Is NRP in turmoil?

By My Vue Staff Writer

Basseterre, Friday, 10th February, 2023, (My Vue Deputy Political Leader of the NRP, (Nevis Reformation Party), Cleone Stapleton-Simmonds, has been suspended by the Executive of her party.

The suspension is believed to have taken place since Wednesday, 8th February, but it was hoped that it would remain a quiet development, in the best interest of the organization.

However, this was an overly optimistic expectation by the NRP, given the current climate where everything is being leaked.

On Friday morning, word began circulating in Nevis that Stapleton-Simmonds had discreetly recorded an address to be aired sometime this weekend. However, before the NRP Deputy Leader could broadcast her message, she was upstaged by her leader, Dr. Janice Daniel-Hodge, who went to the airwaves just after 12: 30 p.m.

In that address, Daniel-Hodge said, “As leader of this party… I wish to advise that the Honorable Cleone Stapleton-Simmonds has been conditionally suspended from the institutions of the NRP, pending the findings and recommendations of the NRP Disciplinary Committee.”

The quick move to the media was obviously forced on the NRP because of the planned broadcast by Stapleton-Simmonds, for later that day, or at the latest Saturday.

While the suspension was not entirely a shock to most Nevisians, it certainly crushed all hopes that the NRP would once again be fully united; that it would halt its internal ramblings and patch up the differences between the Deputy Leader and the rest of the Executive.

Yet there were those who hoped that the decision would be to terminate the Deputy from the Party.

There are two (2) main issues at the heart of the contention, which have been broiling since last December.

The first has to do with the refusal of the Deputy Leader to support her President, Daniel-Hodge, to be appointed Leader of the Opposition in the Nevis Island Assembly.

L-R Dr. Janice Daniel-Hodge and Cleone Stapleton-Simmonds in happier days

Though Stapleton-Simmonds stated in a recent regional interview that she supports her leader for the appointment and although she promised that it would all be resolved “shortly”, Stapleton-Simmonds continued to withhold her endorsement.

With the Budget sitting of the Assembly scheduled for later in February, (after its postponement in December due to the election), NRP was hoping to find a resolution before then, to allow the team to enter the debate as a strong and united force.

That is why in her broadcast, the NRP Leader revealed that “The Executive Committee of the Nevis Reformation Party took a decision on December 29th, 2022, that I, as Party Leader, should be appointed the Opposition Leader. The Hon. Cleone Stapleton – Simmonds was made aware of the Executive decision and was requested to advise the GG, (Governor General), of her support for me as the Opposition Leader in furtherance of the decision of the Executive.”

Stapleton-Simmonds refused and some members have stated that she did so because it was equally her desire to be appointed Opposition Leader because of her previous (2 years) experience in the Assembly. She was also reported to have suggested that Daniel-Hodge being Political Leader does not automatically mean that she becomes Opposition Leader in the Assembly.

Sources close to the Party have confirmed that Stapleton-Simmonds was not only demanding to be Opposition Leader but that she also wanted to name the senator.

This, we are reliably informed was attached by Stapleton-Simmonds as a bargaining condition, saying that if she does give her support for Daniel-Hodge’s appointment as Opposition Leader, then the right to name the senator must be that of the Deputy.

Put simply, Daniel-Hodge cannot be appointed by the Governor General, as Leader of the Opposition, (in Nevis), without the support of Stapleton-Simmonds.

The St. Kitts & Nevis Constitution, in Section 58, (b) clearly states, that  “Whenever there is occasion for the appointment of a Leader of the Opposition, the Governor General shall appoint the elected member of the Assembly who appears to him or her, most likely to command the support of a majority of the elected members of the Assembly who do not support the Administration or, if no elected member appears to him or her to command such support, the elected member who appears to him or her to command the support of the largest single group of elected members of the Assembly who do not support the Administration.

In this case, the only group on the opposition benches is the NRP, (Janice Daniel-Hodge and Cleone Stapleton-Simmonds).

