In short, the government is seeking to increase the number of un-elected senators from three, to six; with some opposition forces claiming that the move is only designed to strengthen the “hand” of the incumbent Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas, who appears to be very concerned about the loyalty of at least two of his fellow Cabinet members who sit in the parliament.
Douglas however has already given his own reasons to justify the increase.
Now, in a move that one political observer has described as strategic and careful, but designed with a certain hidden agenda, the ruling Labour Party National Executive recently met and endorsed the decision of its parliamentarians to continue with the plan to gain the support of the Assembly to pass the Bill that would allow for the increase in senators.
A release on Wednesday from the party stated, “By an overwhelming majority, the National Executive of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 affirmed its desire to have deliberations on “The Senators (Increasing of Number) Bill, 2012” continue at the time of the December 7, 2012 sitting of the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly. All eight constituencies were represented on this occasion with the Party Leader Denzil Douglas and Deputy Leader Sam Condor, Party Chairman Timothy Harris and Party Deputy Chairman Nigel Carty as well as other members of Cabinet present throughout the proceedings. Twenty (20) members voted in favour and three (3) abstained.”
However, there was no indication in the release to identify those who abstained, nor was any reason given to suggest why they elected not to support the party’s position.
The Labour party release continued, by stating, “The St. Kitts and Nevis 1983 Constitution not only anticipated the need for the number of Senators in the National Assembly to be changed, subject to certain conditions, but indeed made allowances for this. It is because this measure is in strict compliance with the guidelines and conditions outlined in the St. Kitts and Nevis Constitution that the Labour Government recently introduced a measure to increase the number of Senators in the National Assembly from the current three to six, and it is for these same reasons that the National Executive supports the Government in this regard.”
The release added, “Demographic and other changes over the past two decades have increased both the complexity as well as the volume of work that must be handled by elected Ministers and Senators, thereby necessitating the need for a slight increase in the number of Senators in Parliament at this time. We are also aware that an additional benefit of this change, as the Right Honorable Dr. Denzil Douglas has already explained, is that the addition of these Senators will simplify the process of ensuring that the position of Deputy Speaker is filled.”
The St. Kitts and Nevis Parliament, as currently constituted, is comprised of eleven elected members and three senators, two of whom are on the Government benches and one, on the Opposition. Should “The Senators (Increasing of Number) Bill, 2012” pass; there will be four Senators on the Government benches, and two on the Opposition.
Political watchers will be following closely to see if Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor who is also the Deputy leader of the Labour Party, and his colleague, Senior Minister Dr. Timothy Harris, who himself is the party’s current Chairman, will vote in favour, or against the Bill. Some opposition forces have indicated that the move to increase the senators is designed by the Prime Minister to begin grooming possible replacements for both Condor and Harris, ahead of the next General Elections, not due until 2015, but some feel could be called much sooner.
However, other parliament watchers are of the view that if both Harris and Condor vote against the Bill, immediate steps will be taken to dismiss them from the Cabinet and possibly the party. The charge would be that they voted against a measure that was endorsed by the party’s National Executive. This would then give the Prime Minister a clear hand to proceed with fielding their replacements with candidates deemed more likely to tow party lines or pledge loyalty to Dr. Douglas.
If both ministers however abstain when the vote comes up, the Bill would still pass, albeit by a much narrower margin. With there being 11 elected members of parliament, and 3 appointed senators, giving a total of 14; there are 9 on the government benches and 5 on the seats of the opposition. Even if Condor and Harris abstain, the government will still outnumber the opposition, 7-5, in terms of available votes. However, if Harris and Condor vote against the measure, it would create a 7-7 tie, in the number of votes.
The nation awaits the outcome.