ST. VINCENT: – Leadership will be a major issue during the campaign for the Dec. 13 general elections, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has said as he pitched himself as better suited for the top job than Leader of the Opposition, economist Arnhim Eustace.
“A leader’s vision and philosophy are important to consider. The clarity of a leader’s ideas, a history of struggle on behalf of the people, is an excellent guide as to his or her love for and commitment to the people,” Gonsalves said at a rally in Calliaqua on Sunday, Nov. 14, where he announced the election date.
“A leader’s training, education and life experiences are worthy of assessment and the track record of a leader in office provides a sound basis on which to access his credibility, his honestly, competence, abilities, instincts, character, and performance. Above all, the leader, indeed any candidate, must demonstrate an unbending and unbreakable love for the people,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves became prime minister in March 2001 after his Unity Labour Party won a landslide victory against Eustace’s New Democratic Party (NDP), which had been in office for 17 years.
Eustace, a former minister of finance, was sent to the opposition benches three years after he was first elected to Parliament and five months after he inherited the prime ministership from NDP founder Sir James Mitchell.
The ULP also won the December 2005 elections by the same 12:3 margin and Eustace was once again the only NDP candidate on mainland St. Vincent to retain his seat.
But while Gonsalves said that Eustace came to leadership “as an afterthought” in his retirement, it was the same Eustace who led the “Vote No” campaign that saw Vincentians overwhelmingly rejecting proposed revision to the Constitution last Nov.
Some 29,019 person or 55.64 per cent of the persons casting ballots voted ‘no’ while there was 22,493 “yes” votes — 43.13 per cent.
Political observers had said the referendum was a vote on Gonsalves stewardship. The results indicated that he would have won just two of the 15 parliamentary seats if the referendum were general elections.
Additionally, Eustace has successfully used the nation’s courts to keep the number of constituencies at 15, at least for these general
elections, although Parliament passed a law this year to increase them to 17.
An increase in the number of parliamentary seats was among the proposals voters rejected in the referendum on year ago.
“The NDP is back!” Eustace told his supporters on Saturday at a rally in Sion Hill, in his East Kingstown constituency.
He said it has been a tough nine years in opposition, where he took “licks” even from his own supporters.
“Well, I learn a long time ago to keep my cool. It’s not everything you jump up for. There are times you lie still and then you come back. Well, the NDP is back and the NDP will move the ULP from office in the next general elections!” he said to cheers.
But Gonsalves told his supporters that Eustace believe that because of “privileged class background and upbringing that somehow St. Vincent and the Grenadines owe him leadership”.
“This is a man who meander through national public service and through the regional [public service] and after he retire came to leadership as an afterthought hand-me-down by Mitchell and he want to lead St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said.
He said Eustace does not have “the skill, he doesn’t have the attitude he doesn’t have the all-round orientation, he doesn’t understand our people and he does not love them and that is why the people will never vote for the NDP so long as Arnhim Eustace is the leader”.
Gonsalves failed in his attempt to be elected to Parliament between 1979 and 1994 and said any leader “worth his salt…must have endured wilderness years”, adding that Eustace was “angry by spending a little while in opposition”.
“I in opposition for so many years, beaten on the anvil of experience, forged in the caldron of struggle and when the people saw I was ready, they say ‘take it comrade’. Arnhim will never be ready! He come too late to this business!” Gonsalves said.
He said Eustace “has a tendency to bad talk St. Vincent and the Grenadines and to humbug its progress” adding this was “plainly wrong”.
“You know, because he is opposed to me, he turned that opposition into opposition to the country,” Gonsalves said.
He said that in 2005 Eustace told the president of Taiwan not to give the country money for an international airport and sided with Texaco when they wanted to increase the price of liquefied petroleum gas.
“That is somebody who can lead anybody, especially in these hard challenging times internationally and with the recovery and reconstruction [after Hurricane Tomas]? For ten years, we have had nothing but bitterness and division from the NDP.”
Gonsalves said a leader must demonstrate an understanding and love for his people and quoted 1 Corinthians 13.
He said the people instinctively know who love them.
“And that is the fundamental difference between the ULP and the NDP. We love the people and the NDP, coming on now trying to fake…
“Eustace has never shown that he understands the people,” Gonsalves said, adding that while Vincentians are “very optimistic and good natured” Eustace is “very pessimistic”
“… and every time you see him, he vex with everybody including heself. … Eustace is too negative, he is too timid, he does have creativity and he doesn’t have boldness of leadership. Every time you meet him, he always has some concern about something; paralyzed, can’t do nuttin can’t say what is to be done, in love with problems and not solutions,” Gonsalves said of his opponent.
Gonsalves reaffirmed his “profound love and caring and commitment to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He said that over the past 10 years he has “worked very hard, honestly and contentiously for the people of my country and the Caribbean”.
“As always, I have learnt from you. I have been in communion with you and in turn you have been steadfast with me, even at the most challenging times,” Gonsalves added.
He told his supporters “there are still more returns for you to receive from your investment from your humble servant”.
Gonsalves said his education, training and experiences in academia and politics along with his experiences as father and a husband have put him “in good stead to add further to my life’s work in service for you”.
He said that during his 42 year as “an activist politically” he has “lived through epoch making times and I am here to serve you again faithfully and well”.
“I shall be here for you, I reaffirm my love for you, I do so sincerely. My government’s enormous successes belong not only to my party but to the people of our blessed country. I thank you for the opportunity that I have had to serve you. And I ask you for yet another opportunity to serve you even better in our third term,” Gonsalves said.
He described his candidates as a “magnificent seven” plus “eight fresh faces”, including Luke Browne, 24, who will contest the East Kingstown seat against Eustace.
He mentioned men in history who achieved great things in their 20s, including William Pitt the Younger, Alexander the Great and Napoleon.
“If they can do that, they better than Luke? All we are saying, is a piece of St. Vincent names east Kingstown we need to put Luke there and to finish with dead weight like Arnhim Eustace as we go forward in this country,” Gonsalves said.
He described the NDP as “tired, drained, [and] demonstrating little or no love for the people”.
“I want to tell you this, what the NDP is bringing on offer is the worst set of candidates by any major party ever put to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Most of them in the NDP who are running are driven by and overweening arrogance, an undignified quest for power and are on a quest for revenge as a consequence of some personal grievance real or imagined.
“They [are] coming to seek office for the wrong reason. … These people in the NDP, they offer little or nothing to the people by way of ideas policies and programmes. By and large, they are consumed by an uncontrollable rage, anger and bitterness, which, when combined with an unbridled lust for power represent a real and present danger to the people and our nation,” Gonsalves said.