On the very first episode of TALK immediately following our most recent general elections I warned—yes, warned—that we may well have experienced the last demonstration of public faith in the electoral process as we’ve known it since adult suffrage. Dependent on how the new government chooses to conduct public affairs, I added, how we install and remove administrations could undergo a heart-stopping irreversible sea change.
The UWP’s victory on June 6 had followed a relatively peaceful campaign, by which I mean to say there had been no related loss of life, no inexplicable fires, no bloody riots in William Peter Boulevard—unlike in 1979. On the other hand, there had been unnerving threats by bold-faced individuals with state trappings at their unquestionable disposal. There were repeated open declarations of war on at least one particular family, fueled by hyped-up surrogates at home and abroad, on local radio and TV—to say nothing of pseudonymous ubiquitous trolls.
There were blatantly SLP-oriented programs on tax-funded Radio Saint Lucia and suitably salted TV shows hosted by the prime minister’s chameleonic press secretary under her protean hats. There was, too, the custom-tailored Red Zone with its built-in repellants, designed to keep away horseflies and other bugs not committed to the notion of socialism for the rich, to borrow from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It seemed most of what emanated from the above-mentioned had been designed by the father of divide and rule for the purposes of an individual self-convinced his life’s purpose was to return to the plantation the progeny of former slaves.
Worst of all, perhaps, was the palpable contempt shown the people and their cherished institutions. Not even the office of governor general was spared. One surprisingly bellicose MP viciously declared from the privileged House floor that parliament was a den of thieves, of renegades and money launderers. Popular proposals for constitutional reform were effectively chucked aside, as if indeed they were reflective of people incapable of thinking for themselves.
The most revered national awards were surreptitiously handed to notorious scoundrels with Middle Eastern names and uninspiring histories. Ambassadors were appointed unannounced; secret agreements signed with characters world famous for their shocking proclivities. And then, just when it seemed the opposition party and its supporters were least prepared—and victory consequently guaranteed the incumbents—an election was foisted on the nation that took even the governor general and the electoral office off guard.
Something had to give, and give it did. With less than four weeks of campaigning, a broke and only recently reunited United Workers Party romped home with eleven of the seventeen seats in contention. The people had let it be known in the most effective fashion that enough was enough.
Ironically, the leader of the opposition party (the incumbent’s main target for over six years!) was dubbed “Saint Lucia’s Donald Trump” by his tormentors. It turns out the rebranding was not altogether inappropriate; even though the intention had been to remake Allen Chastanet in the image of the world’s best known grabber of female private parts, the irreducible truth was that Chastanet’s astounding victory on June 6 underscored the anger of disgruntled and left-behind Saint Lucians—as did Donald Trump’s shocking demolition of Hillary Clinton’s election machinery, earlier considered unassailable.
It remains to be seen what trump cards the new president holds. Whatever emerges in the days ahead, and regardless of cost, it’s a safe bet in Washington it will no longer be business as usual. As for the much abused people of Saint Lucia, while they may have been for too long passive and accommodating of mediocrity, it would seem they have recently undergone an attitudinal reboot. The camel’s back finally cracked under the inestimable weight of accumulated arrogances, naked contempt, in-your-face nepotism and palpable disregard of the law by our lawmakers.
On Tuesday, even as millions of Americans were taking their revenge on so-called “establishment politicians,” the Allen Chastanet-led government was serving notice on opposition House colleagues—some of whom had been three terms in government—that in the best interests of the people they planned to turn convention on its ear. For a start there was the matter of the Value Added Tax that the previous prime minister had callously imposed on Saint Lucians despite his own earlier admission that it was anti-worker, anti-poor and oppressive. Shortly before the June 6 polls, he had ridiculed Chastanet’s pledge, that upon taking office his government would reduce the killer tax, then set about eliminating it altogether.
At Tuesday’s House session, the prime minister having announced a reduction in the VAT from 15 to 12.5 percent, the opposition continued to argue for its retention. Bad habits die hard. How would the new administration make up for the shortfall? they asked, repeatedly, never once acknowledging from the mid-80s successive administrations had talked about the need to control government spending but never once attempted to walk the walk—until the arrival of Allen Chastanet. Always his predecessors had made up for “shortfalls” by sinking their vampire fangs into the people’s exposed jugular, never by tightening their own belts. Always it was the private sector that suffered the unlimited consequences of official profligacy.
The new prime minister hinted at future radical adjustments, all of them designed to reduce government spending, all likely to shake up his hooked-on-convention opposition colleagues. At long last it seems the people may have elected a government ready to put its future on the line in the best interests of the nation.
Then again, as George Odlum had observed back in 1973, “the politicians have fooled the people too many times . . .” It remains now to be seen whether the Allen Chastanet government will be “the next batch of politicians to fool the people” and risk being “hanged in Columbus Square”—if only symbolically!