Letters & Opinion

The Backbencher – Part 2: Back-benching from the Frontline

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Dr Kenny D. Anthony’s public role today, as the longest-serving Prime Minister of a Labour Party (SLP) administration since Independence and architect of three electoral victories since 1997, has not been what most supporters and political opponents expected since surrendering the leadership of the party on the same night it lost the 2016 General Elections under his leadership.

Not in Cabinet and holding no post other than MP for Vieux Fort South, Dr Anthony has stayed out of the limelight as much as possible, commenting publicly mainly on legal matters or issues affecting his constituency – like how the courts have been suspended in the town for months, denying his constituents access to justice.

And not all his presentations have sounded like jingle bells to all fellow 14 MPs on the Government side in the House of Assembly, his positions on some bills presented by the government sometimes leading him to advise his colleagues to exercise caution.

‘The Doc’ been accused by friend and foe of “holding-back” and “not fully supporting” his successor Prime Minister, some even stretching the boundaries of imagination beyond imaginable limits, trying to figure-out why he chose to be more of a Lone Ranger than ‘another Prime Minister in Cabinet’.

The Doc has also remained selectively tightlipped outside parliament on government projects, except those affecting or located in his constituency, where his attention to people’s affairs across-the-board have resulted in him being re-elected six consecutive times since 1997.

Dr Anthony comments on crime and gang warfare, legal, judicial and constitutional matters of regional and global import and responds to media requests for explanation of new laws he would have spoken on in words dissimilar to fellow Labour MPs – in most cases complex matters requiring at least a basic understanding of legalese.

Southern supporters go as far as saying they “understand why” Dr Anthony might be “avoiding being misunderstood” if he comments frankly on national issues.

Some also claim he’s “not the kind of person” who’ll want to “hog or share the national limelight” with “the man he chose as his successor” and who’s “already doing a good job” by “doing more and better with more seats and more than a two-thirds majority” in the nation’s parliament.

But say what everyone may, Dr Anthony’s silence has been voluminously loud over the past 17 months, him clearly having opted to leave critics (and concerned supporters alike) guessing, without directly answering their own many also-silent questions.

In his quarter-century in-and-out of office as an always-reelected MP, Dr Anthony has learned — the hard way — that not all smiles are good and not everything one sees is what everything looks like, the SLP losing in 2006, under his watch, after two terms of delivering new and lasting changes for the better national good, with more government projects and public assistance programs, introduction of IT to schools and homes, free computers and devices for students and teachers.

His two administrations also developed a progressive foreign policy that pitched Saint Lucia’s interests squarely in the midst of regional and international matters of trade and international cooperation.

The former PM has also seen – and felt more than once – the unprecedented and yet-to-be explained phenomenon of an electorate changing from one to the next of two parties four times in 20 years, each successive government also given a rotating 11-6 majority three times (2006, 2011, 2016) and the SLP ultimately given a 13-4 victory in 2021, that’s since become 15-2.

He’s seen national programmes and projects undertaken under his watch either shaven, powdered or simply erased and his efforts to decentralize public services from Castries also scrapped, while near-finished major national development projects — like the St. Jude Hospital and the Hewanorra International Airport (HIA) — were sacrificed on the altar of partisan political interests.

Dr Anthony has seen Prime Minister Pierre lead from in front for almost a year-and-a-half, his successor taking-up the gauntlet where he left off; and likewise ensuring giving central focus to the SLP’s campaign theme of ‘Putting People First’, with the most vulnerable assisted through subsidies of several essential items like food (flour, sugar and rice) and energy (cooking gas and gasoline).

He’s also seen the parliamentary and public performances of fellow ex-prime minister Allen Chastanet since July 26, 2021, as he tries to remain relevant by stoking unnecessary strife and knowingly making impossible political demands.

Dr Anthony has been there, done all that and seen it all in the last 25 years and hardly anything will surprise him now, even though nothing remains the same in politics.

Having led Saint Lucia into the 21st Century and his three administrations established a long track record to be shared with all successors, it ought to be understandable that he’d be the best-placed person to decide what next for himself – and how best he feels he can contribute to Saint Lucia without still being treated (or expected to behave) like he’s still interested in again becoming SLP Political Leader and Prime Minister of Saint Lucia.

Indeed, from the very night he handed the party over lock-stock-and-barrel to his longtime Deputy Leader and appointed Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Anthony knew, in his heart of hearts, it wasn’t a kneejerk reaction to the loss, but an honourable move to allow his successor to get as early a start as possible.

He never intended to walk, drive or sail into his political sunset – and it would not be like him either, to even want to appear to have decided to walk away from representing his constituents just because he was no longer Party Leader or Prime Minister.

Instead, Dr Anthony elected, selected and consciously opted to go the route of ex-prime ministers in the UK parliament – to become a backbencher.

However, in the Saint Lucia and wider Caribbean context: back-benching on the government’s parliamentary frontline.

NEXT WEEK Part 3: Batting and Bowling on the CCJ Front

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