Trust me to read magic into an election result. Is 11-6 not the same mandate handed the United Workers Party following Sir John’s final gamble (gambol?)? Does this particular fortune cookie contain a hidden post-election message? Is our third-time prime minister being tested for what he might do with the same number of cards as King worked with in circumstances similar to what the new government now must confront? What does the election result say about our nation’s expectations? Lest we repeat our mistakes, this might be as good a time as any to revisit 1997. Oh what a time it was, shortly before and immediately after nearly all of voting Saint Lucia had elected to entrust their short- and long-term future in the unproved hands of a near unknown school teacher turned lawyer.
To borrow from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity . . . it was the season of hope, it was the winter of despair . . .” In 1997 ours was a nation distressed and hopeless, a nation engaged in a crippling banana war with itself, a nation hemorrhaging from self-inflicted wounds to its most vital organ. Imagine the joy at the unanticipated arrival of hope. Unlike the used-up Julian Hunte, he was tall, lean and handsome in his own mixed-race way, young and apparently stain-free. Best of all, he came equipped with his own doctorate! Dr Vaughan Lewis, on the other side, was suddenly not so “pedigreed” after all. The hand-picked hapless replacement for Jessica-burdened John Compton no longer was special, no longer the lone “doctor in the House.” With his PhD in constitutional law, and several other university degrees under his belt, the newcomer was way, way more “qualified” to lead his people out of bondage. At any rate, so bragged the Labour Party’s daggernauts for whom he also represented the perfect excuse for giving Julian Hunte the Brutus shaft. In 1997 Kenny Anthony epitomized for many Saint Lucians—regardless of political affiliation—the age of wisdom, supported as he was by fawning fellow fruits of the University of the West Indies, among them Mario Michel and Didacus Jules, and Canada-educated Jimmy Fletcher. Hello New Labour! Time to sever connections with old Labour’s low-rent “peasantry,” to quote a 1982 UWP manifesto.
Now, consider his address delivered from his launching pad at a Laborie schoolhouse, soon after he was declared unopposed leader of the St Lucia Labour Party. Having accepted the charge to lead “with modesty and humility,” he predicted that as of the following day there would be the “blasts of war” from the big guns of the incumbent United Workers Party, at which sound he would switch from pussycat to growling tiger, stiffen his sinews and “step into battle for the government of our country.” He would “pray for wisdom” before setting out against “all the evils politics can spawn: leadership wars, defections, greed, one-upmanship, chicanery and, worst of all—betrayals!” It was a sad day, he said, “when the nation’s parliament approved the amendment to Article 651 of the Criminal Code.” Moreover, “only a vindictive government would so target specific individuals or sectors of a community for legislative retribution.” (Clearly, Section 361 was still a long way down the road!) Turning his attention to crime, he said: “No society can develop in an environment that is not free from fear.” More pointedly: “I want to put it to you that we cannot seriously tackle crime if there are crooks at the heart of the government that runs this country. Every single crook must be exposed and flushed out, either by the popular will or by the legal processes available to the state.” (Did he already have Louis Blom-Cooper in mind?) This was how he wrapped up: “It has been a long day. The past must no longer be allowed to torture us. I trust that by this short address I have succeeded in replacing despair with hope. I ask that today you wipe away your tears, put joy in your hearts, brace your shoulders, hold your heads high and stiffen your sinews. As of now we have engaged the United Workers Party in battle for the control of our destinies.” Small wonder that only a few months later a trusting people, with only his promises of future action to lean on, invested in Kenny Anthony a record 16-1 mandate. Never before had expressed good intentions been so amply rewarded in advance of undergoing what Christopher Hitchens had described, with reference to Barack Obama, as “the strenuous metamorphosis of being translated into good deeds or facts.”
The Kenny Anthony government started well, or so it seemed. If today we know the contrary truth, still we need not resurrect the discombobulating realities that had moved George Oldum to say during a budget address that the government in which he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs was in grave danger of pulling off in just three years what had taken John Compton’s UWP all of forty to accomplish: alienation of the church, alienation of the private sector, alienation of the youth. For that, Odlum was first sent to political Coventry, relieved of his foreign affairs portfolio, and then booted out of Labour. To be fair, it should also be noted that the SLP brass had re-embraced Odlum in 1996, having chosen to forgive and forget his “evils of the past” committed against their party. No need to revisit the disappointments that had validated George Odlum’s doomsday prophesy. Enough has been written about that over the last several years and more recently. Besides, as has clearly been indicated, the electorate have only convenient interest in the track records of election candidates—whether John Compton, Kenny Anthony or Richard Frederick! Hopefully, we will survive our age of foolishness, as we have our epochs of belief and incredulity. For our own sake, we must now create a spring of hope. We must all agree to set aside what inherently is counterproductive. We must at all cost avoid another season of darkness, lest we invite upon our heads an Arab Spring that is as conceivable as it is suicidal. The 2011 voting figures suggest thousands of Saint Lucians, yes, over 66,000, continue to distrust Kenny Anthony.
Never mind the reported enticements, out of over 151 thousand voters registered only around 85,000 were red-inked at island-wide polling booths. Some 44 percent of registered voters abruptly discovered there were better things to do with their time than attending a horse race of lesser evils. Were they also thinking our predicament at this particular time is beyond our politicians, that the problems we are facing today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them? Then there are the thousands who voted to retain King and his ostensibly united party, either because they believe in the UWP or because they were willing to do whatever was necessary to keep Kenny Anthony away from the levers of power. Eleven-six is a long distance from 16-1. It is also quite a way from the ignored prophetic 14-3 that in 2001 allowed the SLP leader a second term as prime minister.
