The essentiality of a deputy is simply inescapable – and just last weekend we got a prime example when the Prime Minister deputized for one of his Cabinet ministers. Not that the PM was his minister’s deputy, but that was a very rare demonstration of just how essential it is to deputize, him standing-in for a sitting subordinate.
Where, when and how did that happen? The National Workers Union (NWU) held its 2019 Annual Congress of Delegates at the Conference Room of the Mystique Royal St Lucian Hotel last Sunday, where, according to a press release, ‘Prime Minister Allen Chastanet also addressed the delegates in the absence of Hon Stephenson King.’
‘Nothing wrong with that…’ you may say — and I would agree. But I would also see it in its historical and political context, starting with the close historical proximity between King and the NWU.
I would also recall that Chastanet had successfully challenged King for the leadership of the United Workers Party (UWP) while the party was in opposition and he didn’t even have a seat. Chastanet won the Soufriere duel hands down and King and Richard Frederick were relegated to ultimate opposition backbencher status and positions in the House line-up. Frederick was later fired from the party — and King, like a lone ranger, remained in his corner.
Following the UWP’s 2016 victory, the new Prime Minister Chastanet found himself inescapably reliable on the experienced former Prime Minister King to help him swerve through the early parliamentary learning curves.
But even though King had been hand-chosen by the party’s founder Sir John Compton to succeed him as PM and Party Leader in 2007 and despite being the longest-serving and most experienced UWP MP and Cabinet Minister, King was not appointed to the inherited and available position of Deputy Prime Minister that Philip J. Pierre had served in from 2011 to 2016. Instead, PM Chastanet elected to blank the Number Two Cabinet position and rotate the Acting Prime Minister according to his prime ministerial delight(s).
King, who remains the oldest fox at large in the entire UWP homestead, knows he’s being hunted. He’s therefore flowed with the tide on what has so far been a smooth ride, cunningly accepting and playing his role, only occasionally emerging to show and share his elderly qualities — like recently offering to mediate between the Prime Minister and the Press, ‘if necessary…’
Once badly bitten and possibly now not even wanting to consider ever being twice shy, King has so far dodged all invitations or suggestions from friendly forces within and without to challenge Chastanet for the party leadership ahead of the next General Elections. He’s also seen what is clear extraneous external poaching from within on his ministerial responsibilities and recently publicly commented on the state of school repairs today, responsibility for which his ministry no longer has.
All that notwithstanding, King had absolutely no problem with the Prime Minister addressing the NWU delegates on his behalf, or in his ‘absence’.
There are still those arguing from inside that with historical trends favouring regime change for a fourth consecutive time at the next general elections and signs the PM’s popularity levels might eventually impinge on his ability to ensure and secure a UWP victory, the party should consider a tactical change and promise to appoint King as PM if it wins. But this is clearly not a risk either would contemplate, each having tasted what absolute power is and neither wanting to confuse their supporters. However, the proponents of changing the leading horse say the party can always safely bet on its supporters voting for their party — even if it fielded a horse, or changed its symbol to a horseshoe.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) faces a similar situation, but in a different way.
There continue to be those who loosely compare ‘Phillip J. Pierre vs Doctor Ernest Hilaire’ with simple arguments that would sound like ‘Experience isn’t an automatic qualification to lead’ and/or ‘The time has come for the Old Guard of New Labour to give way to SLP’s Future Stars’.
Hilaire having moved two notches up the leadership ladder between two elections after replacing another New Labour, there are also those quietly suggesting SLP should find a way for him to lead it into the elections – or that Pierre should secretly agree that Hilaire should be made PM if Labour wins. But both Old Guard and New Labour sages warn that this recipe looks and sounds too strikingly similar to the costly unsigned and invisible pact between conservative ex-judge Allan Louisy and radical firebrand George Odlum ahead of the 1979 General Elections.
The SLP leadership has been successful thus far at avoiding any appearance of division ahead of the elections — one reason why former 1st Deputy Leader Alva Baptiste says he did not put up any resistance when his then deputy challenged him for the Number Two position.
The SLP Leader too has said nothing publicly to suggest he has any fear or concern about who will lead his party into an election he says he already feels sure his party will win. And if so, even though the Prime Minister will only be ultimately selected by the majority of the winning candidates, Pierre does not seem to feel he should have any reason to even contemplate the nominee being anyone else.
But all that said and heard, the SLP and Opposition Leader, who has never lost his seat since first winning it political eons ago, continues to remind all floating on clouds of speculation with flying red carpets that before any of the above can be thought of, even contemplated, the primary — and therefore most important — task is: Win the elections first.
And that much is also crystal clear to both his deputies.