KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) was very deliberate when it chose to file private criminal complaints against four members of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) this year.
The party in January filed the complaints against four of the ULP’s candidates for the December 2010 elections rather than filing election petitions.
The cases were brought against Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Douglas Slater, Health Minister Cecil McKie, and Housing Minister Clayton Burgin.
Chief Magistrate Sonya Young refused to summon Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves to come to court to answer the charges against him and all of the cases against the candidates were taken over and discontinued by Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Collin Williams.
The High Court, in a decision last week, denied review of the DPP’s decision in all but the case involving Gonsalves. Justice Gertel Thom ruled that the Chief Magistrate misdirected herself in not issuing summons for Gonsalves to answer charges against him by Vynnette Frederick.
The Chief Magistrate has since applied for leave to appeal the High Court’s decision.
The NDP won seven of the 15 seats in the December 2010 general elections. And although it more than doubled its hold in Parliament, it was still one seat shy of the majority and the ULP was returned to office for a third term.
The complaints were filed under the Representation of the People Act, which could see Gonsalves banned from Parliament for five years if he is convicted, thereby forcing the ULP to call fresh elections.
Eustace yesterday said the NDP’s complaints “shocked the barely returned ULP administration out of its complacency”.
He noted to the NDP’s convention the implication of a conviction under the RPA.
“… I recall very clearly the amount of criticism heaped on the NDP because we didn’t bring any election petitions,” he told party supporters.
“We didn’t do that by accident. We consulted with legal experts both here and abroad in terms of what information we had so that we could make a decision as to what action we should take,” he further stated.
Eustace said that the NDP then decided that “the best approach for us was in fact to file those cases” and that the response of the ULP administration was to attempt to repeal the relevant sections of the RPA.
“What followed was a series of protest, the ardour and size of which has never been seen before in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, attended by thousands of Vincentians, despite the ULP’s insistence that only hundreds participated,” he said.