By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” July 15, 2022)
As the Unity Labour Party prepares for its convention on July 30, the party leadership is tight-lipped on the issue of transition. There is only one explanation. PM Gonsalves is prepared to preside over the destruction of the ULP rather than allow democracy to run its course. Ralph Gonsalves would rather the country grind to a halt rather than allow for the emergence of anyone other than his son, Camillo, as ULP leader and prime minister. Comrade Ralph is willing and ready to die in office if only to buy time with the hope that his son’s fortunes will change as a high-stakes attempt to burnish his flagging image unfolds.
Increasingly, the die appears to have been cast. PM Gonsalves’ succession plan is unravelling.
In 2013, Gonsalves boasted that he had a stable of young and tested cadre who could easily elevate to the helm and continue the “steady” hand he had offered to his party and country. Sixty-three years old then. He said he was ready for the transition to the new leadership of his party. He boasted Camillo, Saboto, Luke Browne, and Carlos James were bright stars waiting to take their rightful leadership place.
Nine years after, the 76-year-old Gonsalves holds tightly to the leadership of the party and government as if mortally afraid to transition to a new generation of leaders. He promised that he may be on the ticket for the 2025 elections. But a dilemma awaits him.
Gonsalves only clings to power for one reason; he has no guarantee that his son, whom he has prepared for the last decade to assume leadership, will win the party’s and country’s favours.
The news is that last Monday, the ULP National Executive nominated Ralph Gonsalves as the leader and Gommery Daniel as deputy. As Ken Boyea was fond of saying, “same old khaki pants”. The convention on July 31 will be expected to ratify the Gonsalves-Daniel ticket. Gonsalves is said to have told Camillo and Saboto to return to the party faithful in search of more support. Don’t disregard the wily machinations of Comraid Ralph. Always the schemer, look for his attempts to out manoeuvre Saboto. He is busily working the phones cajoling members to vote for his son because Camillo is older by a decade, and Saboto’s time will come. Never mind, Saboto was in parliament seven years before Camillo.
Saboto may be well advised by the hog, “bathe in the first water you meet”. He has help in his in-laws: the Brownes. Luke and his dad Theo will have none of Gonsalves’ leadership fix. After three consecutive defeats at the polls, Luke’s chances at the premiership are fading fast. Therefore, bet on the house of Browne to put some needed steel in Saboto backbone as the fight for the top job heats up. Word on the ground is that Luke has already informed Gonsalves that it is politically improper for him, as leader of the party, to lobby for his son.
About a month ago, the buzz among ULP supporters was that the party would select a new leader at the party’s general council meeting. Many supporters went to the meeting openly proclaiming that they were “going to vote for Saboto” as the next prime minister.
At the meeting, Gonsalves made a rambling speech about not tolerating “mischief and disunity”. Many party stalwarts who sensed that change was at hand left the meeting frustrated. Feeling the mood at the meeting, Gonsalves analysed that the balance of forces was not with him as it relates to hoisting his son on the party. He never allowed the open debate and possible vote that party members expected.
Since then, he has improperly gone on a recruitment blitz, improperly canvassing members to vote for Camillo. Make no mistake, Camillo is technically best prepared for the job. Daddy Ralph skillfully engineered his rise to prominence.
Camillo was assigned one high-profile assignment after the other: Senior Crown Counsel in the AG’s chambers, Ambassador to the United Nations, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Finance. In addition, he was helicoptered into the East St George’s constituency, where he had no previous link but an excellent chance of electoral success.
Gonsalves never played up Camillo’s experience because he knows that the charge of nepotism may torpedo the attempt. Given similar opportunities, Saboto, Luke Browne, Hans King, or La Celia Prince might have loomed even larger. Yet Saboto, banished to the difficult Agriculture Ministry, contends for the top job. Had Camillo matched his 2015 outing in the 2020 elections, he would have been the front-runner among party supporters. The poorly managed Yugge Farrell affair and his perceived aloofness by voters have knocked away some of his star power. He may still emerge as the leader. As buyer remorse set in, the national electorate may have tired on the G spot.
Gonsalves’ attempt to fix the leadership race may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Some supporters may have none of it. Another matter that presents Gonsalves with sleepless nights is which constituency Camillo will contest in 2025. Badly exposed in his 2020 outing against neophyte Laverne Gibson-Velox, he may win the leadership and lose his seat in Parliament. Gonsalves may also be considering retirement so Camillo could run for cover in the relative safety of Daddy’s North Central Windward constituency. But this plan is not sitting well with some level-headed movers and shakers in the party.
They believe any such move will further expose Camillo as a political weakling whose only future and success in Vincentian politics are tied up with his father’s influence and genial. All his life Ralph Gonsalves got what he wanted. He remains a scheming political juggernaut who, like a mindless cow, may be prepared to kick over the bucket of milk if his calf is denied the first right to suckle.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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