By Kenton X. Chance
Member of Parliament for the Northern Grenadines, Godwin Friday, on Sunday became president of the main opposition New Democratic Party, six days after becoming Leader of the Opposition, replacing Arnhim Eustace, who had held both positions for 16 years.
Friday was declared president of the party by acclamation after his contender, MP for Central Kingstown and fellow NDP vice-president, St. Clair Leacock, bowed out of the race after delivering what one delegate told iWitness News was “a hard-hitting speech” during the closed-door event in which he also pledged his support for Friday.
After becoming president of the NDP, Friday told the media that his immediate focus will be on getting closer to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“It is no secret that I am from Bequia; I am from the Grenadines. I have family in the mainland, I spent lots of time here, and I went to school here. I have lots of friends here. But that does not substitute for going out and meeting people in the communities, getting to see the conditions. I am not joking about that,” Friday told the media at NDP headquarters, Democrat House, in Kingstown after the extraordinary convention in which he became NDP president.
Friday said that the NDP, which has been in opposition since March 2001, will have to know about the realities affecting Vincentians.
“We have to know how they are living; we have to know what it is they are concerned about in order for us to represent them. And I will do that as the leader of the party, but I will also insist that candidates, the representatives, that that is a job one for everybody.
“You have to go in the constituencies to see what the people are doing to make sure you represent them the way that they expect you to. I think if we can do that, it is easy to win the election,” Friday said.
He praised the process through which he was elected president, which the party has hailed as more democratic than when the last leadership transition took place, in October 2000.
Back then, the NDP’s constitution vested only in its elected MP the right to select the party’s leader. However, during Eustace’s presidency, that was changed, and now delegates at the convention, rather than just NDP parliamentary representatives, elect the party’s leader.
“I am happy that the process ran as our constitution requires it. The delegates came out and supported their candidates and in this case, Major Leacock withdrew his candidacy and the chairman declared myself as the new leader, by acclamation.
“That shows a lot of unity and support in the New Democratic Party and it gives me confidence going forward that we will be able to rely on all of my colleagues and people far and wide in this country as we work on behalf of the people.”
Friday said the process, was a difficult one, but party supporters’ preference for one candidate over another is not a suggestion that there are factions or divides within the NDP as a consequence of the leadership transition.
“That’s just the normal democratic process and what happens afterwards is what is important. And I have confidence in my brother, St. Clair Leacock, the representative for Central Kingstown, that he will be a team player, as he has always been and to support me and work on behalf of the party. He said that here today and I am expecting that that will happen.”
Friday said that the NDP has to ensure that the whole party is working together, and put behind them the difference that might have emerged during the leadership selection exercise and move forward united.
“I will be seeking, in every way I can to make sure that that happens.”
He said the party’s activism, will expand beyond its radio programmes, which he said are, nevertheless, important.
“More has to be done and that is why I say we have to do an on-the-ground campaign, in the sense that we have to go out and meet people. We have to show people that we are serious about understanding the circumstances in our country so that we can find solutions for them. You can’t do it in an abstract way or from a distance. We have done some of that in the past, but we need to redouble our efforts and do more of it. We want people to know what we are coming to meet them,” the new NDP leader said.