ST. VINCENT:- The ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) on Sunday, Nov 28, officially launched its candidates for the Dec. 13 general elections with party leader and Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves describing them as a “dream team”.
“Our dream team contains persons with a range of skills, training, experiences, interests and aptitudes, fit for the purpose of collective leadership,” Gonsalves told supporters at Victoria Park, Kingstown, where each candidate make a short introductory speech.
He said the candidates, which include eight “fresh faces” and “the magnificent seven political veterans”, have all been formally educated at the post secondary level and beyond.
“Among us are persons who have had working experiences in the fields of teaching, business, the law, farming and agriculture, diplomacy, the public service, and medicine. Each of us is committed to serving the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; each of us is possessed of a love for our neighbours, our people, individually and collectively. Without such love, a candidate is nothing,” Gonsalves said.
The “veterans” in the team are Gonsalves (North Central Windward), Technology Minister Dr Jerrol Thompson (North Leeward), Education Minister Girlyn Miguel (Marriaqua), Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel (North Windward) and Works Minister Clayton Burgin (East St. George), the only five to win elections before.
Edwin Snagg (Southern Grenadines) and Herman Belmar (Northern Grenadines) were both unsuccessful in their attempt in 2005 to wrestle the Grenadines from the ULP.
The “fresh faces” include national and Rhode scholar Luke Browne, 24, who will come up against NDP head and Opposition leader Arnhim Eustace in East Kingstown. David Browne (South Leeward), Michelle Fife (West Kingstown), Elvis Charles (Central Kingstown) Saboto Caesar (South Central Windward), Frederick Stephenson (South Windward), Cecil McKie (West St. George) and Maxwell Charles (Central Leeward), like Browne will face the electorate for the first time.
The new candidates range in ages between 25 and 48, with Maxwell Charles in his mid-fifties.
“This emphasis on young candidates of immense accomplishments individually, of sound character of energy and creativity and of real promise for the challenging years ahead, reflect the youthfulness, the energy and creativity of the population and it reflect the youthfulness of this crowd here tonight. These young candidates embody our party’s acknowledgement that our children and young person are our most precious assets,” Gonsalves said.
ULP v. NDP
Political observers say that the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), led by economist and former Prime Minister Arnhim Eustace, is the biggest challenge to the ULP securing a third consecutive term.
Ivan O’Neal and the Green Party, which gained less than one per cent of the votes in 2005, is not expected to have much of an impact on the outcome of the elections although it has nominated 14 candidates.
The ULP is going into the polls having shed some of the most senior ministers, including the deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affair, in addition to the ministers of health, tourism, social development, and culture.
While Gonsalves totally ignored the Green Party in his 71-minute speech, he spent a significant amount of time trying to portray the ULP as more suited than the NDP to run St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) for the next five years.
“This abundance of fresh faces of outstanding quality in the ULP’s line up of candidates undoubtedly highlights our great party’s sensible grooming and succession planning. … Our party, like all successful organisations, must refresh itself with personnel and ideas on an ongoing basis, if this is not done, the party will limp along uninspiring and become a proverbial dinosaur,” Gonsalves said, adding that such was the fate of the 35-year-old NDP.
“The NDP is thus stuck in a rut with a rabble of political dinosaurs, bitter men and women with personal agenda and vanities galore, old modes of thought and a cold heartedness to the poor, the working people and the nation as a whole.
“In the NDP’s parade of candidates, youths are downgraded or are shaped into veritable karaoke minstrels, mechanistically and ridiculously mouthing words scripted by others. … They are empty, devoid of quality and impression of no compelling narrative to replace that of the Unity Labour Party.”
The elections, according to Gonsalves, pit “a progressive social democratic party — the ULP — against an increasingly reactionary and politically backward entity known as the NDP”.
“If you are interested in the future of this country, please, avoid the NDP like the plague,” he told party supporters and media audiences.
He said the ULP was recommitting to progressive Labour Party values of which a “redemptive bundle of Christian values are at its centre”.
These Labour values and practices, he said, combine the love of God, people, the poor, and the marginalized; love of country; and the social democratic principles of individual freedom, equality, democracy, peace, non violence, truth speaking, honesty, and solidarity.
“Together, they constitute Christianity in action,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Economic Development, said his government has wiped out indigence and halved poverty, in addition to increasing monthly public assistance payments from $60 (US$22) in 2001 to $175 (US$65), with another increase planned for Jan.
