A search has started for a new Chairman for the island’s main opposition party.
Two months after the United Workers Party (UWP) suffered a 15-2 defeat at the polls, the party Thursday confirmed the resignation of its Chairman, Pinkley Francis.
Francis, who was appointed Director of Invest Saint Lucia under the previous administration, reportedly submitted his resignation Wednesday, which was then confirmed by Choiseul-Saltibus MP Bradley Felix.
Felix reported Thursday as having confirmed being personally informed (by Francis) that he’d resigned, but hadn’t seen the letter.
Felix and former PM Allen Chastanet were the only two UWP candidates to win seats in the July 26th polls and while the party was expected to eventually assess its loss, the announcement of Francis’ resignation took some members by surprise.
Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Dominic Fedee a fortnight ago indicated the party would meet to review its electoral loss and plan ahead, but offered no schedule.
Chastanet and other members of the party’s leadership have kept a very low profile since July 26, the Leader only returning home just over a week ago from an extended post-election holiday, reportedly in Canada. But apart from a letter to his successor Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre and an online interview last Thursday to explain the controversial vaccine purchase deal, he has remained relatively quiet.
Mr. Chastanet and Mr. Fedee have both said the UWP is willing to “assist the SLP administration” in the nation’s fight against COVID-19, but both have also claimed the government has not responded as they would have liked.
It was largely expected that the UWP would have met after its loss at the polls, with positions up for consideration, including Vice Chairman, Deputy Leader and General Secretary. There were also unconfirmed reports that Mr. Chastanet had symbolically submitted his resignation for consideration after the party’s big loss, but was asked to continue until the next party convention.
UWP conventions have undergone some changes under Mr. Chastanet, open nominations and elections during the conference now allegedly replaced by new mechanisms, but since he was challenged by Dr. Claudius Preville (in the last open contest for the position of UWP Leader), Mr. Chastanet has not been known to have been challenged for the party’s leadership.
Dr. Preville accused pro-Chastanet members of the leadership of interfering with the counting process at Babonneau to deny him a fair chance of challenging Chastanet, a charge staunchly denied by the party’s Executive at the time, from since when the economist has maintained a far distance from the party.
But Dr. Preville was not the only challenger to fail to take the position from Chastanet after he defeated then Opposition Leader Stephenson King for the position in a controversial contest in Soufriere that King’s supporters still claim was not balanced in his favour.
King kept his peace and didn’t challenge Chastanet in a subsequent convention, but the leader was challenged by Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, who was subsequently appointed External Affairs Minister after the 2016 elections.
Chastanet, as Opposition Leader, hasn’t attended a meeting of the House of Assembly or taken the Oath of Office since being elected, but has downplayed the significance of ruling party claims it’s an indication of “lack of interest” in representing the Micoud South constituency.
Chastanet has shown no sign of not being interested in continuing as UWP Leader and there have been no names suggested – up to press time — for his replacement. Likewise with the Chairman’s position, as there has also been no suggestion of a replacement for Francis.
The outgoing UWP chairman, a prominent local businessman and closely associated with the previous administration’s industrial development and foreign investment policy, has since said he resigned because he needed time to focus on the many businesses he has. The response to his resignation has been rather lukewarm to date, as such resignations usually follow after parties lose elections badly.
A similar resignation was made by former Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony on the night of June 6, 2016 immediately after the election results confirmed the SLP had lost 11-6 to the UWP, ceding the leadership to Deputy Leader Philip Pierre, who led the SLP into the 13-4 landslide five years later, assisted by two former top UWP leadership members, former Party Leader and Prime Minister Stephenson King and former Housing and Urban Development Minister Richard Frederick, who both contested in 2021 as Independents, also supporting the SLP.
Meanwhile, UWP supporters and observers will have to await details from the party about plans for its next conference and the offices up for election, as well as nominees and candidates for the respective positions.
But it’s hardly expected that Mr. Chastanet will follow Dr Anthony’s course, party insiders saying if he intended to, he would have done so while away on holiday.