By Kenton X. Chance
The ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) is slated to hold its constituency conference in South Leeward on Saturday, during which brewing tensions might come to the fore regarding the future candidacy of House Speaker, Jomo Thomas.
Thomas, a lawyer and social commentator, has been a longstanding supporter of the ULP but had stayed on the sidelines offering critical support, until 2013, when he accepted the ULP’s offer of a senatorial appointment.
After a contentious candidate selection — which ended with Grenville Williams, a lawyer and former director of the Financial Intelligence Unit, withdrawing his candidacy — Thomas emerged as the party’s flag bearer in South Leeward in the 2015 general elections.
However, he failed in his bid to unseat the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Nigel Stephenson, who held on for a second term by 118 votes, securing 2,738 to Thomas’ 2,620.
Sources tell iWitness News that ahead of the election, when polls indicated that the ULP would be returned to office, there was a concerted effort within the party to ensure that Thomas was not one of the candidates who made it home.
iWitness News understands that senior members of the ULP had committed to spend a substantial part of the election eve in South Leeward to shore up Thomas’ chances against Stephenson.
However, they turned up late in the afternoon, having spent most of the day in another constituency where another first-time candidate was running.
But before that, roads were dug up in Clare Valley and were not fixed ahead of the vote, and in Vermont, a ULP stronghold, outside of the re-construction of Penniston-Hope Bridge by the Ecuadorian government, virtually nothing was done in the agricultural district after the damage left by the trough system of December 2013.
After the elections, Thomas was appointed speaker of the House of Assembly, replacing Hendrick Alexander, who took up the post in 2001, when the ULP first came to office.
The NDP did not exactly whisper its satisfaction with the government’s selection, the opposition having considered Thomas a more balanced moderator of the national assembly. The opposition also saw Thomas’ appointment as an opportunity to checkmate the government, since removing the house speaker would require a two-thirds vote in a national assembly where the government has an 8-7 majority.
If only to give the ULP a black eye, the NDP would not vote for Thomas’ removal, an unlikely scenario since Thomas has said he would resign if the ULP loses confidence in him.
But there seems to be some dissatisfaction within the ULP with Thomas’ performance as house speaker, and also with his continued activism and continued forthright commentaries in his newspaper column and on social media.
In addition to this, since becoming house speaker, Thomas has secured telling victories against the government on behalf of his client in cases that he took before becoming a senator.
Whatever dissatisfactions the ULP might have with Thomas, however, are not being expressed directly by the party but through its radio station, Star FM, and some of its most rabid supporters on social media.
For instance, there have been what some party insiders say are orchestrated calls to Star FM by persons complaining that they are not seeing Thomas in the constituency. Some persons have gone as far as suggesting that the constituency needs a new caretaker.
But being a caretaker of a constituency calls for money, and some observers have made a case against Thomas using his own money to advance the interest of a party that apparently wants to be rid of him.
They have noted that Thomas’ advocacy within the ULP administration on behalf of constituents has largely gone unanswered. One case in point has been Thomas’ reported failure for almost a year to get his government to assist a Vermont resident whose home was damaged by a rockslide last November.
The biggest indication, however, of the ULP’s apparent itching to part ways with Thomas has been the call by Frank Da Silva on the ULP’s radio station, for Thomas to quit as House Speaker.
Da Silva — a former NDP supporter who had secretly recorded a conversation with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and played it on the pro-NDP NICE Radio, for which station manager, Douglas De Freitas, reprimanded him — has been vociferous in his criticism of Thomas on Star FM.
Most shockingly, Da Silva has gone as far as to blame Thomas for the death of Edgar Cruickshank, a former ULP diehard who turned away from the party when it became clear that Thomas would emerge as the candidate.
Cruickshank, 68, of Upper Questelles, died as a result of what ULP general secretary, Sen. Julian Francis, said was a “freak” accident which occurred when an unlicensed and uninsured vehicle crashed into him and other persons at an NDP rally in Clare Valley in December 2014.
The car was driven by Antwone “Quincy” Anthony, who was charged in connection with the incident.
In an episode of his Friday night appearances on Star FM, Da Silva said that the leadership of the ULP do not want Thomas, neither do the majority of the supporters and further asked why Thomas doesn’t resign.
Some political observers have concluded that Da Silva could never use the ULP’s radio station to attack one of its caretakers without the tacit or explicit support of the party’s leadership.
In the meantime, ULP heavyweights in South Leeward have been courting other potential candidates, including one person in the financial services, who reportedly walked away from the wooing recently.
Another person under consideration is a close female relative of a former ULP candidate who in 2014 wrote to the party expressing interest in becoming a candidate, on condition that there is no primary.
iWitness News understands that that person is again expressing an interest in becoming the party’s flag bearer in South Leeward.
But one of the main questions that the movers and shakers of the ULP in South Leeward and at the national level might have to answer is: What has Thomas done or not done why he should not be allowed to run again, having lost by just 118 votes?
Further, the ULP might have to explain whether the prominence of the position of Speaker has not endeared Thomas to more constituents and thereby given him a better chance at winning the seat.
The goings-on in South Leeward suggest that the ULP might, indeed, be gearing up for snap elections, pending the outcome of the two election petitions the NDP has filed challenging the results of the 2015 election.
Some observers have even suggested that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves himself would be prepared to leave one of his other children to run in North Central Windward and contest the South Leeward seat himself, if matters should come to a head at a bad time.
From all indications, it seems that there might be a cross party and in-party battle in at least one constituency ahead of the next general elections, constitutionally due by March 2021.