The ULP administration, he said, has taken care of the elderly and demonstrated in practical ways it love for the children and youth.
Gonsalves said that taking care of the poor and God’s response to injustice is one of the most common themes of the Bible.
“The war, which we in the ULP wage against poverty and our quest to uplift the poor, the working people and oppressed nations the world over, are vital planks in Christianity in action. I believe wholeheartedly that when you struggle to uplift the poor, the Lord shall bless thee in all thy works and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. Such a spirit blesses us in our other giant endeavours,” he said.
“I warn you tonight in Victoria Park. You need this ULP government to continue the war against poverty, to create more jobs and more wealth, to continue with the education revolution and one laptop per student policy,” he said, also mentioning the health and wellness revolution.
“The NDP has failed in opposition; they are not ready for government: the ULP is performing very well; it has magnificent candidates it has a good leadership. It has vision, philosophy, policies and programme now and for the future. It has a dream team for the third term and we have accomplishments to show in every area.”
He said never since SVG gained independence in 1979 was there such a marked difference in the political outlook, policies, and programmes of the parties contesting the election.
“The opposition NDP has a Sarah Palin/Tea Party conservative Republican mindset. … They view the role of the state in the most minimalist terms and tend to see it ideologically as a burden to the people,” Gonsalves said.
On the other hand, the ULP we views “the democratic state as a manifestation of the people’s will”
“…this democratic state has, broadly speaking, been a force for good in our country and in the Caribbean, particularly in uplifting the poor, the working people, the middle classes and the businessmen and women,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves further said that there is a big difference in the way the NDP and the ULP view Vincentians.
“The ULP, correctly views the people, their strengths and possibilities most positively. The NDP on the other hand is always complaining and harping about our people’s limitations and weaknesses with absolutely no uplifting message to enhance our people’s strengths and possibilities or to reduce their limitations and weaknesses.
“The ULP always seeks to extend the boundaries of our people’s creative imagination with bold enterprising initiatives. On the other hand, the NDP is locked into a dullness, a learnt helplessness and a mindset of negativism.”
He said the NDP would scale back or halt the Cuba-SVG integrated programme; the construction of the international airport, cross country road, and national stadium; the “education revolution”; participation in PetroCaribe and ALBA; and, among others, the Youth Empowerment Service.
Gonsalves v. Eustace
Gonsalves also quoted scripture extensively as he tried to portray Eustace as having made a “mockery” of the poor.
He cited Eustace’s statement in Parliament that he didn’t know poverty existed in the country until he ran for office in 1998.
“This man was the Director General of Finance. He was the Fiscal Advisor to the Prime Minister. Poverty was 40 per cent of the population yet he said he did not know that poverty existed until he ran for office. That is a form of mockery,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that Eustace has said that he did not know that former estate workers were owed severance pay.
Gonsalves referenced to the psalmist’s statement that the Lord blesses and delivers those who consider the poor.
“I state categorically that Arnhim Eustace has mocked the poor and he has deceived the poor and that is why I predict that he will never prosper in any of his endeavours.”
“You know, people wonder why is it that the NDP is having all these calamities befalling them. You think [it] is Ralph? You think [it] is ULP? There is a hand out there which is taking charge of things.”
Gonsalves further said that Eustace lied in Oct. 2005 when he called out his supporters to march against poverty and later told them that he had in fact called them out in an effort to deter the Taiwanese government from contributing to the international airport project.
“So, Eustace, in Oct. 2005, committed an unforgiveable political sin. He lied brazenly to the poor, he mocked them and he deceived them for a partisan political purpose which was not in the interest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. That man is not worthy to be a representative much less to be a candidate for prime minister and that is why I am making every effort to see that Luke Browne whip him in East Kingstown,” Gonsalves said.
Browne, 25, a political newcomer is the ULP’s candidate for East Kingstown, which Eustace has been representing since 1998.
Gonsalves further said Eustace’s refusal by to condemn the recent violence against three ULP supporters in Chateaubelair even as he appeals for election calm “marks him out as a hypocrite.”
“I am asking you to give me another five years as leader to help to groom these young fresh faces, mould them with the magnificent seven veterans to complete a lot of work which we have started, which we need to be done in your interest,’ Gonsalves said.