By Michael Jarvis, London UK
Another massive swing of the political pendulum in St Lucia has swept the opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) back into office following a pattern of election outcomes since 1997.
The SLP led by new Prime Minister Philip J Pierre has swept the United Workers Party (UWP) of Allen Chastenet out of office capturing 13 of the 17 seats. In 2016 the UWP won 11 seats to six for the SLP.
In Monday’s election, the UWP could only hold on to two of the four seats which will now form the opposition - including that of former prime minister Chastenet - with the other two going to independent candidates.
One of the independents is a former prime minister, Stephenson King, who had quit the UWP over political differences with the Chastenet administration.
Another former prime minister who held on to his seat was the ex-SLP leader Dr Kenny Anthony.
The resounding victory gives the new SLP administration a clear mandate to overhaul the policies of the UWP which had been faced with allegations of corruption and criticisms over its management of the economy and more recently the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The state of the economy - and its related issues including jobs, education, healthcare, social services, and crime - along with the handling of the COVID-19 crisis, have been central election issues.
St Lucia is saddled with one of the highest national debts in the Eastern Caribbean and has been fighting to keep its tourism-dependent economy afloat especially given the impact of the pandemic.
Outgoing prime minister Allen Chastanet was previously the tourism minister.
The country has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 with over 5,500 cases and more than 90 deaths.
After a serious spike in infections earlier this year, St Lucia went into lockdown but has since been one of the first to reopen its borders to vaccinated travellers.
Local vaccination rates are also comparatively low averaging around 25 per cent. The government had been pushing for a herd-immunity target of 70 per cent but that has been hampered by 'vaccine-hesitancy' by some in the population.
The new St Lucia Prime Minister Pierre, an economist, has pledged that his administration will be “a government of inclusion, a government that will listen to people, a government of tolerance”.
“We are hoping to take this country all the way from the division and conflict it is in now...There is a bitter taste in the mouths of the people of the country, so we have to sort that out,” he said in interviews after he returned the SLP to power.
Voter turnout in Monday’s election was 53.45 per cent also reflecting recent trends in St Lucia where polls are constitutionally due every five years.
This year’s poll continues a recent pattern of massive swings of the pendulum in St Lucia’s elections especially between the SLP and the UWP, the countries two dominant political forces.
This seesaw pattern has been the trend especially since the dominance of the conservative-oriented UWP under the late prime minister Sir John Compton, St Lucia’s first prime minister, started waning in the 1990s.
The SLP is considered to be of a more socialist ideology.
This year’s 13-4 victory margin of the SLP follows 2016’s 11-6 win by the UWP which was the same margin that the UWP had won the 2011 polls and the SLP in 2006. In the 2001 elections, another significant majority was secured by the SLP when it won 14 of the 17 seats.
In the 1997 elections, the SLP, under then new leader Kenny Anthony, swept into office with a landslide 16 seat victory over the long-ruling, conservative UWP, which had been in power for all but a brief three-year period (1979-1982) since 1964.
Back then the UWP only retained one of the 11 seats it had held in the previous parliament.
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