The pending general elections will be announced at the behest of Prime Minister Stephenson King. A fixed date for general elections will take away this inconvenient constitutional provision that allows for prime ministers to act as gods, cherry-picking election dates to benefit their political parties.
After the red, yellow and green hued political rallies, the electorate will withdraw in secrecy to cast their votes for candidates of their choice. To many, that democratic act is sacred and will be used with absolute seriousness. It will be used wisely to effect meaningful change and may even change the course of St Lucia’s history. For others it is yet another occasion to demonstrate their tribal instincts. Irrespective of the issues and the pressing problems facing the country, an almost equal percentage of voters will go to the polls and simply do what has been their tradition: they will cast a vote for their respective parties and walk away wishing for manna or a miracle from heaven.
This upcoming election calls for sober analysis, logical thinking and rational decision-making. While sojourning in St Lucia recently, it was clear to me that my country is at a critical social, political, economic and moral crossroads, and everyone was saying, “garcon nutting eh running!” It requires a sense of urgency and demands good judgment. The people should be able to sift through the Mt Gimie pile of promises that is sure to come from all parties and independent entities. They should look past the obvious silly season maypwis and mauvais-langue (bad mouthing), and consciously concentrate on development programs and policies.
In December 2006, St Lucians went to the polls fearful of a crime wave that was eating away at the fabric of the society. There was a sense that the island’s way of life was on the verge of collapse and the criminals were on the rampage. It did not show a government in complete control and dealing with the menace when then Prime Minister Kenny Anthony was reported, incredibly, to have been pleading with criminals to “give the people a break for Christmas.” People expected decisive leadership and were in no mood to stomach such wimpy statements from a Prime Minister. The St Lucia Labour Party will argue that far from the perception prevalent in the society, it was solidly dealing with the crime problem. In fairness to the SLP, the record shows notable rebuilding and reconstruction of several police and fire stations all across the island. They will say that better working conditions for the police and firemen were part of a holistic crime fighting strategy. It also included providing the police with the necessary equipment and manpower. Regardless of these arguments, people did not feel safe on the streets and in their homes. That security vulnerability compelled a majority of voters to distrust the SLP’s ability to fight crime.
Fearful and scared, like a battered wife, the people returned to their former husband, an 82-year old octogenarian! That decision would prove to be a major turning point in the history of our country.
Coming in with the painted-up but tired John Compton, was a motley group of men who were hurriedly put together with Compton’s blessings for the purpose of an election. With the exception of Central Castries MP Richard Frederick, who had shown his own political independence by winning a seat on his own accord in a previous by-election, all the other candidates needed Compton more than Compton needed them. It is called in political terms “riding the coattail.”
It is fair to assume that the electorate voted for sturdy and consistent leadership in Compton. Of course Stephenson King was one of the most experienced of the bunch, having served in a previous Compton administration. He was also an old-school politician, having worked alongside the tough and uncanny United Workers Party chairman Henry Giraudy (now deceased). It is not surprising therefore that when Compton took ill he handpicked
King to hold the fort. In the Old Fox’s estimation, King was the most legitimate of the untested and probably untrustworthy pack. He was still peachy clean and his loyalty to the party was beyond reproach.
Then the unexpected happened and Compton never returned to his Prime Ministerial perch, succumbing instead to illness. Overnight, Stephenson King was burdened with running the country. This heavy load, suddenly imposed on King, would test not only his manhood but more importantly his leadership capabilities and skills. It would not take long for the cracks to appear as a shaky King administration began to emerge. The jockeying for position and power in the United Workers Party would consume the early days of the King government. Attempting not to rock the boat, King kept the same crew that Compton left in his care.
When pressure mounted on him from the elected members, King was forced to relieve Ausbert d’Auvergene of his duties. d’Auvergne, a non-elected member, wielded considerable power and was in charge of some of the most influential portfolios. He ostensibly calmed the raging wolves that threatened to devour the administration, but he would pay a high price. Now he was perceived as a weak leader who could easily be manipulated by the brasher and more robust members of the government. The complaints mounted from both inside and outside his cabinet about King’s leadership style. The opposition accused him of being beholden to Richard Frederick and Rufus Bousquet. His detractors claimed he was being held hostage by members of his cabinet. They alleged that he was more concerned about personal survival than about the interest of the country. A recent calypso immortalized King as the Prime Minister who is hell-bent on only “keeping his job.” He is said to be indecisive and takes forever to deal with issues, leaving things to fester. Some claim that he was in over his head with ministerial responsibilities and he did not possess the mental fortitude and educational pedigree to govern in the challenging 21st century.