The final proof that all was not well came in 2006, when a near-death octogenarian John Compton triumphed over all odds, including the team he chose to lead regardless of what the tea leaves foretold! True, the people have again spoken. But what exactly have they said? Certainly the voting figures reflect a level of faith in Kenny Anthony’s election promises, lead among them that of “jobs-jobs-jobs” in the worst recession most Saint Lucians have ever experienced. I need quickly point out that regardless of the economic climate, the thousands who voted for Kenny Anthony quite obviously expect better than they got from Stephenson King. Encouraged by the then opposition leader, they had demanded to know where were the jobs normally associated with such economic growth as Saint Lucia experienced last year, if only according to the ECCB. Well, now it is Kenny Anthony’s turn to discover the answers that continue to elude even Barack Obama. The new prime minister has promised to “inject 100 million immediately into the economy for job creation
and reconstruction activities.” Where the money will come from and where he plans to inject it remains conjectural. Scrunting friends and disbelieving detractors alike will be anticipating immediate employment once the new government has been sworn in. Will the promised reconstruction work be enough to occupy the presently unemployed thousands? Willing employers will also be expecting the promised tax write-offs, not to say the promised incentives for on-the-job training of students.
With a tax base that the prime minister has acknowledged is “too small to allow government to provide the services demanded,” what was difficult for Stephenson King is likely to prove impossible for the new government. Will the new government consider public sector cuts such as other countries have been forced to undertake, regardless of the consequences? When the reformed NDC can no longer count on its usual sources of revenue, who will pay its bills?
Another Sisyphean task to be confronted is the promised revitalization of the agriculture sector. With the banana industry admittedly “almost dead,” the man who (unfairly perhaps) allegedly killed it has promised to resurrect the agricultural sector, a miracle he had failed to pull off during his previous years in office and in far better economic weather. It will serve no useful purpose to echo the excuses for non-performance that did not work for the King administration.
Another hot topic: The new government has promised to ensure that the Labour Code is enforced immediately “with appropriate amendments.” Does that mean another round of negotiations up ahead? Another round of House debates? Did parliament not give the green light to the Labour Code back in 2006, before the day’s government was voted out of office? Or does that no longer count? Who will determine what amendments are “appropriate?”
But enough about the election pledges that conceivably achieved their purpose. Better to ask if Kenny Anthony has learned lasting lessons over the last five years. His teary-eyed swearing-in ceremony suggested he may have. It remains to be seen how useful is his memory, bearing in mind his comments about the ID-card law and . . . Oh, but we’ve already decided to let all of that garbage flow under the bridge. Pointless, going there again, the people don’t want to hear about such things. At any rate, the thousands who voted Labour!
What does the new government plan to do about the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force? What exactly is the immediate future of Ausbert Regis? Did a court not order his immediate reinstatement as police commissioner? Bearing in mind his problematic history with the previous Kenny Anthony government, what does tomorrow hold? What impact will his presence have on Vernon Francois’ currently upbeat force? Come to that, will the new government uphold its predecessor’s decision
to appeal the Regis judgment, bearing in mind it was Tony Astaphan—Kenny Anthony’s lawyer for all seasons—who spoke up in court for the commissioner?
What will be the reaction when Grynberg-related questions are put to the new prime minister? Will he stick to the old script?
Doubtless the whole nation will be watching and holding its collective breath when the new House meets. What will be the relationship between government and the opposition, between Kenny Anthony and Richard Frederick? Can the nation afford a continuation of their personal vendettas?
Already the word from the SLP’s suddenly emboldened cowards is that “Kenny will extradite Frederick in the best interests of a Castries Central by-election” that Stanley Felix is guaranteed to win. Dare our battle-fatigued nation hope for peace at last, if only in the people’s House? Will the people demand better parliamentary behavior than was tolerated over the last five years? Is all we can hope for more nasty business as usual?
On a more or less personal note: it seems the “hostile” STAR has
already been targeted by one of the earlier referred to abruptly emboldened cowards. Our printing establishment can expect no work whatsoever from the new government, he has promised, never mind that government jobs are paid for by taxpayers, not from the coffers of the incumbent party. If the would-be victimizer is to be taken at his spiteful word, or if indeed he is parroting the prime minister his party leader, then what to make of their promise of “better days ahead” that we heard so often at campaign time? Did someone say “affirmative action?”
Then again, it is by now common knowledge that most of the SLP’s campaign paraphernalia was produced outside of Saint Lucia. We can only
hope the government, never mind its loser hangers-on, does not repeat its past mistakes!
Final hot question (for now): Who in the present war-zone ambience will be man or woman enough to take on the hardly cushy job of House Speaker? As I write, the just sworn-in prime minister is tearfully reassuring the nation, telling them that with his third coming a new
day has dawned. He has promised to treat the out-going prime minister with such respect as was hardly extended during the last five years or so.
Hopefully, he will keep his word, in the nation’s best interests, history notwithstanding.
While he is still in forgiving mode, I might suggest to the new prime minister that it wouldn’t hurt a bit to put away the House hatchets and—in the best interests of Saint Lucia—let the chips fall where they may!