DRP head Anesia Baptiste open to coalition
Head of the small opposition outfit, the Democratic Republican Party (DRP), Anesia Baptiste, says she is open to discussing re-joining either the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) or the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
Baptiste, however, told iWitness News in an exclusive interview that the political philosophies of the NDP for which she was a senator, is closer to her own.
The multilingual, 36-year-old politician has been a member of both the ULP and the NDP, but left after falling out with both parties.
Most notably, in 2011, then Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, appointed her an NDP senator after she had joined with the NDP in galvanising the nation in 2009 to reject, at a referendum, proposed changes to the nation’s Constitution.
But Eustace fired Baptiste in 2012 after she wrote him a strongly-worded letter after the party announced a policy prohibiting its candidates from speaking adversely in public about people’s religious beliefs.
Baptiste went on to found the DRP in 2012, but only fielded candidates in six of the 15 constituencies. The slate of candidates, which included her husband, garnered just 154 of the 65,504 valid votes cast in the election, with Baptiste herself polling 45 and her husband 35.
In a Facebook live interview with iWitness News in December, the first of its kind in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, newly appointed Leader of the Opposition and president of the NDP, Godwin Friday, was asked if he thinks that Baptiste has a contribution to make and whether he would welcome her back into the party.
Friday told iWitness News: “I said it in my acceptance speech at the convention, the New Democratic Party convention, and I mean it. We are a political party but the end is not the end of the political party. The end is to bring change in this country that is benefitting people. Anybody who contributes to that process, I think ought to be embraced. And I think somebody who commits to advancing that process as part of the New Democratic Party, I’m not going to dismiss anybody.”
The question was put to Friday in light of reports reaching iWitness News that either Baptiste or the NDP had been making overtures to each other.
But Friday said no one had made overtures to him and he did not know of any made specifically to anyone in the leadership of the NDP.
“But, certainly, I am not one to say that anybody who wants to make a contribution but because of something that happened in the past, we are not going to have any kind of interaction with them. If people never change their minds in politics, governments won’t change. That’s what happens in politics…”
The interview with Friday came days after Baptiste had attended an NDP meeting in Calliaqua at which the NDP declared that the candidacy for East St. George, was open.
NDP chairman, Linton Lewis, has failed to win a seat in the St. Georges on four attempts.
Baptiste told iWitness News that she attended the meeting because she was invited to do so by the chair of the NDP’s East St. George Division.
She said her husband, Calvert Baptiste, who is from East St. George, was also invited and before deciding to go, they had inquired about the appropriateness of their presence.
The DRP leader told iWitness News that she could not say if she was invited because it was felt that she was a potential candidate for the NDP. “But I remember when I was invited, I was asked if it would be okay because I gathered it was a party meeting and I was simply told, ‘Well, it is open to anybody from the constituency and would be declaring that the candidacy is open.’”
Asked if she is interested in re-joining the NDP, Baptiste told iWitness News: “I have indicated to several persons who have expressed to me that they would like to see me re-join the NDP or would like to see some sort of coalition… that time has healed the wounds and that I am open for dialogue.”
She told iWitness News that there hadn’t been any efforts by anyone in the leadership of the NDP to have any official dialogue with her.
“But that is my answer to everybody who has expressed or asked questions about that. But I am open for dialogue and when people sit down together, you never know what can happen.”
During Eustace’s last radio programme as president of the NDP in November, Baptiste called and thanked him for appointing her a senator and giving her a chance in politics at one time
Baptiste, however, told iWitness News she would not say that the call was a form of reconciliation because previous to that “there had been public expressions on both our ends, in my views, which were mature and professional to acknowledging each other’s strengths, works, etc.”
She said when she was involved in activism surrounding the Cybercrime Bill passed into law last year, Eustace is on record as expressing commendation of her for the work that she had been doing.
The government had invited Baptiste to sit on the select committee, even as the opposition stayed away amidst their protest against the results of the December 2015 general elections.
Baptiste said that when the Cybercrime Bill was being debated, she was asked by an NDP parliamentarian if she was willing to sit on their side behind them, to be consulted, if necessary.
The DRP leader said she had agreed to do so but the speaker, Jomo Thomas, did not give permission.
“So, I don’t think that up until that time when I expressed the thanks to Mr. Eustace on radio it is as if there was war before and that moment was a point of reconciliation,” Baptiste told iWitness News.
“I think that time has healed the wounds,” she said in reference to her being fired from the senate.
“I can say that for sure for me, and that I have operated on a professional level with members of the NDP, including parliamentarians and I want to think that Mr. Eustace’s commendation publicly of the work I have been doing on the Cybercrime Bill, before I even called to thank him on the radio the other day, was also an indication of his own professionalism with respect to me and my work as a politician…
“We don’t have many women in politics, including young women, and this is something I consider that Mr. Eustace did that was very good and I really wanted to publicly thank him in the face of all the thanks that was going around for what he had done.”
Ask if she would reconsider joining the ULP, Baptiste told iWitness News that she has been “open to dialogue with anybody and persons have reached out to me from the ULP.
“I have a political philosophy and I look to see who share, in the truer sense, the core values that I share”.
Baptiste told iWitness News that she agrees that compromise can take place, and that there can be coalition.
“This compromise must not be to the detriment of the fundamental core values that I hold and stand for. Because, then, if I were to do that, I would completely become another person and I am not willing to do that because I believe it is important for the people to see that I am consistent and true to myself, true to what I believe and not just appearing to take a strategic position to gain some personal benefit. That is not Anesia Baptiste.”
Baptiste said she would say that the NDP’s political philosophy is closer to hers than the ULP, adding that when she joined the party after the referendum campaign, she believed that the party truly stands for the protection of God-given rights and freedoms.
She said she had “some real concerns about that when our disagreement took place, but if that holds true, and based on that history, I actually did show that I believe that they were closer in philosophy to me than the current administration.”
When Minister of Information, Camillo Gonsalves, invited Baptiste to sit on the Select Committee for the Cybercrime Bill, she went “as Anesia Baptiste who believes in inalienable rights.
“And when I began to see provision in the bills that I felt would have infringed on those rights and spoke out, I got the bad end of the stick,” she told iWitness News.
“So, obviously, that is telling me that they are not serious about, perhaps, what they profess. However, if other people hold the same view as me and would like to see the country go a similar away, I am willing to work with them.”
Baptiste said any such conversation would not be her by herself but as leader of the DRP.
“So, obviously, in any dialogue or negotiations, the DRP as a body will be presented and not just the person Anesia Baptiste,” Baptiste told iWitness News.