Foreign Students Not Eligible to be Registered to Vote in St. Kitts

Section 29 (2) of the Constitution of our land of beauty provides that, “Every Commonwealth citizen of the age of eighteen years or upwards who possesses such qualifications relating to residence or domicile in Saint Christopher and Nevis as Parliament may prescribe shall, unless he is disqualified by Parliament from registration as such, be entitled to be registered as a voter for the purpose of electing Representatives”

Our Constitution is clear, a Commonwealth Citizen must satisfy two things in order to be registered to vote in St. Kitts and Nevis; (1) that he or she is at least 18 years old; and (2) that they are resident according to the provisions of Parliament.

The first requirement is straight forward and in need of no explanation. The second, however, is where our electoral system has been attacked, and the law wilfully misapplied by the Labour Government and its electoral officials, using foreign students of the local offshore universities as their pawns.

The National Assembly Elections Act is very clear in setting out the residency requirements for a Commonwealth Citizen of age 18 years to be qualified to register to vote.

“a Commonwealth citizen of the age of eighteen years or upwards and has resided in Saint Christopher and Nevis for a period of at least twelve months immediately before the date of registration as a voter or is domiciled in Saint Christopher and Nevis and is resident therein at that date.”

The Denzil Douglas Labour Administration has in recent years conveniently applied this legislation incorrectly to Commonwealth Citizens in general but in particular to foreign students mainly of East Indian and African descent.

Indian and African students as we colloquially refer to them ARE NOT RESIDENT IN ST. KITTS AND NEVIS.

These students, like students from the United States or any other country that is not a member of the Commonwealth are here in St. Kitts and Nevis subject to a permit, the equivalent of a student visa.

By virtue of their student visa, they are not considered to be resident under the Immigration Act. The Immigration Act provides for 4 classes of residents:

(a) permanent residents; (b) annual residents; (c) temporary residents; (d) work permit holder residents.

These students rather, fall under the category of Permitted Entrants under the Act. More specifically, under Paragraph 2 of Part I of the Second Schedule to the Immigration Act as:

“Persons entering Saint Christopher and Nevis to attend as students at (a) an educational or training institution approved by the Minister for the purposes of this Act; or (b) a university or college authorised by law to confer degrees or to offer training in holy orders.”

Similarly, when our Kittitian and Nevisian students go off to study at the University of the West Indies or institutions on North America and Europe, we are not eligible to register to vote for the same reasons. We are permitted to stay in those countries subject to student visas or their equivalent for the purpose of study and are not considered to be resident. For these same principles, we cannot and do not consider locals studying abroad as a part of the phenomenon that is overseas voters.

The result of this is the Electoral Office has incorrectly and illegally been allowing these non-residents and permitted entrants to be registered to vote under the guise that they are Commonwealth Citizens.

To add insults to injury, many of these students are either not aware that they have been registered to vote, or are coerced to register upon being granted their student visas. Even if the relevant authorities were misguided as to the law as it relates to these Commonwealth Citizens, are we to believe that they were also misguided as to the 12 month residency requirement?

The circus that was our electoral reform, has only unearthed more tricks and created more avenues for corrupt practices. Our electoral register has been contaminated beyond cure and must be put aside. Only a new register of voters managed by an honest, competent and informed Electoral Office can advance our hope for free and fair elections

 

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