Those elections had produced a 4:4 tie between PAM and Labour. The NRP had put its one seat in with PAM, giving Prime Minister, Dr. Kennedy Simmonds, the support of five Representatives. The CCM had chosen not to align its two seats with any other bloc. So PAM-NRP had 5 seats, Labour had 4 seats, and CCM had 2 seats. And the Governor-General, Sir Clement Arrindell (now deceased) appointed Dr. Simmonds, who had the largest bloc of support, as the Prime Minister.
This was in order, as our Constitution allows for minority governments.
Back in 1993, the Labour Party had won about 2,000 more votes than PAM; indeed, more than PAM and NRP combined; and there was a sense of frustration and outrage among the voters, who had signalled the desire for change.
I believed that Dr. Simmonds had done the right thing by promising fresh elections within six months, because it was obvious, with a minority Government and a much smaller band of supporters than the Opposition, that his ability to govern, to maintain stability, and to inspire investor confidence would’ve been deeply compromised. And the fact that Dr. Douglas had taken him at his word was a clear indication, despite the rhetoric and bombast, that Dr. Douglas recognized the constitutional validity of his appointment as PM. Also, there was no constitutional challenge, as I recall.
But Dr. Simmonds then went wrong by reneging on his promise, and declaring, just hours after having committed to fresh elections within six months, that he’d remain in office for the full term.
That angered many people, and it presented Dr. Douglas with a platter of ‘red meat’. And he pounced on it.
In my opinion, neither Dr. Simmonds nor Dr. Douglas was behaving to the motto ‘Country Above Self’ during those days. They were involved, instead, in a power struggle.
Meanwhile, the country was virtually paralyzed, and tension was very high. The impasse had to be broken. And the political crisis had to be averted.
Fresh elections were eventually held in July, 1995, nearly two years later, although I believed back then, and still believe today, that Dr. Douglas’ much spoken about distrust of Mr. Amory was exaggerated, and that a vote of no confidence, and fresh elections, would’ve occurred long before July, 1995, thereby saving the country a whole heap of stress and suffering.
Now we fast forward to 2012.
Our Federation is in a crisis today. In my opinion, a worse crisis than that of 1993.One that is both constitutional and political.
And while at the best of times, our country is too small and fragile for all of this drama, the timing of this crisis couldn’t be worse. But it’s happening, and it’s real. And we have to deal with it.
Here’s the source of the crisis: Mr. Mark Brantley was ‘robbed’ of the Constituency 2 seat in the Nevis Island Assembly Elections of July, 2011. Over 200 people were ‘robbed’ of their sacred right to vote. And hundreds were brought to Nevis from St. Kitts to ‘rob’ Nevisians of the Administration of their choice.
Even before the elections of July, 2011, the Court had been asked to rule on some matters relating to voter registration, and its disposition and message were clear. But Mr. Parry seemed not to be bothered by that decision, likewise the Minister responsible for elections, the Supervisor of Elections, and others. They all continued along their merry way.
Everybody knew that any fair poll would favour Mr. Brantley. But Mr. Brantley was not to be allowed to enter the Nevis Island Assembly. He was an upstart and ‘too ‘nuff’ with himself. So he was not just to be defeated, but he was to be destroyed. So declared a particular operative.
The election ‘robbery’ took place, the NRP ‘won’ three seats out of the five on offer, and Mr. Parry was sworn in as Premier for a second term. But Mr. Brantley, to his credit, challenged the Constituency 2 result in Court, and in doing so he reinforced his pedigree of character and fortitude, and made an historic contribution to the law, and to democracy and dignity in St.Kitts & Nevis, and in the Caribbean as a whole.
Nevisians have been called to the polls about eleven times in the past 23 years, plus the by-election in Constituency 2 that was called to replace the late Malcolm Guishard. And now the voters of Constituency 2(maybe all voters) will go to the polls yet again. That’s too much! Nevis is being torn apart by all of these elections, by ugly politics, and by the arrogance and vindictiveness of incumbency.
Mr. Brantley’s challenge succeeded at the Court of first instance in March of this year, and again in the Court of Appeal last month. The result is, inter alia, that the election in Constituency 2 is null and void, that the names of voters wrongly taken off the list have to be restored, and that there has to be an election in that Constituency within 90 days.
