Sen. Jomo Thomas of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) says he will contend to be the party’s candidate in South Leeward in the next general elections, constitutionally due by December 2015, saying the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), is “a formidable challenge” and he is best positioned to win the seat for the ULP.
He made the announcement to reporters on Monday, one day after the ULP held its 20th annual convention.
“I believe that for the package I bring, the instant name recognition that I bring, the history that I bring, the training and experience that I have, not only here [but also] internationally, once the work is done, the people in the party leadership and in the constituency leadership would conclude that I would be the best candidate who will give the party the best chance of winning the seat,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a lawyer, who became a senator and Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly last September, outlined his vision for the constituency, which is represented by Nigel Stephenson of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
“I think that like across the country, the youth are the biggest resource. I want to see them educated, I want to see them involved in sport and culture, I want to see them bring back a community spirit and build up the community in ways that used to be before,” he said.
“I think that young people have to realise that the world is much more than video games and dancehall and music. They have to think about their own future, because too many of our youth have essentially fallen off of that project of being part of the future of the country. Basically, they feel locked out, they feel alienated, they are very vulnerable and the key is to get them back into the system.
“… any party that wants to be long-lasting must sell what it wants to do to the constituency as a whole,” he further said.
“… as a representative or as a party in a country with limited resources, you will not be able to solve all of the needs and concerns of the people. I think you have to think community projects, I think you have to think projects that will make people fuller and whole,” Thomas said.
He said the vision for South Leeward has to concentrate on young people but also re-engage older citizens.
“We need to bring people back out and have them engaged in the resource centres, in the churches, doing work that are particularly important to the constituency and not just my house or my neighbour’s house. I think if we do some of that, particularly when we know we are so poor and it is so difficult to organise resources, … I think if we do that, we will be in a much better position.”
He said that major problems in South Leeward include unemployment, and added that although there have been advances in education, “a lot of people fall off the rail and don’t get the kind of education that would give them a better chance at life”.
Thomas further said that housing is an important issue. He said many constituents are still vulnerable, causing them to build their houses in areas where they are prone to be affected by extreme weather.
Thomas also spoke of culture, sports, and health, and said he has proposed to police in Questelles, an initiative from Grenada, where members of tactical units of the police force provide security to people exercising on the roads early in the morning.
Thomas said that he has heard of other persons who have also expressed interest in being the party’s candidate, including Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit, Grenville Williams.
But he said he decided to run in South Leeward only after understanding clearly that former senator, David Browne, who was the ULP’s candidate in South Leeward in the 2010 general elections, was not going to run again.
Browne, a former deputy speaker of the House of Assembly, was among three senators the government removed from the senate last year, as part of what it said was its renewal and refreshing.
At the time, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also political head of the ULP, said Browne would pursue studies, both by distance and face-to-face.
NDP ‘a formidable challenge’
But while Thomas said he thinks he is the ULP’s best bet in South Leeward, he declined comment on the incumbent.
“ I really wouldn’t want to comment on Mr. Stephenson as a candidate, except to say that he was sufficiently attractive as a candidate that he won the seat last time. So that means that there is something to be said for him, but I think he can be defeated and I intend to defeat him.”
He further said that the NDP’s weaknesses “are manifest”.
“So I wouldn’t want to itemise them. But, they are a party that accumulated 49 per cent of the votes in the last election. They are a party that moved from three seats in 2001 and 2005, to seven seats. So they are sitting at the door of power. My position is that we shouldn’t allow them to get in, for all the reasons we have said they should not get it. But it is clear that the NDP presents a formidable challenge. They might not be a policy challenge, but, certainly, when we count the votes, and when we count the seats in Parliament, it is a challenge that we need to pay close attention to.”
Thomas noted the 51-49 per cent split in the popular vote for the ULP and the main opposition New Democratic Party, respectively, in the last general elections.
He, however, said he thinks the ULP’s chances of winning a fourth term “is as good as any”, adding that the party held “against the flow of things” while many incumbent parties have been voted out of office since 2007.
ULP needs rebuilding
Thomas responded to a question about dissatisfaction among some ULP supporters.
“I think it would be difficult if not impossible for some people, who, after a party ahs been in power for 13 years and continuing to not become disappointed or even disenchanted with their leadership and their ministers.
“But I also believe we have an enormous amount of work to do. I think we have structures to rebuild and repair,” he further said, mentioning the youth and women arms of the party.
“The entire party, we need to rebuild it, we need to reinvigorate it, we need to make it stronger. … I think we can bring that energy back and I have absolutely no doubts if we do our work well, and plan our work well, and execute our work well, we will bring in the kind of people that are gravitating to the party even … after serving for 13 years. I think we have a good chance — I think we have an excellent chance,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the mindset of the ULP going forward is “prepare, prepare, prepare; organise, organise, organize.
“We are not going to win an election by PM Gonsalves talking about all the projects that we are doing as a government,” Thomas said, adding that the time that “ULP propagandists” spend talking about the opposition can used to inform the electorate about the country’s progress under the ULP.