Gonsalves ‘to seek fourth mandate in 2015’

TAIPEI, Taiwan, May 21, CMC – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has told Vincentians in Taiwan he intends to seek a fourth term in office and lead the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) into the next general election, due in 2015.

“There’s no vacancy in the ULP whether in terms of its leadership or prime ministership,” he told the 40-member Vincentian community of mostly students here on Saturday.

“Now I am not going to live forever. And the truth is this, you have a run of three consecutive five-year term, it is not a bad run,” said 65-year-old Gonsalves, who has been prime minister since 2001.

Only Sir James Mitchell has been prime minister of the multi-island nation longer, with four successive terms from 1984 to 2000.

Despite a health scare just as he was travelling to the Middle East in late April and his own repeated statements that he would not seek re-election, Gonsalves suggested that the ULP had determined he should stand again.

Gonsalves fell ill late April in Barbados en route to Kuwait and Qatar, and was treated in Bridgetown for an abscess. But even as the surgical wound continues to heal, the Vincentian leader has continued a hectic schedule, including visiting Taipei for Sunday’s second-term inauguration of President Ma Ying-jeou, to be followed by a trip to London.

He said he had indicated to the party that he did want to contest elections as leader of the ULP again, repeating this several times since the ULP was returned to office for a third consecutive term in December 2010.

But he said the party’s central executive committee had determined “sometime in January or February” that Gonsalves would lead the ULP into elections a fourth time. The decision was made for him when he was half-hour late for a meeting with party elders, he said.

Gonsalves recounted what party chairman Edwin Snagg told him in a conversation when he arrived for the meeting:

“The members have been noting that over the past year you have been talking a lot of foolishness about not leading the party in 2015. And we discussed this question here and the unanimous view of the Central Executive is that you must stop talking that foolishness and that we would wish you to lead us into the election in 2015,” Gonsalves said in recalling Snagg’s comments.

“God’s willing, I shall do so (lead the ULP into the 2015 election). So that is really the position,” he said Saturday.

But Gonsalves said that the ULP — formed in 1994 from a merger of the Labour Party and Gonsalves’ Movement for National Unity — has leadership options.

He mentioned Cecil “Ces” McKie, who contested and won elections for the first time in 2010. Gonsalves said that McKie, who was doing an “excellent” job as minister for tourism.

He also named Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar, Culture Minister Frederick Stephenson, and Senators Elvis Charles and David Browne — who both tasted defeat in 2010.

“We have a lot of young people who are coming along,” Gonsalves said, adding that La Celia Prince, the Vincentian ambassador to Washington, “is more a public servant”.

Of his son Camillo, who is envoy to the United Nations, Gonsalves said: “I don’t know whether he is interested in active politics.

“I am told that he may be interested but the point about it is this: you have to come home and be there on the ground. He is doing excellent work and everybody has acknowledged that at the United Nations. So that there are possible successors.”

But the prime minister said Vincentians should be concerned about what is happening in the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), the party Mitchell founded, now headed by Arnhim Eustace, who has led the party to three consecutive defeats.

“Arnhim Eustace is two years older than me and he acts much older than two years,” Gonsalves said.