But instead of bringing the matter to an end, the case seems to have opened up a constitutional can of worms.
For example, Mr. Parry became Premier on the basis of having ‘won’ three seats, or, put another way, on the basis of the ‘robbery’. So now that the Court has ruled that he, in fact, won only two seats, is his premiership invalidated and nullified by the Court of Appeal’s judgment?
Mr. Brantley, supported by no less a luminary than UWI Law Professor, Dr. Simeon McIntosh, thinks so, holding the view that Mr. Parry isn’t Premier, that there’s no Administration in Nevis, that the Governor-General needs to step in, take matters in hand, make the decisions with regard to the by-election (or, as Professor McIntosh suggests as a possible option, a full Nevis Island Assembly election), and appoint a committee to administer the affairs of Nevis in the interim.
Can the Governor-General do all of that? Some people say yes, others say no.
Is it possible that some persons, in anticipating all of this, may have thought it in their best interest for an individual other than Sir Cuthbert Sebastian to be Governor-General at this moment? If so, will those persons want to see him gone without delay, rather than holding on until the end of the year?
I’m just asking.
Professor McIntosh seems to hold the view that even if the Constitution doesn’t provide expressly, the Governor-General has, and must have, the residual power to do take matters in hand and straighten out the situation, as part of his obligation to protect the Constitution, democracy and the people.
Mr. Parry, not surprisingly, has a different view. He says that he is the Premier, that he will carry on with his work to run Nevis, that Mr. Daniel is now his special adviser, and that he, Mr. Parry, will advise the Governor-General, as and when he pleases, within the specified 90-day period, with regard to the holding of the by-election, or any other election in Nevis.
He believes that he leads a legitimate Administration, slimmed down from a majority of three seats to a minority of two seats, and with his two nominated members of the NIA, notwithstanding the Court’s declaration that Mr. Daniel never won the Constituency 2 seat.
So Mr. Brantley and his Party, the CCM, are saying one thing, and Mr. Parry and his NRP are saying something quite different.
How will it be resolved?
How can there be credibility and justice when the ‘beneficiary’ of a ‘robbery’ assumes and arrogates unto himself or herself the authority, or is allowed to wield the authority, to resolve the wrongs perpetrated by such ‘robbery’.
Meanwhile, there seems to be quite a bit of tension in Nevis now, and the absence of a resolution could heighten it, and cause it to spill over into St. Kitts and beyond.
Will Mr. Brantley have to march some people before the Court again? How long will that take, how much more time will it buy the NRP in office? Where will Mr. Brantley get the money to pay the attendant costs? Who will pay the lawyers? And will the people of Nevis accept such a situation? If not, then what?
And suppose Mr. Brantley wins, will Mr. Parry say that he can run Nevis in a minority Administration, made incumbent back in July, 2011, as a result of the ‘robbery’ in Constituency 2, and challenge the CCM to defeat him by a vote of no confidence? And even then, what if he decides to stay away from the Assembly for as long as possible, in order to further frustrate the CCM and their supporters and at the same time buy more time in office?
Will he, after, say, a Brantley victory, call for a general election in Nevis, thereby piling more stress and more costs on the people?
Meanwhile, will Mr. Brantley and the CCM ever recognize Mr. Parry’s authority to do all of that, or, for that matter, to do anything related to being Premier? Most critically, will the people of Nevis accept it?
Will Mr. Brantley and the CCM think that after a Brantley victory, they’d simply walk into office and the NRP would, just as simply, walk out? Are they correct if they think so?
What we have here is a very serious constitutional and political crisis in the making. Uncharted and dangerous territory for us.
Mr. Parry’s faces a very short window of opportunity to ensure that he doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the leaders of 1993. He can etch for himself a legacy of great statesmanship by meeting with the Governor-General and Mr. Amory to bring this matter to a swift and peaceful end. Or he can continue as is, and, inevitably, cause greater pain to be visited upon the people of Nevis, and upon the people of the Federation as a whole.
My heart is with Mr. Brantley’s cause, which I see as my cause, as a citizen. But while I love Professor McIntosh’s argument, and I want him to be correct, I’m not
sure. At the same time, I pray that Mr. Parry will seize the moment and act for the public good.
This crisis is far, far worse than that of 1993. And the consequences potentially far, far worse.