While our prayers and thoughts will remain with the unfortunate victims of natural disasters that visited the Caribbean and the world generally, it would be difficult not to be introspective about the dominance of the political challenges that made the headlines over the past 12 months.
It all started in November when Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas returned from his trip to Nigeria. While there enjoying the limelight and the pomp and ceremony of his visit, little did he know that his greatest political storm, to date, was forming back home, right within his Cabinet and the National Assembly. All was not well.
It was a baptism in political theatrics that the medical doctor had never hoped for in his 25 years in elective politics and 18 years as Prime Minister. If he were to write his memoirs, it would be a Chapter that will certainly make its way into the pages of his life story.
Little did Dr. Douglas know that the opposition parliamentarians from the People’s Action Movement, (PAM), and the Concerned Citizen’s Movement, (CCM), were advanced in their plans to make a bold move against his legitimacy, as Head of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis. By 11th December, Opposition Leader, Mark Brantley, along with PAM’s leader, Shawn Richards, Eugene Hamilton and Vance Amory, (with the support of Senator Vincent Byron), took measures to file a Motion of No Confidence with the Clerk of the Assembly.
This took Douglas by surprise and he, for once, began to take the opposition seriously, as a threat against his long reign. Uncertain about his future and the loyalty of some within his own Labour Party, he ignored the motion and decided instead to secure political insurance by seeking to pass new legislation to increase the number of senators, from 3, to six, (a 100% increase that would have created six unelected parliamentarians compared to the 11 elected to the parliament). This however could not have saved him in a vote on the motion because only elected representative could exercise such right.
The resulting firestorm created by PAM and CCM shook the parliament and took full control of the national debate; winning the support, it seemed, of the citizens across political lines, including 2 within Cabinet.
Life at the top worsened when the government moved to pass legislation to swap 1,200 acres of land to the National Bank, as part of a debt settlement, to reduce the massive 3 Billion Public Debt, that the International Monetary Fund, IMF, had cautioned the government against; given the economic and financial consequences that could make life more difficult for the people.
The opposition launched island-wide town hall meetings to take their message directly to the people. This tactic apparently worked because the Government blinked, and held back its thrust to have the lands sold off. Citizens were in an uproar, determined not to allow what they said was the sale of their land, “secured by National Hero Robert Bradshaw and paid for by First Prime Minister Dr. Sir Kennedy Simmonds”; a mantra promoted by the opposition.
The dismissal of Senior Minister, Dr. Timothy Harris, from the Cabinet, only made matters worse for the Prime Minister because the cracks within the party began to show and the demise of the incumbent was being advertised. Harris’ dismissal from Cabinet, and eventually his marginalization as Chairman of the party, led to the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister, Sam Condor. This too shocked the Prime Minister and took him some time to react to the new and emerging reality that he was losing his once firm grip on state power.
He used a record number of National Addresses to paint his former colleagues as unpatriotic and ungrateful. Traitor was another colourful description used to refer to the actions of Harris and Condor who had spoken out strongly against both the Senators Bill and the Land for Debt Swap legislation.
The hope held tightly by Dr. Douglas was that PAM and CCM would never embrace Condor and Harris into their fold. He was obviously stunned, according to one Labour insider, when eventually birth was given to Team Unity, a construct that was designed to remove the Prime Minister and his Government. This determination was solidified by the now strengthened opposition when they wrote to Governor General Edmund Lawrence, advising him that they, the six elected members- Mark Brantley, Vance Amory, Shawn Richards, Eugene Hamilton, Sam Condor and Dr. Timothy Harris- do not support Dr. Douglas as Prime Minister, and have no confidence in either him or his government.
By March/April, 2013, the atmosphere in St. Kitts and Nevis was toxic. The incumbent Prime Minister appeared more than concerned, some in the opposition who know him personally, claimed that he was in fact scared.
The year continued with massive demonstrations, public meetings and rallies, and the filing of a second Motion of No Confidence, this time by PAM’s Leader, Shawn Richards. The opposition also moved to the courts for redress, hoping to force the Speaker, Curtis Martin, to convene parliament to hear the motion. Speaker Martin made it clear that once the matter was before the court, he would not hear the motion. Shawn Richards led his opposition colleagues in having their lawyers discontinue the court matter, only to have the Speaker himself, taking court action to keep the matter in court.
While, earlier in the year PAM had threatened to prevent the budget from passing they eventually had a change of heart. Douglas got his budget, added those millions to the huge sums in the SIDF and began to plot his way into a zone of survival. Time, money, electoral creativities and a closer walk with the Nevis Reformation Party, NRP, became key ingredients of that new survival pack.
Condor and Harris founded a brand new party; the People’s Labour Party, PLP. This they claimed was the “true Labour”, the “real Labour”. With many dates coming and going for an election that the people and opposition were predicting, Douglas too took measures to rebuild his party and government. On the other hand, the opposition buckled to public demands and had their official launch as a united alternative. In came Team Unity and at a historic joint (PAM,CCM and PLP), meeting at Greenlands Park, on Thursday 26th September, 2013, thousands gathered to witness the unfolding of TEAM Unity and its leader, Dr. Timothy Harris.
Now that a New Year is dawning, the opposition is already planning its next move to force an early poll. But with Douglas managing to last 13 months after the first motion was filed, 2014 is expected to bring even more political challenges and battles.
How will 2014 end? Who will be in government and Prime Minister? The long wait is expected to continue.