OUR CARIBBEAN: Cry for change in St Kitts-Nevis
WHILE BARBADIANS celebrate today the anniversary of Errol Walton Barrow’s birth with a national holiday, a political storm is brewing in St Kitts and Nevis over controversial arrangements by the government of Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas for a new national election, expected in the first quarter of this year.
At the core of swelling controversies is opposition to the government’s rushed move last week for approval by parliament – where the ruling St Kitts Labour Party has a slim one-seat majority – of a proclamation by the governor general to change the electoral boundaries ahead of the coming elections.
The proverbial ink had hardly dried on the official announcement of the proclamation – amid spreading political tension, which included ejection of an opposition MP from the chamber – while the main opposition People’s Action Movement (PAM) was in readiness with a high court injunction challenging the legality of the government’s action.
The opposition’s senior counsel, Chris Hamel-Smith, was successful in obtaining the judge’s ruling to restrain any action to implement the proclamation on electoral boundary changes until the court has had the opportunity to consider all aspects of a relevant official report on proposed changes ahead of fresh elections.
According to latest reports out of Basseterre, tomorrow could bring good or bad news for the parliamentary opposition, depending on the nature of the court’s ruling on the way forward.
In a highly polarised climate, Dr Douglas’ Labour Party is confidently seeking a fifth consecutive term, while being conscious of claimed widening support for PAM and opposition generally to a continuation of the current political status quo. It dates back to 1995 when then Prime Minister Dr Kennedy Simmonds felt compelled to dissolve parliament against the backdrop of widespread civil disobedience to his then consecutive third-term administration.
As if a restructured and more confident PAM and civil society allies feel that four successive terms in government are quite sufficient for the Labour Party – in comparison to the previous three terms when it languished in the opposition – there are reports of a growing sense of widening opposition to Prime Minister Douglas’ declared confidence of securing a fifth successive five-year term.
Much may depend on the outcome of the court ruling tomorrow on the temporary injunction restraining any initiative on electoral boundary changes until further consideration has been given to the legal claims against moves undertaken by the governing Labour Party.
A joint Press statement this past Monday from what’s projected as a “unity front” of civil society organisations that involve cooperation with constitution-based demands by the parliamentary opposition, has vehemently denounced “biased attacks” on democratic processes and “deliberate insults” from the government benches during last Friday’s emergency session of the National Assembly.
Comprising the St Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, St Kitts Christian Council, St Kitts Evangelical Association and the St Kitts Small Business Forum, the civil society organisations declared: “We cannot but note that the (parliament’s) haste to change the boundaries in a few hours was so different from the two years that the National Assembly was allowed to block a motion of no confidence against the government . . . ,”.
The statement added that it was “a sad day for our democracy and threatens the rule of law”.
I think that while the Caribbean Community has found it necessary to make public its warning last weekend against examples of foreign diplomatic interference in Guyana, it should perhaps consider also an independent assessment of claimed threats to democratic governance and the rule of law in St Kitts and Nevis – ahead of new parliamentary elections.
Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.