A change of government for St Lucia

Coinciding closely with the elections in Guyana and just before the forthcoming ones in Jamaica on December 29, general elections were concluded in St Lucia on November 28, with the opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) displacing the former Prime Minister Sir John Compton’s United Workers Party (UWP) with an 11-6 majority in the country’s House of Assembly. The UWP leader, Stephenson King has indicated the party’s doubts about the veracity of the vote count in at least two of the seventeen seats, and has been taking legal advice before deciding whether to contest the vote in the courts. And indeed at a wider level, there has been some concern that, with a population now bordering on 200,000, the electorate can constitute 150,000 of that number.

As the election drew nearer, it was becoming clear to the contending parties that their relative positions were growing tighter, as reflected by some polls. The results have shown exactly this, with many of the deciding votes being extremely close, leading to a delay in actual confirmation of the SLP’s victory, and a consequent delay in the announcement of the new Cabinet. It does seem clear that a certain amount of disillusionment with Stephenson King’s management of the Cabinet itself had taken place. He seemed unable to cope with widespread allegations of corruption among ministers, and some actual convictions by the courts of ministers in their personal capacities. Some degree of demoralization will have occurred within the King government itself, consequent upon the revocation of the diplomatic and personal visas of the Minister of Housing, Richard Frederick. And the election platforms, from the opposition side, swirled with allegations of United States concern with the trade in narcotics involving high personnel in St Lucia.

Finally the UWP seems to have been somewhat wounded, at least among some middle class supporters of the party, by the row between the daughter of Sir John Compton, Janine Compton-Antoine, who inherited his parliamentary seat, and the government led by a new Prime Minister who, for many years had been seen as a political protégé of Compton, and selected by him, against other contenders, as successor. The Prime Minister seemed unable to explain the issues involved between himself and Ms Compton-Antoine, leaving an additional set of rumours about conflict and discord within the wider party itself, and the departure of Ms Compton-Antoine to run as an independent.

Much play was made by the SLP of this, coupled with a general spread of rumours that the United States was now interested in the extradition of a senior government official, and was anxious for the elections to be pursued in order to proceed. A general impression therefore seems to have been left, as the elections drew near, of indecisiveness on the part of King himself. And a contrast was made with an alternative decisiveness on the part of Dr Kenny Anthony, sometimes, criticized by the UWP ministers as arrogant.

Prime Minister Anthony, who had led the St Lucia government between 1997 and 2006, returns to office in an atmosphere where unemployment and the necessity for clean government were two of the main themes of the general elections. Following the party’s manifesto, he has indicated an immediate pre-Christmas “crash programme” of short-term employment, replicating a longer term programme which the SLP had during its last two terms of office. And he has, as a first measure, created a new Ministry of Infrastructure and Port development apparently to achieve at least two major objectives – a concentration on the damage done to the country in consequence of Hurricane Tomas last year and continuing rains since; and secondly to more precisely focus on the infrastructural requirements for enhancing tourism growth by a focus on redevelopment of some of the country’s sea and air ports.

In addition, during the election campaign the party had promised a stronger focus on health and education. In respect of the first, this has been a completion of a previous task undertaken in the party’s last term of government, namely the implementation of a programme of universal health care which the John Compton-Stephenson King governments did not care to continue. And the second reflects a widespread concern with the prevalence of serious crime, including drug and gun running among the youth; and it is proposed that as a medium-to-long term measure there should be a deliberate focus on the conditions of early childhood care.

In respect of external relations, the party has committed itself to focusing on a stronger commitment to Caricom integration than the post-Compton government had pursued, and to lift what it has described as a recent lowering of the country’s prominence in regional affairs generally. Similarly it will certainly continue strong support of the OECS commitment to the implementation of OECS Economic Union, as proposed in the Revised Treaty of Basseterre that originally created the organisation in 1981.

The manifesto of the SLP did not make mention of the contentious issue of the UWP government’s recognition of Taiwan and consequent withdrawal of China from a diplomatic presence in St Lucia, though the party, in opposition objected to that matter at the time. In more recent years the SLP put the focus, in respect of this issue, on what it deemed to be substantial interference by the Taiwanese mission in the internal affairs of the country, including the grant, outside of the normal government administrative and accounting processes, of substantial sums of money (US$1million) to each government member of Parliament, ostensibly for public works in their constituencies.

Certain indications have been floating around that the new government does not, as most of the electorate would have expected, wish to immediately eject the Taiwanese, and return to recognition of China. This was an initiative apparently taken by the then SLP government in 1997, at the insistence of Foreign Minister George Odlum who later left the then SLP administration. There would appear to be some concern that precipitate action in that regard would be unwise, with some press commentary emanating from around new government circles suggesting that in the light of changing relations between China and Taiwan themselves, there may be some room for manoeuvre that could be beneficial to the country. So the odds are that there will be a relative silence on the issue for a while, with the government insisting that with a slowdown of economic growth and popular anxiety about prospects for employment, the recognition issue cannot be deemed to be a priority.

Undoubtedly, the country awaits a decision on Taiwan with some anxiety, but it may be that the new government believes that delay in dealing with it will, over time, reduce its salience as a divisive issue, since the opposition will clearly be pleased to see their choice as, apparently, the national choice, in spite of the furore of the last few years.

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