By Kenton X. Chance
Three prominent members of the main opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP) parliamentary caucus say they are interested in becoming Leader of the Opposition, a position on which NDP lawmakers could vote sometime today, Thursday.
The three are NDP Vice-Presidents Godwin Friday and St. Clair Leacock and MP for West Kingstown, Daniel Cummings, who each confirmed their interest to iWitness News in separate interviews on Thursday.
They also each said that the party has not selected a Leader of the Opposition, contrary to what has been reported in sections of the local and regional media.
Leacock, who is also MP for Central Kingstown, said he “sensed” that a vote on Leader of the Opposition will take place today.
“I know a meeting has been called for today so I can only reason, rationally, that the purpose of that meeting is to make that decision,” Leacock said.
He, however, declined to give details about the timing of the meeting, saying, “It would not be proper for me, in terms of the confidentiality of the party, to indicate that to you.”
The NDP has begun the process of selecting a new party head and Leader of the Opposition after Arnhim Eustace, who has been holding those posts since October 2000 and March 2001, indicated this week that he will relinquish both positions ahead of the NDP’s extraordinary convention next week Sunday, Nov. 27.
A source with knowledge of the inside deliberations surrounding the election of the new Leader of the Opposition told iWitness News that Friday, a lawyer who has been Member of Parliament for Northern Grenadines since 2001, is “very likely” to succeed Eustace in that post.
Asked his view on this, Leacock said: “If the party selects Dr. Friday, that’s their democratic right and a right that I, among others, am obligated to respect.”
Leacock said that he will support Friday if he is elected.
Cummings also confirmed to iWitness News that he is interested in the position and Leacock said he also knows this to be the case.
The two lawmakers have seemed especially close to each other, but sources say that a rift opened up between them over recent times, although iWitness News has not been able to ascertain the cause.
Leacock said he makes “no comment” on whether he will support Cummings if the West Kingstown MP, who, like him, was first elected in 2010, is selected as Leader of the Opposition.
Leacock, however, said he is “not involved in a rift with anybody at all in the New Democratic Party”.
But when pressed on the difference in his answers regarding supporting Friday and Cummings, Leacock told iWitness News: “I said I will support Dr. Friday. We have been vice-presidents together for 15 years. In the 15 years, I have had no fundamental differences with Dr. Friday or disagreement of a kind that would make me not be able to lend him my support.
“In fact, I have scheduled a meeting for Dr. Friday and myself that we should sit as two vice-presidents and speak properly. I still hope that that meeting would take place.”
iWitness News noted that the public comments by both Leacock and Cummings have suggested that they are very close.
“We have been very close all the political years we have been in office,” Leacock said, adding, when asked if that is still the case, “I wish not to comment at this time. And I ask you to respect my withholding my comment.”
Leacock had told iWitness News in September that he did not think it would be wise to challenge Eustace for leadership of the NDP.
Eustace, 72, had himself said he would allow the NDP’s convention to decide his fate.
But MPs for North Leeward, South Leeward, and the Southern Grenadines, Roland “Patel” Matthews, Nigel “Nature” Stephenson and Terrance Ollivierre, raised the issue of leadership succession with Eustace over the last few weeks and he agreed to make way for new blood at the helm of the NDP, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ oldest political party.
One source close to the NDP told iWitness News on condition of anonymity that Leacock, who many had seen as the person most likely to succeed Eustace, had “outmanoeuvred himself”.
The Central Kingstown MP told iWitness News that he disagrees.
“I don’t feel that I outmanoeuvred myself because I thought that I should leave the matter of Mr. Eustace’s departure to be managed properly by him and I feel in the end that that has not been the case, and I will end the interview at that stage until further, when I make myself available.”
Speaking to iWitness News separately on Thursday, Cummings also did not comment on his chances of emerging as Leader of the Opposition.
“I don’t want to comment on it. It is a democratic process. I’ll wait and abide by the results.”
Cummings also declined to comment on the report by our source that Friday is likely to win. He again said t he will wait on and abide by the results.
Asked if he would support Friday as Leader of the Opposition, Cummings told iWitness News he will support “who ever is elected” and gave the same answer when asked about Leacock being elected to that position.
Cummings, however, denied that there issues between him and Leacock.
“Noting is further from the truth,” he said, adding, “We share a very close relationship politically and personally.
“But I don’t want to comment on the election. The decision will be made and I will abide by it. We are a democratic party and I, honestly, don’t think it is sensible to be speculating. I can’t seem to be in the minds of my colleagues and I am not in any way attempting to influence anyone. What caused some of the confusion is that I am absolutely not campaigning for the position. If people want me, it is fine. If they don’t want me, it is fine.”
Cummings also denied that he had indicated at the meeting in which Eustace initially told the party that he would step down that he was not interested in becoming leader of the NDP or the opposition.
Also on Thursday, Friday told iWitness News he is a candidate to become Leader of the Opposition, but immediately added, “But I don’t want to discuss it any further because the matter hasn’t been finalised.”
Asked what he thinks about his chances, he said, “I hope that my colleagues have the confidence in me and will support my candidacy… But as I say, I don’t want to jump the gun.”
But while our source was confident that Friday would become Leader of the Opposition and also president of the NDP, iWitness News was told that the MPs who support Friday are also concerned that he a “too laid back”.
“Well, I believe that the arc of my life has shown that when I set my mind to get something done, I get it done. I am a fairly accomplished person professionally. I have always set pretty high goals for myself. I have achieved them and I think I usually deliver for people when they rely on me, so that is how I live my life and I hope to continue to do.”
A source close to the NDP who requested anonymity so that they could discuss the matters freely, told iWitness News that the NDP is hoping that the convention will also elect the Leader of the Opposition as party president.
Asked why the party isn’t waiting until after the convention to select the Leader of the Opposition, the source said that Eustace wants to relinquish the post as soon as possible.
The source, however, said that the NDP is concerned that it might be difficult to explain and sell to the public the idea of an opposition leader that is not president of the party.
The source also said that Leacock might have turned off a lot of his potential supporters by his response at Tuesday’s meeting of the NDP’s central committee at which Eustace formally informed the NDP of his decision to step down.
“A lot of people were turned off. Leacock gave the impression that he has been in the NDP for 30-something years and should, therefore, become the next leader. A lot of the delegates were not pleased,” the source said.