By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- Leader of the opposition in Saint Lucia, Stephenson King, has refuted comments made by his United Workers Party (UWP) “insiders” that he had agreed to resign as leader of the parliamentary opposition.
In a press release on Monday, King confirmed, however, that an emergency meeting of the UWP national council on Sunday the meeting sought to invoke section 15(4) of the party’s constitution in order to replace him as opposition leader with deputy party leader Gale Rigobert.
However, this was rejected by the delegates for a number of reasons, among which was the fact that it could not be used as it spoke to actions taken immediately after a general election. Instead, a motion was moved and carried which gave the mandate to the party’s six elected parliamentarians to meet on Monday to decide the issue.
According to King, for “party insiders” to tell the public that he had agreed to resign is not only mischievous but a blatant fabrication of the truth.
“In fact this appears to be an attempt to intimidate and deliberately mislead the public and more so traditional supporters of the United Workers Party,” he emphasised.
King added that he wished to state categorically that he has not and will not resign his constitutional position -- a position provided for under the constitution of Saint Lucia and for which the process for removal is clear.
Sunday’s emergency meeting had been called to try to resolve ongoing divisions within the party stemming largely from the split functions of new party leader Allen Chastanet and former party leader King, who nevertheless remained as the official leader of the parliamentary opposition.
The UWP has been struggling for some months to deal with this dichotomy of leadership roles after Chastanet was elected to replace King as party leader. However, as Chastanet has no seat in parliament, King has remained the official opposition leader – a constitutional office appointed by the governor general..
The emergency meeting had been cloaked in secrecy prior to the event and, according to one senior party member, this was the first such extraordinary meeting where an agenda was not published but nevertheless the intentions of the party leadership were “plastered all over the media.”
As reported after the meeting, the objectives were to deal with (1) confidentiality issues; (2) dissident UWP MP Richard Frederick; (3) the party’s representative on the Elections Commission; and (4) Stephenson King’s position as opposition leader.
Much was said at the meeting about ongoing information leaks to a “Tokyo Rose” – a prolific poster of inside information concerning the UWP on social networks such as Facebook -- and Tori Fatal, the author of frequent letters to the editor published by Caribbean News Now highly critical of the party.
According to the UWP leadership they have been trying to find out who these people are so that they “can deal with them once and for all.” The impression gained by many of those attending the meeting was that the party leadership is trying to intimidate member into submission, which was the theme word of the meeting.
The situation regarding former housing minister Richard Frederick, the UWP representative for Castries Central, was raised. Frederick did not attend the meeting and one person present said that he should not be discussed in his absence.
Before last year’s convention, Chastanet announced that he would be unable to work with King or Frederick, who enjoys wide support in his constituency and in the island generally, and who has since taken the position that, as a result of Chastanet’s statements, he will not attend executive meetings called by Chastanet.
Although reported to have said on a number of occasions that he would never work with Frederick, Chastanet now denied this and the party chairman Ezechiel Joseph claimed that they had reached out to Frederick but he (Frederick) insisted that he would not work with Chastanet.
Reportedly, no firm decision was made in this regard except to encourage Frederick to come to the table to talk.
Michael Flood is the elections officer of the party who serves and represents the party on the Elections Commission. According to the law, the only person that can remove him from the Commission is Flood himself. Otherwise, to remove him, there must be a tribunal hearing, which can only be called by the prime minister.
It was therefore suggested that everyone should try to work together, which was agreed; however, Chastanet warned that, even though this decision was taken, Flood had disregarded the rules of the party and that he should be disciplined because, if the leader asks anyone to do something, he/she has no choice but to follow the directive. Chastanet reiterated that he wants total submission.
After all those present spoke on the King issue, the delegates decided that reconciliation was the best way forward until UWP MP Guy Joseph came out with a barrage of complaints about King, saying that people told him King was “in bed” with Prime Minister Kenny Anthony and that he was not getting anything from the government for his constituents.
King explained that the opportunities that exist are there to benefit all constituencies and he applies like all other representatives. He said he is given no special concessions and/or privileges.
Chastanet, in turn, when he saw the shift in the debate, decided to speak out and say that his problem with King is that he gives his office and duties as opposition leader, and his constituency more priority than the party and its meetings and that he (Chastanet) needs someone in the post who will be "totally submissive for want of a better word".
A motion was therefore moved to try to remove King under the provisions of Article 15.4 of the party's constitution, which reads as follows:
15.4 Where in the exercise of 15.3 the Political Leader is not an elected parliamentarian, the National Council shall convene an extraordinary meeting to which shall be invited all winning candidates of the Party, to select an individual from among the Deputy Leaders who won a seat, or in the absence of a winning Deputy Leader such other person from among the winning candidates, to be recommended to the Governor General as the Leader of the Opposition.
However, the motion was strenuously resisted by many of those present on the grounds that the article refers to the preceding Article 15.3, which in turn refers specifically to 15.1, which takes effect only "immediately after a general election”.
The motion was therefore abandoned by its supporters, apparently for fear that any such action would end in litigation.
Another motion was therefore passed to have the UWP parliamentarians meet on Monday to decide, as is their right, according to the Saint Lucia constitution.
The party chairman, however, voiced his disapproval and said he felt the best way to go was for King to resign.