Bousquet’s Bulletin: Leadership without opposition?

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By Earl Bousquet

After 111 days still analyzing why it lost the island’s last general elections so badly, Saint Lucia’s opposition United Workers Party (UWP) is claiming the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and its inclusive Cabinet have done nothing to shout about in their first 100 days in Office.

Former prime minister Allen Chastanet, reportedly back home after some 100 days on a post-election holiday in North America, has expectedly launched into the SLP over its advertised accomplishments.

The leader of the UWP, who on July 26, 2021, led his party into its worst election loss since 1997 and was appointed leader of the opposition in what political observers still verily consider a deeply mysterious manner, has still not yet taken up his position in parliament.

Cat-and-Mouse

Chastanet has been playing Cat-and-Mouse game with the press over his future as UWP leader, giving mixed signals and confusing messages as to whether he would like to remain as leader or hand the leadership over to someone else.

He’s simply said he will accept whatever decision the party makes after assessing why it lost under his leadership so badly, but at the same time saying he ‘won’t throw out the baby with the bath water.’

Chastanet confirmed he submitted his resignation to the party’s executive committee, as required by its Constitution, which, he also was quick to point out, ‘has been rejected.’

In several interviews from abroad before his return at the end of October, the ex-prime minister offered much food for thought on his future while the party engages in a review process, with no time limit.

But while the now-in-opposition party has thus far taken more than 111 days to figure out why it lost so badly on July 26, Chastanet has also taken just as long to take the formal Oaths of Office as a member of parliament for Micoud South, or leader of the opposition (LOO).

As if the swearing-in was or is related to what the party decides about keeping him as leade; Chastanet’s private vehicle also graced the parking lot of the leader of the opposition’s office for as long as he was away, even though not having taken up the office in the national parliament.

Scrutiny

But while most UWP supporters naturally defend their leader come what may, the matter of Chastanet’s appointment as LOO, continues to attract scrutiny from keen political observers, including lawyers and ex-parliamentarians with some exposure to how the opposition leader is normally and legally appointed.

Chastanet was appointed opposition leader by then Governor-General Sir Emmanuel ‘Neville’ Cenac, reportedly appointed Chastanet leader of the opposition on July 30, allegedly without consulting other opposition members of parliament, in this case, including the two successful Independent candidates, who did not contest or win on a ruling party ticket.

According to those in the legal knowledge, the Governor-General would have had to consult Stephenson King and Richard Frederick, the two independent winners, to determine who the majority of the non-ruling party MPs support to be parliamentary opposition leader.

Some leading SLP supporters are claiming that as his “last act”, there may have been a problem with how and when the ex-Governor-General appointed Chastanet, LOO.

They recall that when the press drew to King’s attention that Chastanet continued referring to himself (on his Facebook page) as opposition leader; the then minister for infrastructure referred to what he said was the legal approach and indicated he ‘wasn’t consulted’ by Governor-General Cenac.

Those aware of Cenac’s historical modus operandi, in terms of his learned application of layman’s interpretation of the Constitution and Laws of Saint Lucia, say they’d have preferred to have heard the ex- Governor-General explain his appointment.

Dashed

However, some more refined legal minds opine that all hopes of preventing or denying Chastanet the position remain dashed because ‘time has run out’ for any legal or constitutional challenges.

As they explain it, before the two independent members of parliament joined the new Cabinet, they could have been counted as opposition MPs, not being (then) members of the new Cabinet.

Added to the two UWP MPs (Chastanet and Choiseul-Saltibus MP, Bradley Felix), there would legally have been four opposition members to have been consulted by the Governor-General, which would most likely have resulted in a prolonged standoff between the two UWP MPs and the two Independents.

But there are also those who say that if Cenac did appoint Chastanet on July 30, as reported, he would have needed to consult King and Frederick, both of who claimed he did not.

Here again, some legal brains are advising caution in arriving at a conclusion as to Cenac’s possible culpability, from the standpoint that he wasn’t asked to explain his decision before demitting office.

In addition, they explain, the two independents joining the new Cabinet automatically and legally disqualified them from being counted as opposition members.

Water under the bridge?

But all of that is either ‘Water under the bridge’ or a case of ‘Too late shall be your cry’, or as some also see it, a case of ‘labour caught sleeping!’

Indeed, after scoring the parliamentary record of an entire five-year term without a deputy speaker of the House of Assembly, the island has scored another regional parliamentary first: a leader of the opposition appointed before taking the Oath of Office as a member of parliament.

All this belated analysis continues in legal circles, Chastanet, now back home, has set the stage for the UWP to claim that the SLP-led government’s first 100 days in office was nothing worth even talking about.

Apart from expecting nothing less than ‘opposing for opposing sake’, many here have simply responded by referring to what they consider his party having fared way below promise-and-delivery levels during its five-years-plus term.

Expect the unexpected

Meanwhile, all eyes and ears are on the next meeting of the Saint Lucia parliament, when and where Chastanet is expected to attend his first House of Assembly meeting since the July 26 poll and take both Oaths of Office (as MP and LOO).

But not all are betting on the ex-prime minister being in any hurry to join a parliament as opposition leader with 15 MPs on the government side, including Frederick and King, never mind the labor MPs who defeated 13 UWP candidates and reduced the party’s 11-6 majority to one of only two in opposition, against 15 on the government side.

As such, while Chastanet can only be officially prevented from taking his oath as a member of parliament – if he missed six consecutive meetings and while there’s also much expectation that he will finally make his first appearance in the parliamentary dock of accountability, observers and analysts should also expect the unexpected at the next house sitting, where what happens may not even have been seen on the horizon.

As such, for now, all eyes are on the next sitting of the House of Assembly, expected Tuesday, November 16, 2021.

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