Gonsalves slips through 3rd term

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, was sworn in last Wednesday for a third consecutive, five-year term in office after the incumbent United Labor Party (ULP) won the Dec. 13 general elections by a squeaker.

The ULP edged out the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), 8-7, in the narrowest of victories in the 15-seat Legislature.

Gonsalves said the elections’ victory was achieved in very “challenging” circumstances, given the impact of the global economic and financial crisis on the island.

“This victory was achieved in circumstances where we are over two years of economic difficulties generated from the fiscal and economic meltdown overseas, problems with which we have absolutely nothing to do with,” he said after he was sworn-in by Gov. General Sir Frederick Ballantyne, at Government House, in Old Montrose, Kingstown, the capital.

Parliamentary Representative for Marriaqua, Girlyn Miguel, was also sworn-in at the ceremony, as deputy prime minister, becoming the first woman to hold that position in the history of the nation. Miguel will also resume in the new administration as education minister, as well as Judith Jones Morgan as attorney general.

The other elected members of parliament were sworn-in on Sunday at the Layou Playing Field in Central Leeward.

In the three-hour ceremony in the fishing town, Gonsalves said that he would submit the name of Hendrik Alexander, who served as Speaker of the 15-member Parliament for the past 10 years, for another term.

He also said that that David Brown, who unsuccessfully contested the South Leeward constituency, will become Deputy Speaker.

Ministers sworn into office during the ceremony, attended by Sir Frederick included: Clayton Burgin, who will serve as Minister of Housing, Informal Human Settlement, Physical Planning, Lands and Surveys; and Montgomery Daniel, who retained the post of Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries with Rural Transformation.

Saboto Caesar has been appointed minister of Tourism and Industry, while Cecil McKie, who served as a junior minister in the last administration, has been promoted to minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment.

New comer Maxwell Charles has been appointed minister of National Reconciliation, Public Service, Labor, Information and Ecclesiastical Affairs, while another new face, Frederick Stephenson, will be the new minister of National Mobilization, Social Development, the Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities, Youth, Sports and Culture.

Former health and environment minister Dr. Douglas Slater, who did not seek re-election, has been appointed a senator and will serve as the minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Consumer Affairs.

The ULP’s general secretary Julian Francis, who served in the last administration as minister of Housing, Informal Settlement, Lands and Surveys, is now minister of Transport, Works, Urban Development and Local Government.

Gonsalves said that former Minister of Telecommunications, Science, Technology and Industry, Dr. Jerrol Thompson, who narrowly lost his seat in the North Leeward constituency, will be appointed director of Special Projects in the Office of the Prime Minister.

The prime minister said Thompson is, perhaps, the best political figure in the Caribbean with knowledge of telecommunications.

“Substantively, too, he would help the Office of the Prime Minister in the areas of energy policy and the oversight of projects, such as the international airport; the proposed new city at Arnos Vale (which will replace the current E.T. Joshua Airport, when the international airport at Argyle is completed), the Cross Country Road and the proposed Cruise Ship Pier in North Leeward,” Gonsalves said.

Edwin Snagg and Herman Belmar – who again failed to win the Southern and Northern Grenadines seats, which, over the years, have staunchly voted in favor of the NDP – have also been retained as Director and Deputy Director of Grenadines Affairs, respectively.

Michelle Fife, a first time candidate who failed to retain the West Kingstown seat for the ULP, has been appointed on a contractual basis, as legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Rhodes Scholar Luke Browne, who failed to defeat NDP president and Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace in East Kingstown, will return to Oxford to complete his master’s degree and will be “reintegrated” into the government after that, Gonsalves said.

Preliminary results showed that the ULP got 27,648 votes, or 51.61 per cent of the popular votes, while the NDP received 26,231 ballots, or 47.78 per cent.

The minority St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Green Party (SVGGP) only mustered 123 votes, a mere 0.21 per cent of the popular votes.

Gonsalves acknowledged that the victory was a “slim one,” promising citizens he would be more attentive in the future.

“I will listen very attentively. I do listen and I do listen well,” he said. “I will interpret what you see very keenly. You will see me on the streets far more than you have seen me over the last five years. I will be in communion with you. ”

The Organization of American States (OAS), which had observed the elections, said in a preliminary statement, that the poll was “conducted with minimal incidents and complied with international standards for inclusiveness and transparency.

“The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have once again demonstrated their commitment to democracy in a peaceful manner,” said Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.

But Eustace dismissed the vote as not free and fair, calling for it to be declared null and void.

“An NDP win was clear as day to everyone who had eyes to see,” he said in a radio broadcast.

“But, somehow, I believe that we have been cheated out of a brighter future,” he added.

It was the third consecutive loss that the NDP and Eustace had suffered at the hands of the ULP and Gonsalves.

Eustace, however, said the NDP “will aggressively pursue all legal actions and international redress” to have the elections “dismissed as unfair, unjust, and undemocratic; and thus null and void.

“These elections have not been free and fair; let me make that very clear,” he added.

Eustace said that “the conspiracy to defraud the electorate seems to run deeper and much deeper than it first meets the eye.

“Evidence suggests widespread and systematic irregularities that were designed to affect the outcome of the elections,” he said, adding the NDP “will accept the results with good grace and calm if this result would really be adjudged to reflect the will of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.

The former prime minister, who retained his East Kingstown seat for a fourth time since 1998, said that after assessing the statistical validity of the results against polling data leading up to and during these elections, “there is now cause for serious concern”.

Eustace also said the NDP will use its position in the new Parliament to force the government to call fresh general elections within a one-year period.

“We will bring that government down and have free and fresh elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he vowed. “One year of constant pressure from the New Democratic Party will bring them down.”