ST GEORGE’S, Grenada – The information minister had intended his scathing attack as a tactical strike on some of his cabinet colleagues.
But Glen Noel might not have bargained for the political firestorm it fuelled within the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), leading to a parliamentary showdown Tuesday that now threatens a first-term government plagued by dismissals, resignations and recriminations.
A secret video recording of his charge that fellow ministers were plotting to remove Prime Minister Tillman Thomas went viral on the Internet and escalated smouldering tensions.
Since then, a second minister has resigned, another minister has been fired, and now the Thomas administration is potentially four votes away from possible collapse about a year before the next general elections are due.
“It is very clear what we have been seeing that we are facing a very dysfunctional government … that lacks leadership and direction,” declared Dr Keith Mitchell, leader of the main opposition New National Party (NNP), who tabled a motion of no confidence in the prime minister that the House of Representatives is to debate on Tuesday.
“We would be abdicating our responsibility as leaders of this country in the opposition if we fail to bring to light the plight of the people in this dismal situation of governance that we are now facing,” said Mitchell, a three-term prime minister who 2008 election loss elevated the veteran politician Thomas to lead the government for the first time.
Mitchell’s NNP, which controls four of the 15 seats in the House of Representatives, needs support from at least four government MPs for the no-confidence motion to carry.
Already, speculation has shifted to who from among the government benches to have fallen out of favour with the administration is most likely to support the motion.
They include former foreign affairs and tourism minister Peter David who resigned last month after Noel named him among ministers allegedly seeking to remove Thomas. Also said to be out of favour is Joseph Gilbert, the environment minister who was fired from the cabinet earlier this year for promising American investors a casino license.
“It’s premature to ask me or anyone for that matter how he or she would vote. But my advice would be that this is a very serious motion,” said Michael Church, who quit Thomas’s cabinet in 2010 after he was demoted.
“Democracy offers us opportunities at times that must be taken seriously and deep consideration must be given to the motion and decent debate should take place and let us see how the conclusions pan out.”
Another parliamentarian seen as a likely to join the no confidence vote is Karl Hood, the foreign minister who used during his budget debate speech to criticize the way the NDC government has operated during its almost four years in office.
But Hood said he is still on the job after rumours swirled about him into the weekend that he, too, had quit the cabinet. Hood has denied the rumours of departure – a story even reported by one of the local television stations.
As the spectre of implosion linked to widespread dissatisfaction among ministers hovers about the administration, Hood confirmed he visited the governor general on Wednesday.
He said it was not to discuss resigning from the cabinet but for a “personal matter” – without elaborating.
Prime Minister Thomas himself paid a visit to Governor General Sir Carlisle Glean last week but denied suggestions that it was to discuss proroguing Parliament.
“I have absolutely no intentions of doing this,” Thomas told a reporter.
“From time to time as prime minister I have a responsibility to meet the governor general to discuss matters of national importance and I visit him occasionally as normal.”
But the raging infighting in which the party chairman, a group of elders and cabinet members accused Prime Minister Thomas of dividing his own party has fuelled speculation here over whether the Thomas administration will eventually survive its full term. The prospects of crumbling in a no-confidence motion have not helped.
“It is a very cheap political manoeuvre which will be exposed for what it is at the sitting of the Parliament and will be defeated,” insisted finance minister and NDC deputy political leader Nazim Burke, himself the subject of widespread speculation about his role in the current rift but who has largely avoided comment.
“We are confident that the motion will not survive,” he told the Caribbean Media Corporation.
The motion is item number 14 on the order paper for Tuesday and Burke is suggesting that government will take the fight to the opposition by reviving allegations that haunted the Mitchell administration towards the end of his 13-year rule.
“It will provide in fact a wonderful opportunity for the government to first of all expose the leadership of the former prime minister for what it was what it did to Grenada and, of course, to speak to the achievements of this government,” Burke told CMC.
“So we see this as an opportunity and we will deal with it as such.”
At least one minister, Sylvester Quarless, who holds the social affairs portfolio, has publicly stated his intention to vote against the motion.
“I am an NDC and I will stick with my party and with the prime minister and so on. That’s where it is,”said Quarless, MP for the rural St.Andrew’s Southwest riding, whom Noel also alleged to be plotting the prime minister’s removal.
“There is no question as to which way I would vote. I haven’t even given it a second thought. I will be in parliament and I will be on the side of my government,” Quarless added.
Some political observers here believe some out-of-favour backbenchers may abstain since a vote for or against the motion could have adverse political implications for them.
“If the members of the (Peter) David faction of the NDC decide to support that no-confidence motion… I don’t know what they have to gain by supporting it,” said Grenada-born Dr. Wendy Grenade who lectures in political science at the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Cave Hill.
“Then the prime minister could call elections like what happened in 1994 in Barbados. So I think with the no confidence motion we will have to wait to see what will happen.”
Grenade was referring to a sitting prime minister’s narrow loss of an confidence vote in 1994, as government parliamentarians broke ranks and sided with the opposition. Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford then called elections, two years before their due date, losing the government in a landslide that swept Owen Arthur to power.
Early last year, a poll by political consultant Jude Bernard showed that NDC had lost significant ground while the NNP was leading in every demographic.
Last October, a poll conducted by regional pollster Peter Wickham indicated that NDC would not win the next election under Tillman Thomas’s leadership.
Wickham believes the rank-and-file membership of the NDC has lost confidence in their leader and that should step down to avoid a humiliating exit from the political arena.
“The best thing for the NDC right now is for Tillman Thomas to go. Go before the vote of no confidence is held simply because I don’t know that the vote of no confidence will help,” said Wickham.
“Whether or not he loses the amount of venom that will be spewed on the floor of parliament, whether the David faction abstains or whether they vote in favour of it the NDC has already been destabilized.”
But Prime Minister Thomas has insisted that his government is intact and says he is not worried about political uncertainties.
“If anything happens this is a democratic society. There are processes and procedures we have to follow based on what develops “the Grenadian leader said.
“So I don’t think I have anything to worry about.”