St Lucia -- after shock poll
-- Challenges for Compton
"Wounds" to heal -- Anthony Post-election analysis by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
December 13, 2006

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THE vagaries of electoral politics in a functioning multi-party democracy can often result in major surprises, as happened, for instance, at St Lucia's general election on Monday, when the expected victor ended up as loser, and an octogenarian is due to be sworn in today as new Prime Minister.

In a stunning reversal of results predicted by opinion polls within the past month, the incumbent St Lucia Party (SLP) of Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony was defeated by the United Workers Party (UWP) of 82-year-old Sir John Compton with an 11-6 parliamentary majority.

Both the usually reliable opinion poll of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), as well as that of Jamaican pollster Bill Johnson -- who does polling for the "Jamaica Gleaner" and the People's National Party (PNP) -- had forecast a comfortable third-term victory for Anthony's SLP.

Johnson's 14-3 victory prediction for the SLP and CADRES' worse-case scenario of 10-7 were turned upside down with an estimated 60 per cent voter response by the estimated 135,000 eligible electors to record a shock defeat for the incumbent -- although the preliminary results show they were separated by just about 2,000 of the popular valid votes, or approximately three per cent.

In accordance with the electoral laws of St Lucia, whose economy revolves largely around tourism, the banana industry and services sector, a recount of the results in all 17 constituencies was taking place yesterday ahead of an official declaration of the results.

A few of the seats were won by the UWP or retained by the SLP with slender margins. However, officials of the electoral office confirmed yesterday that the stage is set for Compton, a former long-serving Prime Minister, to be sworn in today as the country's new Head of Government.

The oath-taking ceremony by Compton would coincide with today's national holiday ("Discovery Day") -- unless postponed by the Governor General for tomorrow.

His appointment would underscore an unprecedented occurrence in the electoral politics of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) region for a former retired Prime Minister to return to the helm of government at age 82. He had officially stayed out of elections for nine years but was very much involved in behind-the-scenes UWP leadership politics right up to 2005 when he openly staged his comeback and forced the resignation of his one-time anointed successor, Dr Vaughn Lewis.

Defeat for Anthony's administration coincided at a time of successive years of economic growth, ranging from three to five per cent; unemployment at a record low of approximately 15 per cent -- normally well over 20 per cent -- and with the latest report of the World Bank Group profiling St Lucia at the "top of the list" among Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) members in global ranking as the country for doing business.

Capping the deficit factors was the nationally disturbing image of gun-related crimes, including murders and a perceived inability of the government to bring it under effective control.

This situation was well exploited by the UWP with its appeal to voters to "trust us" to stop the criminal rampage, alongside its assurances to restore the once vital banana industry to a former glory period.

That was before changes in the European Union's banana import regime had created horrors for the banana economies of all of the Windward Islands, Dominica being the worst affected.

Compton, in addition, has to face the challenge to fulfil his party’s pledges on crime-control and recovery of the banana industry, both of which could well come to haunt his government.

He also has the self-created task of unearthing the alleged nepotism and corrupt practices with which he had smeared the Anthony administration during what was regarded as a "dirty, mud-slinging" campaign.

On Monday evening when Anthony conceded defeat and congratulated Compton, he told the media that the UWP administration would now have to "deal with the wounds" created, and stressed, for the benefit of supporters and detractors, that: "I know we have been a government of honour and integrity and I am certain that in good time all of that would emerge..."

Anthony, a former law lecturer of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus, and Assistant General Counsel of the CARICOM Secretariat, had earlier convincingly retained his Vieux Fort constituency -- one of just two SLP candidates to have done so. The four other successful SLP candidates are newcomers to parliament.

Compton also had a comfortable victory for the Micoud North constituency. He said he was "never in doubt" about the electoral triumph of the UWP, despite all the poll predictions.

Compton would also have a particular reason to rejoice in the defeat for the Castries Central seat of Vaughn Lewis, a former OECS Director General -- the academic-politician he had hand-picked back in 1996 to lead the UWP and its government.

By 1997 the UWP was defeated in a landslide victory by the Anthony-led SLP, a victory the party was to repeat in 2001 but with a third-term hope severely dashed.

For his part, Lewis now has the distinction of losing Central Castries both as a candidate of the UWP and SLP, while his former leader has no known likely successor.

Compton repeated in victory on Monday his intention to "look outside" of his UWP in selecting his cabinet.

A high-level private sector executive heads the list of potential cabinet ministers to be appointed Senators.