Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says that while he, generally, would not comment on the ruling Unity Labour Party’s convention, “their current predicament has serious implications for the running of our country”.
“Rather than focusing on the issues that matter to you, the people —unemployment, downturn in business, high cost of living – [Prime Minister and ULP political leader, Ralph] Gonsalves turned the convention into a monologue about himself, his personal ambitions, and his aborted succession plans,” Friday said in a national address on Thursday.
Friday placed what the said are the major issues affecting the country, including rising cost of living, in the context of the apparent challenges the ULP faces as it attempts to transition from Gonsalves, 76, to a new party leader and prime minister.
The ULP announced in June that it would have elected a new deputy political leader at the July 31 convention, but Gonsalves said one week before, and again in his featured address at the event, that no one else was nominated to contest the post, in which Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel, 69, had been acting since 2020.
However, political observers have said that amidst fears that leadership transition could fracture the party, the ULP is playing it safe with the 76-year-old leader, who has been prime minister since March 2001.
In his national address, Friday said that having spent years “trying to prop-up” South Central Windward MP, Saboto Caesar, it took Gonsalves one weekend “to knock him down as apparently being no longer fit to lead the ULP.
“Having spent years declaring Caesar as a promising part of the ULP family in whom he was well-pleased, it became abundantly clear that there is only one family that matters in the ULP — the Gonsalves family.
“That is a crisis that their party and its long-suffering members will have to come to terms with,” said, Friday, who in 2017 became the third leader of the New Democratic Party, which was founded in 1975.
He said that the display at the convention “proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the ULP is a house deeply divided, built not on democratic values and practices, but on the autocratic whims and fancies of one man — Ralph Gonsalves.
“For the rest of us in the country, it proved that the ULP are woefully unfit for office, as they have no plan, no programme, no hope beyond clinging desperately to power.”
He said that Gonsalves “essentially threatened his followers in the ULP to submit to his rule, but it is clear where that will lead.
“He will destroy his party and sacrifice the best interests of our country to get his own way and secure his chosen successor — his son — as prime minister.”
The opposition leader said that while the leadership of the ULP “is hopelessly divided and are caught up in their own confusion”, the NDP is “focused on the issues that matter most to you.
“We know them because we talk with you about them,” he said, adding, “it is time for us to move on; to move forward as a country.
“No man is indispensable! Of necessity, and whether Gonsalves like it or not, the baton of leadership must pass to new hands. If not, our country will fall further behind and our people will suffer. We must not let that happen.”
Friday said that as leader of the NDP he offered myself to serve the people of SVG.
“In the last general election, you honoured me by making the NDP the party of choice for most of the people and me the popular choice as political leader. In the profoundest sense of democracy, where majority rules, you voted for the NDP and for change. But our political system has its shortcomings and at times gives a party the popular vote, yet not the government.
“Nevertheless, the writing is on the wall: change is necessary and will come. It will come, not because I say so, but because you the people have decided that the time for it has come. For, as one former ULP supporter recently said to me, “One man can’t run the country forever.”
The opposition leader said he has been meeting our people all over the country, including in villages; in their homes, on the streets, and in places of worship.
“Wherever I go, the message is the same. You tell me and my team that you want us to focus on the things that matter to you — focus on your needs and your concerns: your jobs; your livelihoods; your future. In other words, focus now on bread-and-butter issues, because our present circumstances require it.
“Enough of the gutter politics and corrosive rhetoric,” he said, adding that while insults, name-calling and other disparaging remarks by Gonsalves may be entertainment for some, “it has profoundly serious implications for our country.
“Most of our people are fed-up of the selfishness, the arrogance and bluster that pass for leadership in the ULP and the government. They sow the seeds of division and would set us against one another—in our homes — brother against brother , in our workplaces — colleague teacher against teacher, in social circles — friend against friend, in places of worship — elder against elder,” he said.
“But thankfully, as a people, we are better than that and know we must always be better than that,” Friday said, adding that the nation’s present situation and examples from around the world have shown that “political leaders who seek to divide the people — who seek to divide us so deeply that we may not recover — serve only themselves. The people are merely the means to an end, that being unfettered everlasting political power to be used for their own ends.”
He said that shutting up opposing voices, demonising the carriers of alternative views, whether in a political party or in society at large can never be the right way.
“It cannot serve us in this time. So, we can’t continue that way. Let us all agree on that. Our people, especially the young people, get it. They understand that, and are unhappy about the current situation. Our people are better informed than ever and demand more from political leaders,” Friday said.
“You know that gutter politics and narcissistic self-reverence in the political leader have not served our people well, and have led our nation down a slippery slope to a place where democracy is threatened and our standard of living has diminished.
“If we, the inheritors of this beautiful country, don’t stand up against it, the situation can only get worse. We have a duty, therefore, to inform ourselves, defend our democratic values and work for progressive change,” the opposition leader said in the national address.