By Kenton X. Chance
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Monday, denied that he was positioning himself to give opposition Member of Parliament, St. Clair Leacock, a political coup de grâce — a death blow to end the suffering of a severely wounded person or animal.
Leacock, Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown and a vice-president of the main Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), seems to be estranged from his party after its leadership transition last November.
Many observers had thought that Leacock would have replaced Arnhim Eustace as Leader of the Opposition and NDP leader when Eustace stepped down from those posts — which he did suddenly last November, after 16 years in both positions.
But MP for the Northern Grenadines, Godwin Friday — who has nine more years experience as an elected MP than Leacock — was chosen by his parliamentary colleagues to lead the opposition and was acclaimed as party leader at the NDP’s convention on Nov. 27, 2016 — after Leacock opted out of the race just before it came to a vote.
Leacock, who had been very strident in his criticism of Gonsalves before the leadership transition, seems to have found some solace in the prime minister and even walked across the floor in Parliament to embrace Gonsalves after a strange speech that Leacock delivered to lawmakers in December.
The opposition lawmaker, however, did not opt to sit on the government benches.
With the government preparing to open the EC$729 million Argyle International Airport on Feb. 14 — six years behind schedule, there have been speculations among some political observers that Gonsalves is preparing to call snap general elections — ahead of the December 2020 constitutional deadline.
On Monday at a press conference in Kingstown, iWitness News asked Gonsalves if he was gearing up for early general elections.
He repeated a story he gave last year that after the NDP refused to accept that his government won a fourth consecutive term in office in the December 2015 vote, he had put his party’s general secretary, Sen. Julian Francis, on alert for general elections on Feb. 14, 2016.
Gonsalves, however, said that he backed away because party members were suffering from election fatigue.
On Monday, Gonsalves said he was confident that his Unity Labour Party would have retained the eight seats it won in the December 2015 vote, and was going after East Kingstown, South Leeward and North leeward.
“I wanted to take them out completely,” he said of the NDP.
Regarding a snap elections, Gonsalves said, “That’s not on my mind now, but if it’s on my mind, I won’t tell you.”
He, however, said some opposition Members of Parliament might be frightened, mentioning South and North Leeward.
“One of the things they must go to sleep at nights and worry about, given how close we came the last time, is whether I would ensure that elections are called on a day before the 19th of December 2019 so that they have to fight for their pension. I hear all of them kicking up, but I’m watching and I’m listening. But I’m an ancient warrior,” Gonsalves said.
Elected members of Parliament are entitled to pensions after two five-year terms in office.
Gonsalves spoke about “how those fellas treat Leacock” — a reference to the outcome of the leadership race within the NDP.
iWitness News understands that many persons were turned off by a speech that Leacock gave to the NDP’s central executive after Eustace announced that he was stepping down.
Leacock did not participate in the exercise in which his colleagues chose the opposition leader.
At the press conference, iWitness News told Gonsalves that word on the ground is that Leacock treated himself that way and that he might have destroyed himself politically.
“Well, the point is this, you know, they would always say things but when Caesar got the dagger trounced into him before the statue of Pompeii, he said, “And you too Brutus?” Was he partner (friend),” Gonsalves said, citing Shakespeare’s famous play.
“So political conspiracies are very interesting and fascinating. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with any of them.”
iWitness News further told Gonsalves that some persons say that he is just waiting to give Leacock a political coup de grâce.
“Me?” the prime minister said. “No. Why do they want to blame me for their problems? They conspired against St. Clair Leacock. They set about and high fall him. Let us be clear on this.”
He said Leacock was a faithful servant of Eustace, although on one occasion “he had gingerly stepped out and said well fresh legs are needed after , but he swiftly said no. Everybody, they lined up behind Mr. Eustace, he is not going anywhere.”
After the NDP lost the 2010 general election, its third defeat under Eustace’s leadership, Leacock called for “fresh legs”, but later recanted.
Gonsalves said that after Eustace was persuaded last year that he should go, “Look at what they did. They first of all named a Leader of the Opposition and then gave just about a week after to have elections for the presidency — for the leadership of the party.
“There was no urgency to name anybody for the Leader of the Opposition. They could have waited for that day and do everything. But once they had gone and selected Lorraine Friday as Leader of the Opposition, the ordinary rank and file people would follow what is our cricketing culture: the man at the crease must get the benefit of the doubt, and Friday was now the man at the crease. And the conspiratorial noose was tightened,” Gonsalves said.
“… But I have nothing else to say but make an observation about events that have taken place. I am not putting my mouth in their business as to how they going forward. But you can be assured that I am keeping my eyes and my ears open and I am being my own counsel, because, look, this year is 49 years that I am a political activist. This year is going to be 38 years since I’ve been a candidate in an election.”
Some political observers have said that it is a strange thing to hear Gonsalves speaking empathetically about Leacock, but have also noted that “Politics makes strange bedfellows”.