King was accused of leading from behind, while his ministers rode roughshod over the laws of the country. The Tuxedo Villas Scandal, involving allegations of tax-evasion and abuse of fiscal concessions granted to Minister Keith Mondesir, and the subsequent illegal complicity and duplicity of the entire Cabinet of Ministers in this sordid mess, demonstrated how Prime Minister King’s weaknesses were being exploited by individual members of his team. It was perhaps the most pointed and single act of recorded corruption that placed the King administration in a special class in the island’s history.
Trust and confidence in the government to control its ministers reached an all time low and people begun to describe cabinet ministers as: “Dem fellas are all in it for themselves.” From my experience in judging the mood on the ground, whenever St Lucians are highly displeased with the state of things in the country, they instinctively and idiosyncratically refer to government ministers as “dem fellas.” It represents
a critical downgrading of trust and respect for the elected and honorable members.
Adding insult to injury, Housing Minister Richard Frederick sued his own government over the prolonged Customs bonding of his vehicle, which was the subject of alleged tax evasion involving under-invoicing. The subsequent removal of the Customs Comptroller, the principal complainant, revealed the extent to which the administration was prepared to go to protect its members. This is called political corruption.
But nature has its way of diverting attention. So, in 2010, while St Lucians were busily preparing for the traditional Jounen Kweyol festivities, Hurricane Tomas landed with vicious and unmitigated fury. The destruction was massive, severe and crippling. The government’s agenda and attention would forcefully be redirected. An unknown hand had given the King government breathing space to regroup and to find its voice. If the government seemed up to the rescue-and-restore task, that goodwill would be short-lived, as questions began to abound about the relief effort and government ministers’ alleged mishandling of hurricane relief donations.
Soon, it was business as usual and the public bickering and fighting was full-blown again. One year later, severely dilapidated road networks island-wide, especially on the vital Barre d’Lisle mountain pass, remain a sore point, and highlight government’s inability to competently manage the necessary reconstruction challenges. The Prime Minister’s lame excuse has been that funds from international agencies have been hard to come by, and that the world recession is a major stumbling block. Clearly, the King administration had squandered yet another opportunity to rally the people together and undertake a massive mobilization of the country. Compton’s death was the first opportunity for united action but Prime Minister King failed to use the occasion to provide a bold and courageous vision for unification.
So here we are on the eve of a general election and Prime Minister King will be trying to get his own mandate. The recent revocation by the United States government of Minister Richard Frederick’s diplomatic and personal visas, has placed a very dense cloud of credibility over the entire government. While the United States holds its cards close to its chest, perceptions are ripe for the picking. The rapid resignation of Minister Frederick from the cabinet of ministers has not helped in building confidence and trust in the government.
Understandably, St Lucians are going into an election believing that there is more to the Frederick visa revocation issue than meets the eye, especially given Wikileaks US government cable releases suggesting that the MP may be involved in the narcotics underworld. In this regard many have accused PM King of blatantly lying over and over again, even when it is clear that King may not have had all the facts at his disposal.
In an era of instantaneous information gathering, the people are suspicious about its leaders and they are not willing to take the PM at his word. They have adopted the Ronald Reagan mantra to foreign policy: “Trust but Verify.” With four murders across the country last weekend, crime is again raising its very ugly head and people are beginning to wonder if the lull that was created after the successful police action of the past months is over. If that trend continues, and we hope it does not, the population’s insecurity will again trump all election promises. This is the mood in which St Lucians are being asked to make a judgment call. The political pendulum has swung and the government must be very nervous about its chances at the polls. A fortnight ago the callers to Rick’s Sunday Talk seemed to be sending a clear and present message: “My choice of a ‘lesser evil’ is already decided and it is better than your choice of a ‘Lesser Evil’”!