Dr. Thompson Fontaine reclaims UWP leadership amidst internal rifts
By Ronalda Luke
"Dr. Fontaine not being based in Dominica allows him to establish strong international connections for the party," explained one delegate, emphasizing Fontaine's advantage in forging global ties as a reason for supporting his re-election as the leader of the United Workers Party.
Conversely, another party supporter voiced dissent, citing this very reason as the cause for not voting for Dr. Fontaine. "He is an absent leader, and what we need is a leader who is present and active within the country," remarked the supporter.
The atmosphere within the UWP delegate's conference crackled with tension, an undercurrent of internal discord palpable as supporters on both sides rallied for their favoured candidate. At the close of voting at the party's delegates conference held on December 17 at Marigot, Dr. Thomson Fontaine emerged victorious by a narrow margin of 64 votes to Clement Marcellin's 59, a mere difference of 5 votes, underscoring the deep-seated divisions and vigorous debates within the party's ranks.
Dr. Fontaine's re-election had its challenges. The tightly contested leadership battle exposed the fissures and differing visions within the UWP. The party grappling with internal dissent varies in its perceptions of effective leadership. While Dr. Fontaine's vision encompasses broader engagement and a multifaceted leadership profile, Marcelle's election campaign echoed sentiments favouring localized, ground-level involvement.
Concern about Dr. Fontaine's overseas employment
However, mounting concern among party supporters, as well as current and past executive members, regarding Dr. Fontaine's prolonged absence from local party engagements owing to his role as a government policy advisor in South Sudan has sparked debate within the UWP and raised pertinent questions about his effectiveness in steering the party's affairs within Dominica.
Dr. Fontaine addressed the ongoing internal strife in a candid interview following his victory. "I'm humbled by the decision of the delegates. Despite the obvious challenge that was pointed out in terms of my absence, I am delighted that they still gave me that opportunity to lead the party," he stated. "I have taken note over the concerns over my absence; however, I remain steadfast in my commitment to unify our party and steer us toward a common goal."
Undeterred by obstacles, Dr. Fontaine outlined his immediate goals, emphasizing constituency rebuilding and fortifying the party's foundation. "There's a lot that we need to do. My focus this coming year will be on the constituency rebuilding and rebuilding the base of the party," he affirmed, laying out a roadmap for the UWP's resurgence.
He highlighted challenges in engaging specific demographics and emphasized the need to empower young people and women above 55 within the party.
Unity stood tall in his vision. He said, "It's not about personalities; it's about the party," he stressed, advocating for a united front to steer Dominica toward progress, transcending individual differences.
"We need solidarity now more than ever. We must move forward together, leveraging our strengths and aligning our visions for the betterment of our party and our nation."
Acknowledging dissent within the ranks, he extended an olive branch, urging all members to unify their efforts. "My hope is that all of the members who feel aggrieved tonight... will, at the end of the day, support us and support the party and allow us to move forward," he expressed, seeking cohesion in the party's mission.
Healing the rift
Addressing concerns about his international commitments, Dr. Fontaine pledged to balance his responsibilities in his new term as party leader. He also stressed the pivotal role of a comprehensive team effort. "We are not in a presidential election. To win office, we need at least 11 seats across the constituencies," he voiced, championing a collective approach.
Asserting his unwavering commitment, Fontaine invoked history as a testament to his dedication. "People should not doubt my commitment to being present," he declared, recalling sacrifices made in relinquishing a coveted position at the IMF to campaign on Dominica's streets.
Addressing the future, Fontaine emphasized the need for collective solidarity. "We owe it to our supporters and to the nation, to stand united and resolute in our pursuit of progress."
Marcellin, who declined nomination for the post of deputy political leader of the party, says he gracefully accepts the outcome of the democratic process.
Reflecting on the decision, Marcellin expressed a commitment to the party's progression and acknowledged the strains in the relationship between himself and Dr. Fontaine. "In the last term, I felt that enough wasn't being done about the leadership position that I had. It wasn't working with myself and Dr. Fontaine," Marcellin candidly admitted. "It became challenging for me as the deputy to continue... because, with the leader's absence and facing communication challenges, it can be quite difficult. So, staying on would be injurious to my political career."
Addressing the role he intends to play moving forward, Marcelle stressed his dedication to national development, especially among the youth. "It's just a year to recoup, recover and focus on more issues of national development," he articulated, showcasing his unwavering commitment to contributing positively to Dominica's progress.
Expressing resilience and optimism, Marcellin viewed this setback as an opportunity for personal growth. "For me, what I may think as an ominous situation may just be a glorious opportunity to do bigger and better things and come back better," he declared, demonstrating a resilient spirit.
Looking ahead, Marcellin urged unity within the party and reaffirmed his support for the UWP's future endeavours. "At the end of the day, you just pledged your support and hope that the party could see if it's an opportunity loss, you'd have to regroup and re-strategize with that opportunity again," he expressed, "but if it's an opportunity gained, we benefit."
The other executive members are Deputy Political Leader Ronald Charles and President Lennox Linton; Vice President Hector John; General Secretary and Assistant Nicholas George and Diane Victor; Treasurer Kent Joseph and Assistant Treasure Isaac Baptiste; Public Relations Officer Steve Benjamin and International Secretary Dr McDonald Thomas. The three Trustees are Edison James, Norris Prevost, and Ernie Jno Finn.