This is where it has gotten tricky. This is also the Ace card being held by Stapleton-Simmonds, because Section 58 (b), also states that “Provided that no elected member shall be eligible for appointment unless it appears to the Governor General that the elected member commands the support of at least one (1) other elected member.”

Therefore, for Daniel-Hodge to be appointed Opposition Leader, she must gain the support of Stapleton-Simmonds.

L-R NRP Deputy Leader Cleone Stapleton-Simmonds, Dr. Janice Daniel-Hodge-NRP Leader at the recent opening of Nevis Island Assembly in January

That support now seems unlikely over the next five years, given the suspension of Stapleton-Simmonds.

With this new fallout, the chances of Stapleton-Simmonds leaving the NRP to serve in the Island Assembly as an independent member have increased significantly. Many are of the view that she may also cross the aisle to join the CCM and become a Cabinet member. In politics, this is possible but unlikely in the current realities of the CCM. But if done, would be a bold move by CCM leader Mark Brantley and would be a severe blow to NRP, (in the short term).

But what the suspension also means is that Stapleton-Simmonds will no longer sit in the Assembly as a representative under the banner of the NRP, because Leader Daniel-Hodge clearly stated that the disciplinary action suspends Stapleton-Simmonds from the institutions of the Party. If so suspended, she cannot speak for and on behalf of the Party, and cannot represent NRP, in or out of the Assembly. So, the Deputy is left with no choice but to be independent or become a part of the CCM.

There is no turning back. Too many egos have been bruised. Too many relationships have been destroyed. Trust has been dismantled, not only between the major players but also between other supporters and stalwarts of the organization.

The level of frustration is further escalated because of the pending election petition cases mounted by the NRP. These are scheduled for a hearing on 15th February. The suspension of the Deputy puts further pressure on NRP to win those cases.

A defeat in the court next week, with the judge deciding to strike out the claims of NRP’s Jaedee Caines and Dr. Patricia Bartlette, would be crushing and could set back the organization and demoralize supporters.

Many have asked the question, “Why couldn’t they find a solution?”

Some NRP members are reflecting on a time not too long ago.

Two and a half months ago NRP seemed to have been on the rise. Their new exuberance was occasioned by their increased successes at the local election held on Monday, 12th December, 2023. They won two seats. Previously they held only one.

Looking ahead, they were joyous about the prospects of having three members in the new Island Assembly, (two elected and one appointed senator).

Up to a few weeks ago, NRP was like the Phoenix, rising from the ashes, after a devasting 4-1 defeat in 2017, and after a 3-nil defeat at the federal elections in 2020 and again in 2022.

More precisely, NRP was energized over their victory in the Parish of St. James, resulting in the election of their Political Leader, Dr. Janice-Daniel-Hodge. It was a seat never won before in almost 40 years since the local Assembly was established. The victory toppled the powerful candidacy of Alexis Jeffers, the CCM Deputy Leader and Deputy Premier.

They also came close to victory in one other seat, (St. Paul), losing that battle by only 27 votes. Had they secured victory there, they would have formed the government.

However, had NRP formed the Administration, perhaps the chaos today would have been about who should be appointed Premier, rather than Opposition Leader.

The party was on a high, but all that has changed. It now seems to be in turmoil. But if so, the leader is confident that NRP has enough resiliency to regain the trust and support of the voters and to re-group as a united force. They have done it before under her leadership and would be working even harder, according to some supporters, to be a strong force in opposition.

The Party of Founding Leader, National Hero and First Premier, Dr. Simeon Daniel, appears to be in discord with itself. Instead of fighting a political battle with the ruling Concerned Citizens Movement, NRP leaders are fighting amongst themselves. They are in a battle for survival. It is a fight to avoid a massive implosion.

The suspension of Stapleton-Simmonds will not end the debacle. It has only transitioned the chaos into a new chapter of “no return” for some.

Obviously, the lack of compromise has triggered a series of political tremors that could setback NRP, in the short and possibly long term.

Not many things are certain about the future of the Party, but it seems almost certain that Stapleton-Simmonds’ future within NRP has come to an unfortunate end. It would be difficult to see her standing as a future NRP candidate.

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