By Stephen Lester Prescott
“THE great difference between the real statesman and the pretender is that the one sees into the future while the other regards only the present; the one lives by the day and acts on expediency; the other acts on enduring principles and immortality.” Written many decades ago the writer Burke could well have been referring to Kenny Anthony the statesman and Allen Chastanet the pretender. Where Anthony has healed Chastanet has caused chaos. Where Anthony has drawn applause for his leadership, Chastanet’s actions, on the other hand, have served only to further divide. Where Anthony is the acknowledged undisputed leader, Chastanet faces almost daily mutiny.
Let us for a moment return to 1996 when the Saint Lucia Labour Party was in its fourteenth consecutive year of opposition. The party was hurting, bleeding almost, having lost successive General Elections in 1982, 1987 and 1992, and one bye election in 1996. Labour was in disarray with the UWP seemingly set to win an unprecedented fourth term in office. Kenny Anthony was hundreds of miles away, serving as legal counsel to Caricom when the call came for him to return home and heal the party’s wounds. He returned to a fractured opposition which was a shadow of its 1979 self. There was neither of the Odlum brothers, Josie was within the bosom of the UWP and Calixte George was leader of a new movement, the CDP. The UWP was still solidly powerful for even though Compton had made way for Vaughan Lewis, the long-time Micoud MP had remained on board as Senior Minister.
Many thought Kenny Anthony just short of mad to have left his cozy regional assignment with its hefty tax free remuneration, to venture into local politics with a party as divided and as long in opposition as was the SLP. Unlike Chastanet the pretender, the statesman Kenny saw into the future. He looked at the party not for what it was but for what it could be. He hit the ground running and by Convention time the seventeen constituencies had been whipped into shape, each one a formidable machine in its own right. There were no weak links and the UWP’s usual boast of beginning each election with solidly safe seats was under siege. Under Anthony, candidate selection was revamped. No longer was the party prepared to accept business as usual and every potential candidate had to prove his or her worth. They had to show the leadership that not only were they capable of winning seats but, equally importantly, that they could serve the people of the country in ministerial office.
Bright young stars emerged under Anthony; Mario Michel, Philip J. Pierre, Damian Greaves, Kenneth John, Walter François and MenissaRambally. The Young Turks complemented the stalwarts Velon John and Anthony Torrence and for good measure, the Odlum brothers returned to team Labour. That group got its great inspiration from its leader Anthony, who rather than attach himself to the “safe” Laborie seat instead went into the lion’s den of Vieux Fort South. There he challenged a sitting MP of eleven years standing, one who considered himself unbeatable. It is now well-known that not only did Anthony derail and ultimately bury Josie’s political career but that team Labour triumphed 16 to 1, a victory which remains the most lopsided in Saint Lucia’s colourful political history.
Compare Anthony’s qualities in taking a divided Labour Party and moulding it into a unified force with Chastanet’s handling of his leadership duties. Where Anthony brought harmony, Chastanet has brought division. Where Anthony embraced his predecessors, Chastanet sought to destroy them at every turn. Where Anthony could so easily have relegated Julian Hunte to oblivion, he instead embraced him and within a short time of taking office appointed him first as our country’s United Nations ambassador and later, our island’s external affairs minister. Mr. Hunte has since been knighted, also under Anthony’s watch. Chastanet on the hand has treated his predecessor, former Prime Minister Stephenson King, with the kind of contempt and disrespect that one reserves for his worst enemy. He has publicly humiliated King even orchestrating his removal as Leader of the Opposition. Once, he went on national television commenting that the former prime minister could not retain his seat. Imagine Chastanet who has never won an election publicly stating that a former Prime Minister who has won four elections, five if you count the twin elections of 1987, could not retain his seat. Chastanet went further and publicly chastised and humiliated King for meeting with Prime Minister Anthony in the wake of the December 2013 trough.
Where Anthony returned Hunte to the fold of Labour, Chastanet on the hand put in motion a committee with a mandate to expel Richard Frederick. It did not matter to Chastenet that as one of the architects of the 2006 elections victory, Frederick was among the main reasons that he Chastenet became a minister in the first place. Instead, all Chastanet saw was someone who would stand up to his dictatorial behaviour and Chastanet would have none of that. So Fredrick was sent packing in the most undignified manner imaginable. Today Frederick is considered a pariah, never mind that Chastanet once told a friend that Frederick in 2006 was worth more than Kenny Anthony in 2006.
So in less than two years at the helm of his party, Chastanet has expelled one sitting Member of Parliament and publicly humiliated another, his predecessor and former Prime Minister King. Anthony, on the other hand, has now led the Labour Party for nineteen years and during all of that time not one single member has ever been brought before the party’s disciplinary committee and expelled. Where Chastenet broods no opposition, under Anthony all opinions contend.
Spider Montoute, Deputy Leader of the UWP since 2005 would fare no better under Chastanet with Chastanet recently endorsing six candidates but not Montoute. Why would Chastenet so speedily endorse Dominic Fedee and Mary Isaac but not the long serving Montoute? The answer is simple. Chastanet wants no challenges. But Chastanet can take those chances with Spider because he is known to be spineless, unwilling to stand for principle and honour.
And speaking of Isaac, against the party’s wishes, Chastenet would cause the same Montoute to make way in the island’s Senate for Isaac, then the leader of the Civil Service Association. In typical Chastanet style, he publicly denied the appointment was political only to have his word again prove useless when Isaac was chosen to be the party’s candidate in Castries South. Here, too, more controversy erupted as former Attorney General, Rudolph Francis, the constituency’s caretaker candidate claimed not to have been notified of the run-off at which Isaac was chosen. Under Anthony, no candidate has been chosen by such deception. In fact, unlike the tightly Chastanet-controlled selection process which operates in the UWP, Labour Party run-offs under Anthony are public events with the highest degree of transparency. To date not a single UWP run-off has been witnessed by the press, a complete reversal of what obtains at Labour Party events. And mind you, this is a Press, the vast majority of whom are sympathetic and supportive of the Opposition.
Anthony inherited a disorganised and divided party and he healed it. Chastanet inherited a party which had won more elections than any other in our country’s history and has now brought it to its proverbial knees.
If indeed more proof was required that in the leadership department Anthony stands head and shoulders above Chastenet, their handling of their respective parties speak eloquently to this.
In the coming weeks I will be comparing the candidates of the two parties and also discuss the matter of Chastanet’s academic qualifications. After all, how could I resist the entry of Mary Isaac in politics as a UWP candidate?