Leader of the Opposition Stephenson King (L) and United Workers Party (UWP) leader Allen Chastanet
By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- The impact of the torrential rains and landslides that caused extensive infrastructural damage and loss of life in Saint Lucia appears also to include further disarray within the ranks of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP).
The UWP has been struggling for some months to deal with a dichotomy of leadership roles after Allen Chastanet was elected to replace former party leader Stephenson King. However, as Chastanet has no seat in parliament, King has remained the official leader of the parliamentary opposition – a constitutional office appointed by the governor general.
In the aftermath of the recent storm, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony invited King as opposition leader to a meeting of the Cabinet in order to discuss the way forward regarding the resulting damage. It is not currently known whether that Cabinet meeting has yet taken place.
However, Chastanet has reportedly taken serious offence at the fact that King did not consult him before agreeing to attend the meeting. In Chastanet's view, King should have sought guidance as to what his position should be at the proposed meeting and claimed that King committed a serious infraction against the UWP by agreeing to attend a meeting of the Cabinet without first consulting with him and the UWP.
Chastanet therefore wrote a letter to King reprimanding him and summoning him to a meeting with the UWP executive to discuss the matter.
According to local observers, Chastanet’s reaction seems to demonstrate a misunderstanding of the constitutional role of the official leader of the opposition vis a vis the role of a political party leader, which has no constitutional standing whatsoever.
"Chastanet would do well to expose himself and his advisors to a crash course in the basic principles of government and politics. He is suffering from a serious misconception of his role as party leader. He does not understand that Mr King is in the superior position but he seeks to bully Mr King into submission to his inferior role,” one local source said.
“Chastanet does not understand that he is not an elected member of parliament, having being rejected by the majority of the people of Soufriere and, as such, has no voice where it really matters. If we think that Kenny Anthony is a dictator, I dare UWP supporters to elect Allen Chastanet as a parliamentary representative, then and only then will we experience true dictatorship by the massa of them all!" our source added.
In an invited comment, the Lucian People's Movement (LPM) said that, while generally the party has no interest in Chastanet's ongoing attempts to secure absolute power for himself within the UWP, his latest behaviour points to a certain level of political immaturity, and of one who lacks the personal attributes or acumen to become prime minister of Saint Lucia.
“Clearly, his overambitious attempt to assert political authority over Mr Stephenson King, and to belittle his constitutional role as leader of the opposition, affirms our belief within the Lucian People's Movement that Mr Chastenet is more interested in perpetuating further political division than embracing the concept of bi-partisanship which is so vital in lifting the country out of its current misery,” the LPM said.
The party said that King's role as leader of the opposition should never be compromised to achieve political advantage for the UWP, especially in the aftermath of a dreadful rainstorm which has claimed lives, and deepened the country's economic woes.
“Like other things in life, politics does have its place and time. Therefore, unless Kenny Anthony and his government resort to their former selves by proving that they are unworthy of national cooperation, we, the political parties that constitute the umbrella opposition to his government, must be willing to give the concept of national unity a chance to thrive,” the LPM concluded.
In the meantime, Caribbean News Now
has been told that the UWP may ask the governor general to remove King as the official leader of the parliamentary opposition and replace him with another UWP member of parliament, Guy Joseph.
Under section 67 of the constitution, the governor-general shall appoint as leader of the opposition the member of the House who appears to her most likely to command the support of a majority of the members of the House who do not support the government; or, if no member of the House appears to command such support, the member of the House who appears to command the support of the largest single group of members of the House who do not support the government.
If it appears to the governor-general that the leader of the opposition is no longer able to command the support of a majority of the members of the House who do not support the Government or (if no member of the House appears to be able to command such support) the support of the largest single group of members of the House who do not support the government, the governor-general shall remove the leader of the opposition from office.
The power of the governor-general under this section shall be exercised by her in her own deliberate judgment.
Given the ongoing divisions within the party, it is not known at this point whether the UWP would in fact secure a majority of its elected MPs to be able to oust King as leader of the opposition. The UWP currently has six elected members and a defection of just half of them would, including King, render the party impotent.
The UWP has not so far responded to a request for comment.
In an interview last month
with Caribbean News Now
, King denied “passing on the mantle” of leadership of the UWP to Chastanet.
Questions in that respect were prompted by a remark by a local television reporter covering an event on November 13, launching a programme of activities to mark the UWP’s Golden Jubilee.
According to the local reporter covering the occasion, any lingering questions about the support of former UWP leader King for new party leader Chastanet were put to rest at that event.
“King introduced the leader saying that, after 32 years of serving the UWP, he is passing on the mantle to Chastanet,” the reporter said.
However, King explained that the event launching the party’s Golden Jubilee celebrations was designed to reflect the evolution of the party from its birth through to the present day.
“It did not symbolise any handing over of leadership,” King emphasised.
King also dismissed as “laughable” earlier reports that he has been approached to give up his parliamentary seat in Castries North so that Chastanet might contest it in an election, in return for an appointment as the next governor general of Saint Lucia, predicated of course on a UWP victory at the next general election.
“I am not interested. I do not find the prospect at all enticing,” King said.
Meanwhile, Chastanet, a former tourism minister, is facing a civil action
filed by the Attorney General’s Chambers, alleging conduct amounting to a “breach of his fiduciary duties as a minister of government, in bad faith and/or constitutes misfeasance in public office”.
According to the statement of claim, Chastanet while a minister of government and UWP candidate requested the sum of $38,119 of public funds from the Soufriere Town Council for the unlawful purpose of a campaign and political event for his personal and political benefit or the benefit of his political party.
It further claims that Chastanet knew or ought to have known or was recklessly indifferent that the conduct in question was unlawful.
In response, the UWP accused the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration of using the outcome of a questionable audit as a tool for political mischief.
“It is evident by these actions that the Labour Party administration is intending to diminish the ability of Mr Chastanet and the main opposition to challenge the government on critical issues pertaining to the plight of the citizens,” the party said.