ST.VINCENT:- Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has rejected Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace’s invitation to a hold a joint press conference calling for peace amidst reports of election violence.
Gonsalves said that Eustace’s call “is the height of opportunism”, intended to make him look prime ministerial, Gonsalves, who is political leader of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) said on Monday, Nov. 29.
“…you can’t ask me to appear at a press conference with you when up to now you have failed and or refused to denounce the acts of these NDP thugs in Chateaubelair in clear, unequivocal, unmistakable terms,” Gonsalves said of Eustace, who is president of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
He was referring to an incident in Chateaubelair on Nov. 20 when three female ULP supporters were assaulted, reportedly by NDP supporters.
“You do that (condemn the attack), there is no need for us to have any joint press conference but at least, if you do that, there is a basis for somebody to consider that,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves was speaking hours after Eustace issued a statement and appeared on radio calling for calm as campaign for the Dec. 13 poll intensifies.
Eustace said Gonsalves has “abdicated his responsibility to our nation and our people”.
“He has still not appealed for calm in the country as tensions continue to mount during this election period. Again I make an appeal for calm in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace said.
“I also invite the Prime Minister to cross the party divide and join me on this matter. I invite the Prime Minister to make a joint statement with me at a joint press conference to appeal for a peaceful, free and fair election – for the sake of our country. I invite the Prime Minister to stand for peace and democracy in this country – which is right in the eyes of the people and in the eyes of God,” Eustace said.
But Gonsalves said that he has “made specific condemnation of persons whom it is alleged on the NDP side got injured and I said that these incidents I deplore them”.
“I called repeatedly for peace and non-violence. These things are integral to the social democratic philosophy which forms the basis of our outlook — the ULP’s outlook. In fact, the social democratic philosophy is what is encapsulated in the preamble to the independence Constitution,” Gonsalves said.
He spoke of the incident at Chateaubelair “where three women supporting the Labour Party were beaten up by at least three thugs belonging to the NDP”.
“And I called on Mr Eustace and the NDP to denounce this thuggery. They have yet to do so. All they are speaking about is generally we should avoid violence. And then he wants in response to what I said last night, he wants today for both of us to have a point press conference to denounce violence,” Gonsalves said.
He was referring to his comments at Victoria Park Sunday night when he said Eustace’s affirmation “in one corner of his mouth that he wants electoral peace” is “wholly unacceptable” when he has not condemned the attack in North Leeward.
“Eustace stance on this matter marks him out as a hypocrite,” Gonsalves had said during the official launch of his party’s election candidates.
“That is the height of opportunism,” Gonsalves told reporters on Monday.
“…he wants to appear prime ministerial so that some of the lustre of the Comrade will rub off on him by sitting down. I mean that is all this is about. Let’s face it, naked opportunism. I said last night I cannot take Mr Eustace’s position on this thing seriously until he specifically condemns the violence against the young lady in Chateaubelair,” Gonsalves said.
“What happened, the Super Dan block [in Chateaubelair] is so powerful in the NDP that they can’t condemn people who come from that block? Is that why?” Gonsalves said.
The ULP, which is seeking a third consecutive term in office, and the NDP, which has been in opposition for the past ten year, are the major competitors for Parliament.
Pundits have dismissed the Green Party, led by Ivan O’Neal, as a non-starter.