KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Chairman of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), Dr. Linton Lewis, has denied telling sacked senator, Anesia Baptiste, that the party’s Strategy Committee couldn’t pass the policy on religion it approved last week.
Baptiste said at a press conference Wednesday that Lewis told her after the policy was adopted that only the central committee of the NDP could make such decisions.
But Lewis said on radio Thursday that Baptiste misunderstood his comments.
He said he told Baptiste that while the central committee makes policy, what the meeting last week adopted was a prohibition.
He further said the discussion at the meeting last week was “healthy” and he participated in it fully and supports the outcome.
Criticising religion can side line citizens and is against the objects of the NDP, Lewis said.
He said that in a private telephone conversation with Baptiste after the meeting he encouraged the 31-year-old politician to abandon her objections to the policy that NDP candidates and potential candidates should not publicly make adverse comments about religion.
Baptiste said the policy was unconstitutional, claiming that it infringes on her rights and freedoms and accused the NDP of being undemocratic.
“If we weren’t a democratic party, she would not have had the opportunity to rise,” Lewis said, noting that Baptiste, who joined the NDP in 2009, was elected as assistant general-secretary in 2010 and was appointed a senator in 2011.
Lewis, a lawyer, said that Baptiste’s position on the policy is based on a “fundamentally flawed premise”.
“I said, ‘Leave it alone. Drop it.’ I said to her, ‘Madam, perception is reality in politics,’” Lewis said in recounting the private conversation with Baptiste after the policy was adopted.
“I begged her to forget it and she was adamant … I saw where the danger was going to be,” Lewis further stated, adding that Eustace did not make the policy decision unilaterally.
Lewis is the second high-ranking NDP executive member to publicly endorse the decision by Eustace to fire Baptiste last Thursday.
Central Kingstown representative St. Clair Leacock, one of the NDP’s two vice-presidents, has also endorsed Eustace’s decision, which was made after consultation with the party’s top brass.
Lewis, in his weekly appearance on a radio programme, cited philosophy as he spoke of the importance of learning to be part of a system even as one strives for change.
He spoke of a philosopher’s urging of self-distrust in an effort to prevent irrationality and prudence in all walks of life.
Discussion is important in organisations, and so is following a consensus when one is reached, Lewis said.
Baptiste, at her media briefing, spoke of the intimate dealings of the NDP as she called for Eustace and “the old heads” to resign from leadership, saying that the party “needs to be reconstituted with young blood”.
But Lewis — who many think is well poised to take the vacant senate seat — said that even when he was accused of being a friend of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, he “held fast to the principles of my party and I didn’t wash my political linen in public”.
Speaking of the 11-page letter that Baptiste wrote to Eustace, in which she objected to the policy and said she would not abide by it, Lewis said:
“She ought not to have done what she did.”
He said that at Baptiste’s three-hour press conference Wednesday, “it was passion rather than wisdom that we heard”.
According to Lewis, while those opposed to the NDP politically will gain mileage out of Baptiste’s statements, they won’t respect her and would consider her untrustworthy.
“They will say they can’t confide in her,” Lewis said, even as he sympathised with “the most unfortunate position in which she finds herself” and wished her “all the best in all her endeavours”.