- ‘…by not stepping aside, he is also sending a signal that he doesn’t think any of the members of his party are ready to take over leadership.’ — Sir James.
- ‘…there will always be more boats in Ottley Hall than planes at [Gonsalves’] airport.’ — Sir James.
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, March 3, IWN – Former prime minister Sir James Mitchell has again called for his handpicked successor, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, to step down as head of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
Sir James, who founded the NDP in 1975, was asked on IK TV’s “Unrendered”, broadcast on Sunday, about his opinion of the NDP’s chances in the next elections, after three successive defeat.
He was asked what impact he thinks the completion of the international airport at Argyle would have on the outcome of the next vote, constitutionally due in 2015.
“I am going to throw out a challenge to Prime Minister [Dr. Ralph] Gonsalves. I bet him there will always be more boats in Ottley Hall than planes at his airport,” Sir James said in reference to the marina his administration built and for which the Gonsalves government obtained debt forgiveness, and had termed a “failed project”.
“Let time tell us how things evolve. I wish you well. I am not going to say anything derogatory about that (the airport),” Sir James further said of the EC$652 million project that Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party has used as a central plank of its election campaigns since 2005.
The airport is scheduled to be completed this year and to become operational in 2014.
“… my party needs to re-evaluate itself. It needs to understand in all honestly where they are,” Sir James said of the NDP.
“When the people keep rejecting you and have rejected you three times at the polls, be careful. It sends a clear signal to you and the party has to understand first of all and fundamentally, there is a difference between leadership of a party and leadership of the Opposition,” he said.
“Leadership of the opposition is a constitutional position decided on by the majority of the members,” he further stated.
Sir James noted that in Barbados, where Owen Arthur led his party to an electoral defeat last month, he did not turn up for the vote where the majority of elected member of his party selected as opposition leader Mia Motley, who Arthur had defeated in a vote years before a the election.
“He (Aurthur) is still leader of the party. We need to understand that difference and we need to really go forward…” Sir James said.
Asked by host Toney Regisford, “Are you saying all of this to say that the current leader of your party should step aside?”
Sir James said: “He should. And, by not stepping aside, he is also sending a signal that he doesn’t think any of the members of his party are ready to take over leadership.”
The NDP lost the 2010 election, one year after it convinced electors to reject proposed changes to the nation’s constitution.
Some commentators said the constitution referendum was a vote on Gonsalves stewardship and the ULP would have lost all but two of the 15 parliamentary seats, if the referendum were an election.
Sir James said that after the referendum he did a statistical analysis and saw three seats — North Windward, South Central Windward and Marriaqua — “were within the margin of error”.
“In other words, they were easy seats to lose. And, I am sure, knowing the strategist that Ralph (Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves) is that he must have done such an analysis also. But, when I put that to my party and its implication — and I was not happy about some of the other candidates. But it was not mine to call. I could only point the way.
“So, the important things are really statistical analysis and not being ashamed to get polls to see where you are.
“Everybody was rejoicing with the referendum and everybody was boasting what a wonderful job they had done. But I was looking for the weaknesses in the results,” Sir James said.
He said that while he was not confident that the referendum victory would have translated to a general elections win, he did not make such comments publicly.
“I was on the platform saying things to the contrary, but I knew within me what we had to do,” Sir James said.
Meanwhile, Eustace was asked at a press conference on Feb. 11, if he would step down as NDP leader.
“The leadership is not for sale,” he told journalists.
“We have a constitutional process in the New Democratic Party, which we stick to, in respect of leadership,” he further said.
Eustace further noted that he was re-elected leader of the NDP each time the position came up for election.
He further said that he put the position to a vote ahead of time and that he amended the constitution of the NDP to allow the party’s convention, rather than its elected parliamentarians, to selected the leader and also reduced the length of the terms from five to three years.