The return of retired politician and former deputy prime minister Sir Louis Straker to competitive politics Sunday night has greatly increased the ruling Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) chances of winning a fourth consecutive term in office in the next general election, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said Monday.
Straker, 73, was selected Sunday night to represent the ULP in Central Leeward at the next general election, constitutionally due in March 2016, but widely accepted this year.
Straker was Parliamentary Representative for Central Leeward from 1994 to 2010, when he bowed out of politics ahead of the elections that year.
He was the minister of foreign affairs, commerce and trade from 2001 to May 2005, when he was transferred to the ministry of transport, works and housing during a cabinet reshuffle.
He became foreign minister again in December 2005, after the general elections of that month.
Read earlier story: Former Deputy PM Sir Louis returns as ULP’s Central Leeward candidate
Gonsalves said he asked Straker to consider a return to politics because of divisiveness that had emerged in the party in Central Leeward as the incumbent, Maxwell Charles, and his contender, Dunstan Johnson, vied to become the candidate.
Charles was elected parliamentary representative for Central Leeward in the 2010 general elections.
Political observers say the former educator, who is now Minister of National Reconciliation, the Public Service, Labour, Information & Ecclesiastical Affairs, was facing a tough challenge from the main opposition New Democratic Party’s Ben Exeter, a first time candidate.
Sources say that repeated polls in Central Leeward showed that Exeter was favoured to win both Charles and Johnson in the elections.
“What happened is this. … We had two good persons in the race: Maxwell Charles and Dunstan Johnson. The constituency was divided in their support and some persons were vocal for Dunstan, some vocal for Maxwell. Of course, we have to avoid divisiveness and I was concerned that neither of the two candidates might have been able to heal the breach sufficiently in all the circumstances, and both of them acknowledged the difficulty, and that’s where I came up with the idea of putting Sir Louis, and both of them accepted that one would nominate Sir Louis and the other one would second Sir Louis,” Gonsalves said on his party’s radio station on Monday.
“It’s an inspiration which came when I saw the need for the healing between the two groups of supporters — all of them Labour people. And I simply told Sir Louis that the leader of the party — the commander, as how the comrades call me — we need the old general to come back to put on his boots for battle. And he was received with enthusiasm,” Gonsalves said.
He said that Charles nominated Straker and Johnson seconded the nomination.
“So, we move forward in unity, behind a very experienced and well-loved persons,” Gonsalves said, adding that Sir Louis is “more loved and more popular” now in the constituency”.
Gonsalves said he was pleased that Straker “responded to the call and that the people embraced him following the agreement and the leadership of both Dunstan and Maxwell”.
Straker first won the Central Leeward seat in 1994 on a St. Vincent Labour Party ticket, ahead of the party’s merger with the Movement for National Unity four years later, which birth to the Unity Labour Party.
He won again in the 1998, 2001, and 2005, “until he thought that he would make way for somebody else as part of the process of renewal,” Gonsalves said.
“But when you see Sir Louis now and the spring in his steps, he is completely refreshed. And I’m very, very happy to have this distinguished son of the soil, son of Central Leeward; I’m filled with joy this morning that we are under a united banner,” he said.
He said the ULP “did the united banner” in North Leeward, where former MP for that constituency, physician Jerrol Thompson, who lost in 2010 after two terms, gave way to newcomer Carlos James, a lawyer.
The same was done in South Leeward, Gonsalves said, where head of the Financial Intelligence Unit, lawyer Grenville Williams, gave way to fellow lawyer, Sen. Jomo Thomas to carry the ULP’s flag in that constituency.
Central Leeward is the only seat that the ULP won on the Leeward (western) side of St. Vincent in 2010.
Gonsalves said that Straker has connection in both North and South Leeward and can help to bring those seats back into the ULP fold.
“We are taking those back. We are doing a sweep — the whole of Leeward,” he said.
He said Straker is well-loved in Central Leeward and beyond. “He is well loved throughout the whole country”.
“So I am excited this morning, and I am very pleased that the factionalism which was emerging in Central Leeward, that factionalism was put to rest. Of course, factionalism based on one personal support for one individual candidate in the party, as opposed to another, but everybody is Labour. This is when you have generals who respond to service,” he said.
Straker is returning to politics almost five years after party supporters rebuffed an effort to have him switch from Central to South Leeward ahead of the 2010 general elections, according to Edgar Cruickshank a former member of the ULP’s council in South Leeward.
Cruickshank, who last year threw his support behind the NDP, died in December when a vehicle crashed into persons at an NDP rally in Clare valley.
“We had a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in 2010 — the [South Leeward] executive [and] some frontliners — because he wanted Louis Straker to run in South Leeward. And is we who beat out Straker from yah (here),” Cruickshank told I-Witness News last May.