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Sir James not ruling out general election comeback

Sir James not ruling out general election comeback


Sir James Mitchell is physically fit and mentally prepared for the upcoming referendum campaign.

And the veteran politician and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) from 1984 to 2000 is not ruling out political life after the referendum, declaring “a week is a long time in politics”.{{more}}

If there is “any leader in the Caribbean” who thinks Sir James is not up to the task, he is sending out a challenge: “Meet me on the beach … any morning and see if (you) can swim longer or faster than me.”

The former prime minister threw out the challenge on Wednesday morning during an exclusive interview with SEARCHLIGHT at his home at Casson Hill on the outskirts of Kingstown.

The evening before, Sir James, now 78 years old, had put forward his position on the proposed new constitution for SVG at a public launch of the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) no-vote campaign.

To loud cheers from the NDP faithful, Sir James announced that he intended to play an active role in “Vote NO” campaign of the party he founded 34 years ago.

The electorate in SVG will go to the polls on November 25 to vote in a referendum on the Constitution Act 2009, which was passed in the House of Assembly on September 3.

“I will choose my own role…. Nobody has set out any role for me.

“My aim is to defeat the referendum. I don’t like what it has there. I don’t like (that) Constitution,” Sir James said solemnly.

Sir James disclosed that a few weeks ago, Leader of the Opposition and President of the NDP Arnhim Eustace called him on the telephone. “He asked if I am coming up to St. Vincent. I said ‘no, my hotel is closed and I am busy’.”

Mitchell said he, however, suggested the two meet in Canouan the following week where a memorial service, to be attended by both men, was to be held for the late Sir John Compton.

“We discussed a lot of things about the future and how things should be done,” Sir James said of the meeting which took place on the beach. “I was prepared to help them.”

The veteran politician said he had been working on the speech he presented on Tuesday evening for four months.

“After I saw how it (the drafting of the Constitution) was going, I started to put my thoughts together and revised and polished as I went along to make sure that the language is as accurate as I could make it.”

He said he was not prepared to give his opinion until he had put his thoughts in writing.

Sir James said he did not make his opinion on the different aspects of the constitution known to the NDP because “they were doing their thing”.

“What is the point of giving your opinion if they haven’t asked? They (will) feel you are an irritant!”

“All of them (had) been talking about the ‘new’ party,” he quipped.

When asked if it was not incumbent on him to offer advice even when it is not solicited, especially when he thinks he can avert harm, he replied, “We will see how this situation evolves from today on, in terms of respect for (my)opinion.”

As for the upcoming general elections, which Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has said will be held in 2010, Sir James would only offer: “A week is a long time in politics. You never can tell what will happen. I do not predict political situations. Who would have thought that Parnell and Ralph would be together?”

Sir James, however, did not rule out contesting a seat in the general elections or the possibility of leading his party, but said: “I have been a leader of a long time. I am not job hunting.”

He, however, thinks if the NDP has the right strategy and enough money, they can win the next general elections.

Searchlight has learned from usually reliable sources that the results of a recent poll conducted in SVG by a United Kingdom firm indicated that if Sir James does not play an active role in the NDP campaigns for either the referendum or the general elections, the party’s chances of success would be slim.

Sir James, while saying he is aware of the poll, declined to comment further, except to say: “Discussions among friends should remain private.”

When reminded of his statement a few years ago that he would only return to the leadership of his party if the people called, Sir James quickly retorted: “The people haven’t called and I leave the question open. I am now concentrating on the referendum.”

As for the NDP’s chances of succeeding with the Vote No campaign, Sir James thinks that the battle between him and the prime minister is evenly matched. “PM Gonsalves is not an easy nut to crack. I respect him for that and I think he respects me, too, for that. It is well balanced.”

Sir James, however, said he thought it unfair that the prime minister had the treasury at his disposal to run the “Yes” campaign.

“In a referendum, the Government should allocate resources equally to both parties for the promotion of their cause.”

Sir James also opined that the presence of his former attorney general Parnell Campbell on the Prime Minister’s Yes Vote Committee (YVC) was an asset for that campaign.

“I am aware of Mr. Campbell’s ability to speak…. When he worked with me, he was also a good strategist. So these are assets the government has.”

The founder of the NDP, while he did not echo the Leader of the Opposition’s call for Campbell, who is the chairman of the Constitutional Review Steering Committee, to step down from that post, said that his view is that Campbell should abstain from taking part in the process as it goes forward.

“He was there as chairman. See your job through, then leave it,” Sir James said.