The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress”. These were the words of Charles Franklin Kettering, a famous inventor whose ideas helped to transform the automobile industry. Democratic candidate Barack Obama encouraged all Americans and focused his 2008 election campaign on the possibilities of embracing change. In his autobiography, the late Nelson Mandela said “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” It has been proven in all aspects and all walks of life that change is necessary, mandatory even, in order to observe any means of growth and advancement.
So is the term ‘change’ a new addition to the vocabulary of some members of the United Workers Party? Or is it that some are just plain and simply reluctant to give into the prospect and so resist it? And is the hierachy of the party prepared and capable of handling the change they are pursuing, or even admitting that with change sometimes comes conflict, dissent and disagrement.
I say all of this in light of recent posturings of UWP heads like Ezekiel Joseph (party chairman), Allen Chastanet (UWP leader) and newly appointed opposition leader Gail Rigobert. They have all in their unique accents offered various media houses that “there is no infighting in the UWP. The party is united and now stronger than ever.” Talk about the Emperor and his new clothes. I would put it to the UWP, that owning up can be quite cathartic and the first step to effecting positive change.
The United Workers Party’s most recent debacle has been played out in the media now for weeks, leading up to the ousting of former prime minister Stevenson King as well as comments by the member for Central Castries not to support Chastanet while standing in King’s court. Members within the political organisation had been bickering as to whether Stephenson King should remain the leader of opposition; so much so that on being publicized, the party gave off an obvious sense of rift among the members.
On Tuesday, ahead of the sitting of parliament, yellow outshone red in terms of visiblity. However the yellow shirts stood on various corners. “We want King” some shouted as he made his way to the house Tuesday. “Richard, Richard,” a few chanted for the Castries Central MP. A few smiled at waved back at Kenny and Gail as they rushed past reporters. Allen Chastanet too showed up.
Chastanet took the reigns of leadership of the party last year following its defeat at the polls in 2011. This led to a rift between one camp supporting King and another supporting Chastanet. Even when the United Worker Party were in office, parliamentarians and citizens alike were of the opinion that King was ‘soft’ or a ‘push-over’ Prime Minister. Now in the opposition, the majority of his fellow parliamentarians and colleagues have emphasised King’s leniency, claiming that he does not exert enough dissent towards the current issues brought up for discourse in Parliament. According to UWP chairman Ezekiel Joseph, party officials in a meeting on Sunday January 19, 2014 had voted 50-4 in favour of removing King as opposition leader. Party leader Allen Chastanet speaking on Tuesday January 22, 2014, gave his description of the role of the opposition leader.
“The leader of the opposition is to act as a cohesive voice and body in parliament to challenge, represent and guard the interests of the citizens of the country.”
The UWP in its decision to vote King out, nominated MP for Micoud North Dr. Gail Rigobert to be his replacement. All of this conveyed a message that change was imminent, that the UWP would embrace it since we are a democratic, majority-rules practicing country, right? Apparently not. Ezekiel Joseph explained that the majority of parliamentary representatives decided to recommend Rigobert as the new opposite leader because King had made it clear that he would not resign as opposition leader.
The message brought across to the nation in the wake of all this was that there is animosity within the party and among its members. In many instances when problems arise within any group or organization, it is usually a senior or more mature individual who tries to intervene and work towards restoring order and obtaining peaceful solutions which would be best moving forward. In this instance senior party member and Ex-General Secretary Gertrude George, called for members to put their differences aside and work in unison for the betterment of the UWP.
“This does not reflect a healthy party because people are angry at each other. You can actually sense the resentment that people are not interested in working out or working with each other,” stated George.
“I am a bit concerned about my party, and it is because of the division and the rambling that goes on in the public. I wish that people would put their differences aside and work together because what is happening now does not represent the name of the party,” a sincere George continued.
George says that when in public, persons keep questioning her on the situation within the party and she is of the belief that moving forward, UWP colleagues must come together if they envision the party to remain a dominant force and have any chance at successfully contesting the next election.
“What is happening now it is like a split, all this fighting is going on and right now the division has gotten even bigger than I thought it was. Because right now it has become a divided workers party rather than a united workers party.”
George insists that there is more to the situation than what is being brought across to the media, but she believes that the organization needs cooperation, cohesiveness and most of all confidentiality. Will her wise words and reccomendations take root?
On Tuesday it was clear that the mudslinging continued. UWP MP Richard Frederick, eager to score politcal points, warned Rigobert about surrounding herself with “avaricious infiltrators.” He also spoke of “illegalities” that took place during the reign of the UWP of which he was a member.
Dr. Gail Rigobert for her part praised her supporters in her maiden remarks as opposition leader while Labour party members in a calculated political move, praised King for attending the trough meeting. Soufriere MP Harold Dalsan chided the UWP on what he described as poor treatment of King. Outside UWP supporters waited for the Richard Frederick bomb. They waited too for something meaningful to come out of the house or for their elected members to break bread and make peace. But there would be no bombscare, or for that matter, the singing of “Koombaya.”