By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — At a national protest march and rally organised by the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) on September 9 that attracted record turnout, political leader, Philip J Pierre, stated:
“What is next is we have to continue to apply maximum pressure on Allen Chastanet till he resigns and call general elections. Very soon, I will be going to parliament to move a vote of no confidence in the government of Allen Chastanet,” adding, “Very soon I will be calling you back on the streets to march to see the back of this government. Chastanet must go!”
Since then, the prospect of “what is next” and the “vote of no confidence” has occupied the minds of most Saint Lucians, especially opponents of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and his administration.
Saint Lucia’s form of government is based on the British parliamentary system, also known as the Westminster system, housed in a historic building, in the City of Castries, albeit Chastanet has vowed to demolish the parliament building, which also serves the senate. His current idea is to destroy the historic parliament building in favour of a park.
Chastanet has, however, brushed aside, and even scoffed at the idea of a motion of no confidence, while most are awaiting a date [perhaps indefinitely if other regional precedent is any guide] from the speaker of the House of Assembly to debate such a motion.
Chastanet said, ”Motions of no confidence have been presented on several occasions in the Caribbean,” noting that the parliamentary composition of 11 elected members of his own United Workers Party (UWP) are obligated to vote the party lines at all times, compared to six elected members of the opposition.
Chastanet continued, “Very rarely do you see it succeed. I am confident that this one will have no success other than (the opposition) calling attention to themselves.”
However, opposition leader Pierre has indicated that government is responsible to the people, and that he is very comfortable in applying the tools of the parliamentary system for responsible government.
“We will leave each minister to his conscience,” he said, adding that “all government legislators would have to give an account of their stewardship since coming to office.”
Under the British parliamentary model [inclusive of Saint Lucia] there does not have to be a significant scandal or controversy to justify a vote of no confidence against a sitting government.
A vote of no confidence is triggered when members of parliament on the government side feel they have “lost confidence” in their party leader.
The opposition party, or parties where applicable, may also do so largely as a strategic decision to getting elected and/or calling government to account.
Another way for a vote of no confidence to succeed is to defeat the government budget.
In the current deteriorating situation in Saint Lucia, the opposition has made its intention known to move a vote of no confidence in the Chastanet government.
That means three out of the 11 elected government members of parliament need to vote openly in parliament [not by secret ballot] in favour of such a motion [or cross over to the opposition side] in collaboration with the six opposition members, representing the magic number of nine for a motion of no confidence to succeed.
Given the political and economic constraints and should the vote of no confidence succeed, the government would have lost its democratic right to remain in office. The next step is to decide on a new leader, form a new government or for the governor general to dissolve the house and call a new election.
On the other hand, if a vote of no confidence fails, it solidifies the case of the governing party leadership and members’ support for their government proceeding as usual. This also places members of parliament on the record, openly, taking responsibility to reinforce the status quo and future transgressions.
In the meantime, Caribbean News Now understands that there is a co-ordinated effort behind the scenes, whereby “internal and external compatriots”, as one source explained, are “active on Cabinet and members of parliament to unseat Prime Minister Chastanet”.