his preparation for the office which has fallen upon him.
Anyone wishing to see for themselves can the view the news clip from St Lucia’s Helen Television System (HTS) at: www.facebook.com/284538805083530/ videos/vb.284538805083530/526391650898243/ ?type=2&theater. So obvious were his struggles that HTS, which is not known for its support for the opposition, used the words “embarrassing” to describe Chastanet’s performance.
Viewers will observe Chastanet struggling to move the appropriate motion. Whilst the House sat silently with bent heads, former prime minister Stephenson King could be clearly heard prompting Chastanet, and despite King’s most patient efforts, Chastanet could not get it right, forcing an exasperated clerk to move the motion herself.
The episode is not trivial, but raises several important questions. It underlines Chastanet’s ill-preparedness for office. His inability to undertake the most basic of parliamentary functions, even with the attendant coaching, raises deep questions about his ability. It exposes the emphasis on “image” rather than “substance” in electoral choices. Finally, Chastanet’s success in escaping the kind of scrutiny which now cannot be avoided, underlines some critical weaknesses of our democratic processes, specifically in relation to the role of the media in informing the public about the personalities vying for office.
Our exposure to media from the United States should have shown us the wisdom of scrutinising political aspirants long before they emerge. They understand that leadership is not to be trifled with.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org