R. Rose
December 15, 2006

Take warning

The Caribbean is still coming to grips with the results of the spectacular victory of the veteran politician John Compton and his United Workers Party (UWP) in Monday’s general elections in St. Lucia. Not only was Compton able to make a successful challenge for power but he led his party to one of the great upsets in the history of electoral politics in this region. This victory is certain to have far-reaching repercussions not just in St. Lucia but in the rest of the Caribbean.

If ever there was a deserving candidate for Man of the Year, it must be the 82- year old Compton. Having retired from active politics and handed his mantle to the academic Dr. Vaughn Lewis, he must have been mortified to see the party of his creation soundly trounced at successive general election and being reduced to almost nuisance value in political terms.{{more}} Compton must have been horrified at the degeneration in the political fortunes of his UWP under Lewis’ leadership to the extent that it caused him, an octogenarian, to dust off the cobwebs and re-enter the fray, ousting Lewis in the process. The disgruntled Lewis ended up in the arms of the UWP’s arch-foe, Kenny Anthony’s St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP), which had previously spared no effort to denigrate him.

It must have been particularly gratifying therefore for Mr. Compton, not only to triumph at the polls, but to overcome the alleged defects of age and political ring-rustiness and in the process condemn Dr. Lewis to the rubble of political dung heap. Whatever we think of his politics, Mr. Compton clearly deserves congratulations for his splendid conquest. But what of the vanquished? How did Dr. Kenny Anthony, not too long ago a darling of St. Lucia, meet this ignominious end? What lessons are there to learn from his defeat? What did he and the SLP do wrong?

It is not that the SLP did nothing. It has impressive achievements to its credit and many physical monuments to testify for it. But Kenny and company made a cardinal error that led many a politician and political party to their graveyards. They TOOK THE PEOPLE FOR GRANTED, became divorced from them, complacent and even displayed traces of arrogance. Those are behavioural traits which the electorate will surely remember, and punish the prepetratiors. Just ask those who experienced the 1984 and 2001 elections!

Only last week I was in St. Lucia and speaking with persons there, one got the sense that Dr. Anthony and his bunch had drifted apart from the people. Take crime for instance. It was perhaps the single biggest issue in the elections but one got the impression that the SLP did not realize how much it meant to St. Lucians, especially when the murder rate had multiplied four times over during its term of office. Morality was another issue with the government and the all-powerful Catholic church often on opposing sides. From that it was not too difficult to believe allegations of corruption.

Indeed there were several government projects which achieved notoriety for cost overruns. And the seeming prosperity of St. Lucia had a big downside in the size of the national debt, said to be approaching the $2 billion figure. This was repeatedly shrugged off and explained away by Dr. Anthony. Not so the electorate for whom the burgeoning national debt continued to be a major issue, as the outcome of the polls demonstrated. Another major weakness is Dr. Anthony’s neglect of the agricultural sector and his public display of banana fatigue. He did not even show his face when Prime Minister, Gonsalves hosted the historic Banana Conference here in 2005. Farmers believed that he had abandoned their livelihood in pursuit of tourism and services. Whether justified or not, that was the perception. The result? He lost every seat in the banana belt and the Minister of Agriculture himself lost his seat.

There is much to heed in Dr. Anthony’s experience. Clear warnings for neighbouring governments including our own. Every one of the issues raised above are concerns of people in the rest of the Caribbean. Governments will ignore them – crime, agriculture, morality, rising national debt, the hardships of life – at their own peril. TAKE WARNING