Bousquet’s Bulletin: St Lucia’s good, bad and ugly ready to draw at high noon on election day

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Stephenson King, re-branded office, La Clery.

By Earl Bousquet

Prime minister Allen Chastanet has announced the long-anticipated date for the next general elections, giving Saint Lucian voters who haven’t made their minds up 21 days to get ready to cast their ballots in the island’s 10th general election since independence in 1979.  

He also announced Monday, July 16 as nominations day, giving contesting parties and candidates 11 days to get their papers in order.

The announcement ended speculation as to whether the election would have been called early or late, under COVID restrictions policed by the island’s police force under emergency conditions akin to what the government’s fiercest critics called ‘a police state’.

Prime minister Chastanet had earlier promised to call the election ‘within the Constitution …’ and indeed waited until the last week before the end of the parliament’s five-year term to make the announcement, leaving contesting parties less than two weeks to complete their lists of candidates.

Showing slates

The United Workers Party (UWP) has a full list of 17 candidates, while the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) hasn’t yet named its candidates for two seats – Castries Central and Castries North.

But SLP leader Philip J. Pierre says ‘We’re ready for the poll…’

Uncertainty

Castries Central is represented by foreign affairs minister Sarah Flood Beaubrun and Castries North by former prime minister Stephenson King.

The leadership of the UWP is uncertain whether the SLP not naming candidates to those two seats is because it has no suitable candidates or part of an election strategy.

King has had a bumpy ride as a Cabinet minister under Chastanet and heavy rumours that he plans not to contest the election on a UWP ticket, compounded by his absence from key nationally broadcast party weekend functions, have help sew and sow deep worry among many in and out of the party who feel he may take either jump ship or stand-alone.

The rumours also included reports King had privately informed his Constituency Group’s leaders earlier this week that he’ll not be contesting as a UWP candidate, but as an Independent, with an ‘Uumbrella’ as his official symbol.

Several uncorroborated Social Media postings were suggesting King was out to ‘hit back’ at Chastanet, one even suggesting the former prime minister was out to kick his successor where it’ll hurt most, at a time when his virtually sure seat is needed most by the UWP.

History

King, Fredrick and Chastanet have a long but not very loving history, was knuckled out of his position as UWP party leader by Chastanet ahead of the 2016 general elections, while serving as opposition leader (2011 – 2016); and Frederick was eventually fired from the party by Chastanet for criticizing him.

King and Frederick were both also lowered in the UWP’s parliamentary pecking order in opposition – seated at the very end of the row – before Frederick was expelled.

After the UWP won the 2016 election and Chastanet became prime minister with King among the successful candidates, he appointed King as minister for infrastructure, but effectively gave the power for approval of projects to economic development minister Guy Joseph, resulting in King being described as ‘minister for pothole repairs’.

Frederick did not contest the 2016 poll but remained Chastanet’s sternest public critic over the past five years, especially through his very popular weekly talk show ‘Can I help you?’ that started on radio responding to legal inquiries by callers.

The Thursday night program evolved to TV and has been seen by the UWP as a worrying outlet for information it would rather not be known, resulting in frequent legal threats and court cases levelled at Frederick by Chastanet’s lawyers, including one currently before the courts.

King also leads the quiet but influential section of the party still loyal to the legacy of founder Sir John Compton, which they feel has been largely erased by Chastanet, who one accuses of hijacking the party and ‘shaping it in his own image and likeness…’

The extent of King’s virtual isolation became quite clear a month ago, when he made his ‘very first visit’ to the new (third in five years) Taiwan-funded EC $175 million (US $64.5 million) Hewanorra International Airport (HIA) reconstruction project site in Vieux Fort, where Joseph has been the virtual captain and chief pilot since 2018.

More signs and signals of possible problems emerged after King failed to attend any of the party’s weekend live-streamed ‘Flambeau Forum’ sessions launching the UWP campaign’s last lap, during which its ‘Five-for-Five’ minimum elections package was launched by Chastanet last weekend.

But King did join Chastanet on national TV on July 3, as infrastructure minister – to report on effects of passage of Tropical Storm Elsa, which destroyed 80 percent of agricultural crops and left up to EC $40 million damage in its trail.

‘Loyalty…’

Following the announcement of the election date, concern about King within the UWP led to reports there had been calls for all the party’s candidates to reaffirm their ‘loyalty’ before Nominations Day, which call was soon followed by another rumour that King had ‘resigned’ from the UWP.

The rumours were so loud that the UWP top brass quickly went into damage control mode, past and present UWP chairmen Oswald Augustin and Pinkley Francis, respectively, both telling reporters all that talk on mainstream and social media were just fake news.

