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Interesting times ahead in Parliament and in the ULP

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Tue Sep 17, 2013

There were no surprises yesterday in the announcement of Camillo Gonsalves and Luke Browne as government senators; we all expected that. It was the news that lawyer and social commentator Jomo Thomas had been asked by the Prime Minister and political leader of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) to sit on the government side of the House as a senator that was the shocker, at least to some persons.{{more}}

Thomas has, over the years, developed a reputation of being predictably unpredictable, and it would be interesting to see how he would function in the polarized environment of our Parliament, where traditionally, there has been very little space for independent thinkers.

Most political observers had been expecting the appointment of a full-blooded member of the ULP; someone who had earned his or her stripes and whose loyalty had been tried and tested. Thomas’ appointment is surprising, as it is not clear if he was even a member of the ULP, at least up to recently. ULP general secretary Julian Francis once said that Thomas had applied for membership for the party, but had never picked up his party card. The last thing observers knew about Thomas, in relation to association with a political grouping was when he, Oscar Allen and a few others formed the People’s Movement for Change (PMC) in July 2008.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves must know he is taking a political risk in going with Thomas, who has never been known to toe the line of any political party. It is not that Luke and Camillo are regarded as yes men, but they have deeper roots in the ULP and are more likely to take decisions in the interest of the party, than is Thomas, at least, based on his record.

Only a few months ago, Thomas resigned from the National Heroes Committee after the Prime Minister made a presentation giving reasons why former prime minister Milton Cato should be considered for national hero. Thomas felt that by making that presentation, Gonsalves was making the work of the committee superfluous, and he found no useful purpose in remaining there. Thomas has also spoken out against many positions taken by the ULP government, including the failure of the government to rehire the three teachers who ran unsuccessfully on NDP tickets in the 2010 elections. In 2009, after the defeat of the Constitution Bill, Thomas and Allen of the PMC called on Gonsalves to resign as prime minister, as according to them, “the defeated referendum bill reflects a vote of no confidence in [his] prime ministerial stewardship of the nation’s integrity, financial management and commitment to constitutional reform.”

The Prime Minister knows Thomas better than most, so he must see in him qualities which he feels will enhance the image and substance of the ULP at this juncture. Maybe it is the very things which are seen by some as negatives — Thomas’ perceived independence and reputation of calling it as he sees it — which Gonsalves feels are needed by his party at this time.

Interesting times are ahead for the ULP, not only in Parliament, but when the successor to the political leader is to be chosen in another few years. If Jomo goes the distance with the party, it would be interesting to observe how he, Camillo, Saboto and Luke battle it out for the hearts and and minds of the ULP party faithful. Of course, Camillo, Jomo and Luke would first have to win their seats in Parliament. Interesting times indeed.

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