TAIPEI, Taiwan – St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has a word of advise for his New York-based diplomat son, Camillo Gonsalves, who some believe will succeed him as leader of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP): “you have to come home and be there on the ground”.
The 66-year-old Gonsalves made the point Saturday as he told Vincentians here he would lead the ULP into the next general election, constitutionally due in 2015.
“There’s no vacancy in the ULP whether in terms of its leadership or prime ministership,” he said in response to a question about leadership transition within the ULP.
“Now I am not going to live forever. And the truth is this, you have a run of three consecutive five-year term, it is not a bad run,” said Gonsalves who has been prime minister since 2001 and was ill in Barbados for two weeks last month, including a weekend in hospital
He said he had indicated to the ULP that he did want to contest another elections as leader and had spoken about this several times since the party won a third consecutive term in December 2010.
But, according to Gonsalves, the decision to run again was made for him in January or February when he was half-hour late for a meeting of the central executive committee of the ULP.
Gonsalves recounted a conversation ULP Chiar Edwin Snagg had with him when he arrived for the meeting:
“The members have been noting that over the past year you have been talking a lot of foolishness about not leading the party in 2015. And we discussed this question here and the unanimous view of the Central Executive is that you must stop talking that foolishness and that we would wish you to lead us into the election in 2015,” Gonsalves said in recounting Snagg’s comments.
“God’s willing, I shall do so (lead the ULP into the 2015 election). So that is really the position,” he said Saturday.
He however said that the ULP — formed in 1994 from a merger of the Labour Party and Gonsalves’ Movement for National Unity — has leadership options.
He mentioned Cecil “Ces” McKie, who contested and won elections for the first time in 2010. Gonsalves said that McKie, who is Tourism Minister, “is doing excellent”.
In the mix are also Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar, Culture Minister Frederick Stephenson, and Senators Elvis Charles and David Browne — who both tasted defeat in 2010.
“We have a lot of young people who are coming along,” Gonsalves said, adding that La Celia Prince, the Vincentians envoy to Washington, “is more a public servant”.
As it relates to his son Camillo, who is the Vincentians envoy to the United Nations, Gonsalves said: “I don’t know whether he is interested in active politics.
“I am told that he may be interested but the point about it is this: you have to come home and be there on the ground. He is doing excellent work and everybody has acknowledged that at the Untied Nations. So that there are possible successors.”
Concerns about the NDP
Gonsalves, however, said that Vincentians should be concerned about what is happening in the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), headed by Arnhim Eustace, who has led the party to three consecutive defeats.
“Arnhim Eustace is two years older than me and he acts much older than two years,” Gonsalves said.
“And as you see from the recent contretemps inside of the party, they are looking backwards. They are seeking to solve a question which I think was resolved since the 16th century while I am looking to the future.”
He was referring to the formulation of a policy on religion that led to the revocation of Anesia Baptiste’s senatorial appointment.
“Who they have inside there?” Gonsalves said, adding that NDP chair Dr. Linton Lewis has lost in the St. Georges three times and was passed over to be a senator six times.
He further said that former Member of Parliament Allan Cruickshank was considered as better than West Kingstown representative Daniel Cummings as general-secretary of the NDP.
“Well, if Allan Cruickshank is better than you as general-secretary, that itself tells you a story,” he said, adding that Cummings also lost when he ran against Lewis for chair of the NDP last year.
“I don’t think anybody looks seriously on [Central Kingstown representative] St. Clair Leacock and [Northern Grenadines representative Dr. Godwin] Friday as possible leaders, for all sorts of reasons,” Gonsalves said.
Leacock and Friday are vice-presidents of the NDP.
Gonsalves further said that while the NDP “decided to bring two young people”, Sen. Vynnette Frederick, who “tasted defeat” in West St. George, “has run for cover. She says she ain’t going back there”. Frederick lost to the ULP’s McKie in the 2010 vote.
Frederick, Gonsalves noted, lost her bid to remain public relations officer of the NDP to Ernesto Cooke, “who was in the party two weeks after having said that he was interested in the last election in running for the ULP.
“And we see what has just happened to Anesia [Baptiste],” he said in reference to the revocation of her senatorial appointment.
“And just remember one thing: I won the last three elections. Eustace lost them. These are not inventions of mine,” Gonsalves further said.