The main opposition New Democratic Party will hold its annual convention today with much interest in the next move by incumbent vice-president, St. Clair Leacock, who announced suddenly on Thursday that he will not seek re-election and suggested that the will join the ranks of the ruling Unity Labour Party.
The decision by Leacock, who is also Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, decision came after the decision by Sen. Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell to also vie for one of the two vice-president positions at the party’s convention in Layou.
He told Parliament on Friday that he will support Barnwell and will lead from the floor.
If Leacock had remained in the race, he would have brought to three the number of persons contesting for the two positions, the other being Member of Parliament for North Leeward, Roland “Patel” Matthews.
On Saturday, Barnwell issued a statement apparently in an attempt to rally NDP convention delegates in support of a new cadre of party leaders and accused the ULP of trying to spread discord within the NDP.
“Since I have announced my intention to contest for the position of Vice President of the New Democratic Party, I have watched with amazement the attempt by the corrupt regime of the Unity Labour Party government to sow division among us,” Barnwell said, adding that today’s convention “is the next stage in the development of the NDP to own the future.
“The ULP understands that and they will do anything to stop the inevitable,” Barnwell said, adding, “We the patriots of St Vincent and the Grenadines must not fall into that trap.”
She said it was the ULP that started saying that “the next generation of the NDP must wait its turn”, adding that some friends of the NDP have picked up the ULP’s talking points.
“The question must be asked, ‘When is our turn?’” Barnwell said.
Barnwell’s accusation of the ULP comes even as Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has said that he will transition to a new cadre of leaders before the next general elections, constitutionally due by March 2021.
Barnwell said the same “wait your turn” line was used against “a young junior senator from Chicago almost a decade ago. Now, America and the world are grateful, that he understood the fierce urgency of his time,” she said about Barack Obama, who in January completed two terms as the first black president of the United States.
“Well, with corruption deepening; victimisation expanding and poverty widening under the unholy Gonsalves regime, there is also this fierce urgency of now, here in St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Barnwell said, echoing one of Obama’s speeches.
“Now is our turn to take back our country,” Barnwell said, adding that today’s convention “ is a respectable competition among friends and whatever the results we will all accept it.
“For we must never lose sight on who and what is our common enemy.
“Our common enemy is poverty; and corruption; and victimisation.
Our common enemy is a regime that has imposed more taxes on the people, and that has pauperised a whole segment of our community,” she said, adding that the contest is “to strengthen our hands in the fight against the common enemy of the people.
“Our turn is now. The people’s turn is now. NDP’s turn is now,” Barnwell said.
In a statement earlier this month, the NDP said that its executive is elected “through a democratic process”.
Party leader and Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday, said:
“As we seek to rescue our beloved SVG, we have to build a new coalition — a broader coalition. As patriots of this land no matter our political history, no matter how many battles we have fought against one another, we must now unite, we must now move together as one nation, one people, one Vincy…”
Friday also said that the NDP will make “make some major announcements as we move forward together”.
There have been tensions within the ranks of the NDP after Friday became leader last November after Member of Parliament for East Kingstown Arnhim Eustace stepped down suddenly after leading the party for 16 years.
Leacock had indicated interest in the NDP presidency but withdrew from the race just before the position was put to a vote.
A number of new faces are in the running for some key positions within the NDP, including former Health Minister Burton Williams for general secretary.
Williams, along with retired Coast Guard officer Tyrone James are trying to unseat Allan Cruickshank, the long-standing holder of the post, who is seeking another term.
More than a decade after exiting the public relations officer post, Israel Bruce, a lawyer, is seeking another stint against Laverne King, a public relations specialist.
Host of the NDP’s daytime radio programme, Clemroy “Bert” Francois and host of the pro-NDP “Night Nurse” programme, retired nurse Margaret London, are vying to become assistant general secretary.
Daniel Cummings has been nominated unopposed as party chairman and is likely to replace Linton Lewis in that post. Lewis, who lost in four attempts to win a seat in the St. George constituencies, has indicated that he will not seek re-election.
Bernard Mills has also been nominated unopposed as party treasurer.