By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- In what could be a make or break meeting of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) in Saint Lucia, the party’s National Council has been summoned to an “emergency meeting” in Vieux-Fort on Sunday.
In a notice sent to all constituency chairs, the UWP Secretariat said that the chairperson and two other members from each of the island’s 17 constituencies are expected to attend.
The emergency meeting has been called to try to resolve ongoing divisions within the party stemming largely from the split functions of new party leader Allen Chastanet and the official leader of the parliamentary opposition and former party leader Stephenson King.
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 leader of the parliamentary opposition – a constitutional office appointed by the governor general.
Differences first became apparent last month when King denied “passing on the mantle” of leadership to Chastanet and these ealier disagreements within the party were exacerbated in the aftermath of the Christmas storm, and appear to have deepened into a serious rift between the two competing factions.
Following the recent storm, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony invited King as opposition leader to a meeting with the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) in order to discuss the way forward regarding the resulting damage, which King attended as invited.
Chastanet apparently took offence at King’s “unilateral decision” to attend such meeting without first seeking approval and direction from the UWP executive. According to Chastanet, this was not the first time that King has “aggrieved the party” by making such unilateral decisions.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the UWP’s constitution contains a provision requiring the leader of the opposition to hold a party position but this requirement was apparently suspended last year to allow King to remain as opposition leader in parliament.
Moves are now reportedly afoot, however, to oust King as leader of the parliamentary opposition and replace him with Dr Gale Rigobert, one of two deputy political leaders of the UWP and parliamentary representative for Micoud North.
Meanwhile, Chastanet has come under vigorous attack from a newly-formed activist group of disaffected UWP members.
The group, calling itself “Flambeau Activists Called To Service (FACTS)”, wrote a four-page letter
to Chastanet, copied to other senior party officials and branch chairs, setting out an extensive list of complaints concerning his conduct and performance as party leader since being elected to replace King at last year’s party convention, in a process the group said was “dangerously flawed”.
The group issued a press release
on Thursday calling on Chastanet to resign, describing him as a “seat-less and electorally rejected, self imposed leader” and referring to his “divisive and destructive attitude”.
The emergency meeting will also apparently decide “what to do” about former housing minister Richard Frederick, the UWP representative for Castries Central. Even before last year’s convention, Chastanet announced that he would be unable to work with King or Frederick, a King loyalist.
One UWP member, commenting on Sunday's meeting, posed the question why did Chastanet run for leadership of the UWP when he apparently had already decided ahead of time that he could not or would not work with at least two-thirds of the party's six parliamentary representatives.
Frederick, who enjoys wide support in his constituency and in the island generally, has since taken the position that, as a result of Chastanet’s statements, he will not attend executive meetings called by Chastanet.
It is not clear at this point what sanctions could be imposed on Frederick since any move to expel him from the UWP could have serious repercussions so far as the party’s future cohesion and thus its electoral prospects are concerned, given his national popularity.
Meanwhile, Chastanet, a former tourism minister, has another battle to fight in that he 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.