The host of a 24/7 UWP campaign TV program, pointing to King’s appearance on the state-owned TV station with Chastanet last weekend to account for to say ‘If he plans to go, then he is a very good actor…’

King has been keeping the party – and the nation – guessing, remaining mainly out-of-sight in the public limelight while speculation mounts as to whether he was in a secret plot with the SLP.

But the Chastanet camp, aware of King’s grievances, is also concerned that it has to speculate about the continuing loyalty of a former party leader and prime minister holding one of the party’s largest and safest seats.

Battleground

Following the prime minister’s announcement, the battleground took shape: all the legal trappings have been engaged: parliament has been dissolved, the voters and election writs have been published, elections protocols have been agreed with the contesting parties, nominations day is set – and the country is now in the hands of the outgoing prime minister and the commissioner of police, in accordance with the provisions of the COVID-19 National Emergency, in place until October.

Supporters of both major parties (SLP and UWP) each claim theirs will win, but there’s also a third small party, the Green Party, established just ahead of the election, also expected to field candidates.

Third parties do not traditionally score in Saint Lucia elections, but the Green Party can attract protest votes (of persons fed-up with UWP and SLP.

Colors and Symbols

Whether the SLP and Green Party will field full slates for the 17 constituencies will only be known on nominations day – ten days before the elections.

The UWP and SLP will be contesting under their normal colors and symbols – Yellow and the Torch vs Red and the Star, respectively – while the Green Party has selected Green and A Cow.

Independent candidates’ colors and symbols still unknown will be revealed on nominations day, with those predicting King will be running as an independent also saying he’s chosen the color Blue and An Umbrella.

There are still many unknowns, with names and faces unheard and unseen of late-emerging worming out of the woodwork and singing loudly for election night supper.

Actions

King has maintained his silence through it all. But if actions speak louder than words, the speculation as to whether the Castries North MP will contest on a UWP ticket took a different twist Thursday morning, July 8, when photos started circulating on social media showing King’s Constituency Office, at La Clery in Castries and originally painted fully yellow, being repainted – in blue.

On Thursday morning Ubaldus Raymond, who unsuccessfully opposed King two elections ago, was on a popular local talk show praising King and saying he also had the support of John Charlery, the last SLP candidate against him in 2016.

And by Thursday afternoon word was also making the rounds that King would be Frederick’s guest on the latter’s popular TV talk show – by which time word was also out that Saint Lucia’s High Commissioner to the UK, Guy Mayers, will most likely replace and challenge King for the seat.

But even that was by no means all the action. Shortly after midday – just as I (a third time) tried to end this article, the story took yet another twist:

Dr Alphonsus ‘Ray’ St Rose, the first to register as an independent candidate for the 2021 elections (for the Choiseul-Saltibus constituency) issued a statement indicating he was ‘suspending’ his campaign for the seat, clearing the way for the selected SLP candidate, Dr Pauline Antoine-Prospere, to fully carry the fight to the UWP’s Bradley Felix, who served as commerce minister since 2016.

And two days after the announcement came complaints of overcrowding at the electoral department in Castries and registration centers island-wide, as voters sought to update their registrations and change addresses to current places of domain at the ‘last minute…’

Movements

That much movement by that many independents in only one day in the 21 to follow the PM’s election date announcement has certainly assured all doubters that this will certainly be general elections in Saint Lucia like no other.

It won’t be deadly, with irons in the fire and saucy steaks at stake like never before, not even the COVID effects will match the unprecedented events that will make the 2021 national poll different from all others.

Precedents

The number of precedents (Good, Bad and Ugly) will be defining precedent of the July 26 poll – and not because it will coincide with the 68 anniversary of the 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago in that ignited the process that led to the ultimate success of the Cuban Revolution less than six years later.

Instead, it’ll be a Saint Lucian election day with numbers like no other, untold numbers already starting to arrive from The diaspora now that Saint Lucia is outside the COVID travel bubble – and notwithstanding COVID arrival protocols and universal travel fears associated with the so-called ‘Delta variant’ that represents over 60 percent of new cases in the USA and over 90 percent in the UK, where Saint Lucians are lining-up to ‘Go home and vote!’

‘Elections variant’

Some concerned voters are naturally worried that any reduction or lapse in application of toughest protocols at the island’s two airports between now and July 26 can open the way for entry (God forbid) of an already-christened ‘Elections Variant’ of SARS-CoV-2.

But while voters, candidates and party leaders are praying and hoping for the best, the health authorities – remembering not to forget the experiences of Christmas/New year holidays 2020/2021 that led to the ‘Third COVID Wave’ that followed – are duty-bound to also prepare for the worst. And that includes ensuring safest possible procedures for monitoring of all returning nationals between now and election day, especially those requiring quarantine at home.

Meanwhile, if you think this is all, rest assured, as the song says, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet…’

Just wait and see…

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