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A stunning result in St Lucia

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Following opinion polls that predicted a land slide victory for Dr Kenny Anthony’s St Lucia Labour Party, the overwhelming reaction from persons outside of St Lucia to what some described as an upset victory, seemed to have been one of astonishment and surprise. Columnist Ricky Singh put it down to the vagaries of electoral politics. Unlike many others, although I was surprised by the predictions of recent opinion polls that did not match what I was hearing, the defeat of the St Lucia Labour Party did not entirely shock me. For some time now the feedback that I had been getting from St Lucia was one of utter disappointment and disillusionment with the Kenny Anthony-led administration.{{more}}

In fact it appeared to me that had the United Workers Party been better organised in 2001, that is, devoid of its leadership problems, it would have had a very good chance of achieving victory in the election of that year. We will remember that the turnout at that last election was quite low, around 50 percent or just under 50, reflecting disillusionment with the labour party and the shambled state of the United Workers Party. In fact, it was the disarray in the opposition ranks that forced Kenny Anthony to call the election at the time he did. We will remember that efforts were made to create an alliance involving John Compton, George Odlum, and the then leader of the UWP Dr Morella Joseph. When that alliance broke down, the opposition found itself weakened and somewhat in shambles. George Odlum, that veteran of St Lucian politics lost his deposit and the leader of the UWP also went down in defeat. When the news coming out of St Lucia from early on Monday suggested a heavy turn out I realised that it was not going to be in the best interest of the ruling party.

One of the surprising things about Monday’s results had to do with the view that St Lucia was doing quite well economically and that it was leading the OECS states in economic performance. The Jamaica Gleaner in its editorial of Wednesday, December 13 made an important point on this matter. It stated “There is perhaps something else, too, to be observed from St Lucia; that is, good macroeconomic performance and growth in GDP do not necessarily translate into a belief by people that their standard of living is improved; and that there will be electoral victory for incumbents.” This is worth bearing in mind for it is not economic statistics that really matter but how the people on the ground are feeling for it is those who feel it that know it.

The other matter that was really an issue in the election was the age of Sir John Compton.

It says something and I am not quite sure what that something is; that the people were prepared to chose an octogenarian over someone who had been regarded as among the Caribbean best and one who is still relatively young? I have no problem with age but Sir John was brought out of retirement, although, admittedly, he had always been working behind the scene. It is obvious that the party depended on his experience to try to pull it together after it had been beset by a number of leadership problems following his departure. The real test for him will be his willingness and the urgency with which he creates the opportunity and the environment for new leadership to emerge. What Dr Anthony needs to reflect on is the fact that despite a relatively good economic performance he was booted out for someone who is 82 years old. Compton’s party appears to have had a good slate of candidates but he was indeed a factor and there certainly would be some lessons for Kenny that he needs to clearly reflect on.

Perhaps the biggest scalp was Dr Vaughn Lewis who had recently served as Leader of the party that he eventually opposed and ran against on Monday. It is a pity to see one whom I have always considered an outstanding Caribbean person and intellect go down in such a humiliating fashion. But Dr Lewis has himself to blame and this should be a lesson to all politicians. His appearance as a candidate for the labour party must not have gone down well with supporters of both parties. To have made such a switch and at the time he did was really very painful. Lewis had had his difficulties with the UWP, particularly with Sir John Compton who had clearly manipulated his overthrow. Part of it was of his own doing. Trying to run the party part-time while maintaining a position at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad was bound to lead to trouble. But he had been the victim of a lot of insults by the same labour party and to have made that switch and to have thrown himself into their arms at the time he did was to have really done a disservice to himself. I listened to and looked at Vaughn Lewis in an interview with a Caribbean Vision reporter on the day before the election and it was an extremely sad sight. One expects that Vaughn will from now on have to shelter any political ambitions he has, for he is unlikely to find much sympathy from either side. Julian Hunte a former leader of the labour party and one who served as Ambassador to the United Nations was another one who lost his scalp. Hunte had been on the political scene for a long time until he was replaced by Kenny Anthony. He failed in what had previously been a safe labour party seat.

The issue about politicians and leaders of government of Caribbean states appearing on the political platforms of their colleagues in neighbouring states continues to generate some debate. Dr Gonsalves had received severe criticism from supporters of the Opposition Democratic Labour Party in Jamaica when he appeared on a PNP platform, in fact on more than one occasion. During the election campaign he made appearances on the Anthony platform. The argument used to support this is to push the CSME button, but generally Caribbean people resent people from other countries, particularly politicians coming and telling them how to vote. It becomes worse when these politicians and leaders make derogatory remarks about politicians on the other side. We will remember Kenny Anthony’s ‘Manicou’ remarks while appearing on a ULP platform. Supporters of the NDP are not likely to forget and forgive him. I have often opposed this on two grounds. First, they are often not familiar with the issues affecting the people on the ground and furthermore that it becomes somewhat embarrassing if the opposing side wins and you have to embrace the same persons against whom you might have made disparaging remarks. It is one thing to talk about picong in politics but when it comes from some one outside of your country then it assumes a different proportion, CSME or no CSME.

Then in St Lucia we have seen a repetition of the style of campaigning that was carried out in this country, one replete with music and money. Byron Lee appears to be a regular on the campaign circuit along with a Gospel Fest. What is astounding is that the St Lucians rose above all of this and made their decisions based on a different assessment of their reality.

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