Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says there will be no change in the political leadership of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) at its convention next Sunday, July 31.
Gonsalves said that no one has been nominated to run against him as the party’s political leader and, in an apparent reference to his health, said that “unless advised otherwise”, he will lead the party into the next general election.
“I’m fine. I’m fine,” he said, when asked on WE FM about his general health.
“I wouldn’t tell you how much weight I have lost. It is a good number. There are other phases I have to deal with in terms of — and I feel good and I feel fit and I am working long hours,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister further said that he expects Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel — with whom he recently travelled to Latin America — would be elected as the party’s deputy political leader.
Daniel had been acting as the party’s de facto deputy leader since Sir Louis Straker retired from politics in 2020.
Gonsalves had previously said that the person who becomes deputy political leader of the ULP is likely to succeed him as prime minister but that he was willing to continue as MP for North Central Windward, which he has been representing since 1994.
However, Daniel, 69, who was elected in Nov. 5, 2020 to fifth consecutive five-year term by 62 votes, has said that he would not contest the next general elections.
In March, as he congratulated the party on 21 years in government, Daniel said it was time for the ULP to look towards younger leadership.
The leadership transition race in the ULP had previously been pitched as a two-way challenge between the prime minister’s son, Finance Minister and MP for East St. George, Camillo Gonsalves, 50, and his parliamentary senior, Agriculture Minister and SOuth Central Windward MP, Saboto Caesar, 41.
In a July 15 analysis, social commentator and former Speaker of the House of Assembly under Gonsalves ULP, Jomo Thomas, said that the prime minister was “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,” said Thomas, a former ULP senator who lost in his bid to win South Leeward for the ULP in in 2015.
On Sunday, the prime minister said that the ULP has rejected his proposal for leadership transition and that he will lead the party into the next general elections, constitutionally due in March 2026 – five months shy of Gonsalves’ 80th birthday.
Gonsalves said he began in the party a conversation about leadership transition.
“It is an important point to make: there was no demand by the leadership of the party for a transition, there was no demand by the organs of the party for a transition, there was no demand by the rank and file for a transition, there was no demand by the electorate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for a transition,” Gonsalves said.
“I took it upon myself … I talk about it because I consider it an obligation of mine as a leader to talk about transition,” the prime minister said.
He said he was elected as a leader of the party and reappointed as prime minister in December 2020.
The last general elections were held on Nov. 5, 2020, and Gonsalves’ ULP won a fifth consecutive term in office.
“And I went to the electorate telling the electorate I am serving the period of time you elect me for but I would, as a responsibility of a leader, to be looking towards a transition.”
He said that as the ULP got closer to the convention — the first since 2020 — the leadership, organs and rank and file of the party “said to me — I didn’t encourage them for them to come say to me — they said to me in unmistakable terms that ‘You can talk about transition, Comrade Ralph, we are not ready for a transition. We want you to be there and we want you to continue to lead this process.
“Well, I began the conversation and this is the response what I got from the rank and file and the other leaders in the party.”
Gonsalves noted that he has led the ULP to five successive electoral victories since becoming party leader in 1998.
“And they are saying to me that I can talk transition but they are not there with me,” he said, adding that it is not the first conversation he started “where I was ahead of the people”.
The prime minister said he started in 2002 a conversation about reforming the Constitution and after seven years of discussion, the people said no in a referendum.
“And, I am a party man. The organs of the party tell me we are not ready for transition, the leadership says the rank and file saying, ‘Now is not the time for transition. Continue.’ So I will continue,” Gonsalves said.
He said there are “several” leaders in the party who can take up the mantle should something happen to him.
“Several different persons,” Gonsalves said, but declined to name any of them, as he had done in the past.
“Well, I am informed by the general secretary that for the office of political leader, there is no name advanced by any organs of the party or any constituency council other than Ralph to be re-elected for a further two-year term as political leader and that the name that has come — because this matter was discussed at various levels and organs in the party right up to the level of the central executive — I expect that Montgomery Daniel will be elected as deputy political leader in accordance with what I hear about the nominations.”
Gonsalves said he cannot “force transition”, adding, “Transition is a matter which you have to discuss and arrive at some consensus.”
He said that situation in the region, the country, the world, “you could understand people saying, ‘Ralph has led us through many difficult periods and this had been a difficult one with COVID and volcanic eruptions, Hurricane Elsa, drought and now the convulsions in the world economy and political economy and all these increasing prices, this is not a time to deal with the question of transition.’
“And I am prepared to do what the party, the organs of the party, require of me and as you can see this morning and as you can see all the time, my head is ticking over quiet well and if you look at me, since they have told me that, I have lost significant weight and I intend to lose some more.
“So that, the point is this, unless advised otherwise, I will lead the party in the next general elections.”
In April, Gonsalves spent four days in hospital in Venezuela, where he went for medical attention, after “an excruciating pain” on his right side.
He said that in Venezuela “an expert” performed a procedure on a finger on his left hand.
“It’s not arthritis. It is just one ah them things. Many persons would know, young or old could get one ah them things. And there is a simple procedure of sorting it out. So they did it for me,” he said then, adding that he was in “good heath”.
On Sunday, the prime minister said he would listen to the perspective of business people as well as individuals from all walks of life on the question of leadership transition.
“But, as a party man, I listen to what people say, … but at the end of the day, I have to listen to what are the structures inside of the party, what they say, and what the rank and file of the party say.”
Gonsalves said that in terms of card-carrying membership, he is sure that the ULP is “by far” the largest organisation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“So that the membership which we have is a large and broad-based and representative of the people of this country. And, as I said, I began the conversation, there was a lot of discussion, they said, ‘No, not now.’
“If they change that conversation anytime within the next few years, two, three years, I am prepared to entertain that conversation. But, from what the general secretary has advised me, because I know that conversation would come up this morning, I said, are there any — what are the nominations of the offices and he said these are the nominations which I have received.”
The prime minister said one person has been nominated to each of the four offices up for election: party chairman, deputy chairman, political leader and deputy political leader.
“I expect that the convention would see what I call the seven unities of the ULP,” Gonsalves said.
He said it is important that at the convention he emphasises and re-emphasises, these seven unities, namely: unity of and with the people; unity of vision; unity of philosophy; unity of programme; unity of organisation; unity through regionalist and internationalist solidarity; and, unity in leadership.
“Seven unities. We have been noted for all of these things and if we continue in this way and with the programme which we have and the work we are executing, we will win the election again in 2025 or anytime the election is called before then, and we will win bigger than the last time,” said Gonsalves, whose ULP lost the popular vote in the 2020 polls, but won nine of the 15 parliamentary seats — one more than in the previous parliament.