'Age is not a factor'
December 14, 2006
AT A time when most people would have already been some decades into retirement, Sir John Compton – the recently elected Prime Minister of St Lucia - is getting ready to govern a country.
To be sure, it is not a role that he is unaccustomed to. He has had a total of 29 years of experience at the helm of the Easter Caribbean island, ever since gaining the post of Chief Minister in 1964. By comparison, his opponent, Dr Kenny Anthony, was just thirteen years old that year.
Up to last week, fairly creditable pollsters – Bill Johnson and CADRES – had predicted that Dr Anthony's St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) would comfortably win a third term over Sir John's United Workers Party (UWP).
And it all seemed to make sense: how could an aging, over-the-hill politician run successfully against an incumbent who had the economy growing steadily and employment to almost record lows?
The 82-year-old delivered the following rebuttal in response to opponents who had accused him of running a geriatric campaign:
"Age is not a factor here; I am not here running for the Olympics. Age is really in the state of mind, I am giving my experience and my intelligence that God gave to me. I am not going for a marathon, I am not going for the Olympics."
Sir John's sound bite about his age not being a factor, and that his experience and intelligence were what he had to offer, is true only up to a certain degree.
While his experience as an elder statesman, dedicated to regionalism, will serve to steer both his domestic and regional agenda, he is at 82 years old closer to the ultimate proof of his mortality than most.
The fact that he had to come out of retirement to personally hand the UWP the upset victory means that to no small degree the polling result was an investment of trust by the people in the ability of Sir John to address their problems.
With no clear successor in sight for the party's leadership, the untimely (if barely so) demise of the Prime Minister within the next five years could leave not just the UWP but St Lucia in a leadership crisis.
The one person he had entrusted to succeed him, Vaughn Lewis, who served as PM from 1996 to 1997, defected to the SLP after a crushing 1997 electoral victory by Dr Anthony.
Mired in controversy, Mr. Lewis can be seen to have met the effective end of his political career, or at least a significant phase of it, in the loss of his Castries Central seat to the UWP's Richard Frederick, a former independent.
Therefore, the reality of Sir John's tenure is that he will have to be dedicating almost as much time in grooming a successor, an understudy if you will, as he does in running the day to day administration of St Lucia.
Elections may not be a marathon, but governance is rarely anything but.