The constitution of St. Kitts and Nevis states in Section 52 (2) “Whenever the Governor-General has occasion to appoint a Prime Minister he shall appoint a representative who appears to him likely to command the support of the majority of the Representatives.”
In a letter sent to Governor General Sir Edmund Lawrence on Thursday, 13th February, 2014, six (6) of the eleven (11) elected representatives in the parliament of the twin-island state, reconfirmed that they do not support Dr. Denzil Douglas as the person who should be holding the office as Prime Minister, and instead they have placed that trust and confidence in another elected representative, Dr. Timothy Harris.
Speaking at a press conference held at the Ocean Terrace Inn on Thursday, (13th February), leader of the main opposition party in the country, and Member of Parliament, Shawn Richards of the People’s Action Movement, (PAM), informed the nation that the six representatives who actually constitute a majority in the parliament, formally wrote to Governor General Lawrence that same day and “In our letter we indicated to him that we the elected members of the National Assembly, namely, the Honourable Mark Brantley, the Honourable Vance Amory, the Honourable Sam Condor, the Honourable Eugene Hamilton, and myself, the Honourable Shawn Richards, are in support of Dr. The Honourable Timothy Harris to be Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis”
Richards explained that the result of this letter is that Dr. Douglas does not command the support of the majority of representatives as required by Section 52 (2) of the constitution of St. Kitts and Nevis.
He went further to point out that the principle of majority rule and source of prime-ministerial capacity and power have been well document in an important ruling made by Justice Darshan Ramdhani of the Eastern Caribbean High Court, on Wednesday, 12th February, 2014, in a matter that the opposition had taken to court, to help force the Speaker of the National Assembly, Curtis Martin, to place a Motion of No Confidence Motion on the Order Paper, so that the elected parliamentarians can debate and vote on the issue.
Since 11th December, 2012, however, Speaker Martin has not allowed this to take place.
In his historic ruling on Wednesday, Justice Ramdhani spoke at length about the circumstances that should guide the Governor General when appointing a Prime Minister.
He said, “The St. Kitts and Nevis Constitution establishes a constitutional democracy defined by an effective representative government elected by free, fair and periodic elections. In this constitutional structure, the executive authority of government is vested in Her Majesty, but is for all practical purposes exercised by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Constitution expressly provides that the appointment of the Prime Minister is informed by the majority of elected member(s) of the Assembly, and expressly clothes him with considerable executive authority giving him inter alia, the power of appointment and dismissal of all members of the Cabinet, and what business of the Government, if any, each member of his Cabinet should be given. Under this system of Government, the term of Prime Minister and his Cabinet is only validated by the support of a majority of the elected members of the Assembly; it is the mandate of the people, through the elected representatives that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet is given the right of government.”
It is the last sentence above, directly from Justice Ramdhani’s ruling that is most damaging to the current Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas and his Cabinet, that is comprised of only five of the eleven elected representatives. This essentially is the reason why the majority or 6 elected members of the opposition, argue so strenuously that Dr. Douglas is an illegitimate Prime Minister and that his Government is illegal. The judge’s ruling is therefore basically saying that since Dr. Douglas no longer has the support of the majority, his right to be prime minister is not validated and that he and his government have no right to govern.
Richards was being optimistic when he said “We expect that the Governor General will be guided by the rule of law and the constitution and take appropriate action.” However, Prime Minister Douglas has already made it clear to the country since December 2012 that he intends to do all within his power to prevent his government from falling. And it was only a few weeks ago on 25th January that he stated in rather defiant terms, that there will be no future government in St. Kitts and Nevis that does not include his St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party.
Richards, who, along with his party, has already agreed to give way to Timothy Harris to serve as Prime Minister, also told the media on Thursday that “The court has ruled and the people deserve action now. We ask that the Speaker bring the Motion of No Confidence before parliament without delay. If he chooses not to, we will formally ask the Governor General to preserve the people’s democratic right to summon parliament. It is in the purview of the Governor General to do so.”
Judge Ramdhani also spoke in strong terms about the motion, saying:
“By a number of expressed provisions, the Constitution expressly stipulate(s) that if a majority of the elected Representatives vote in favour of a Motion of No Confidence in the government, a Prime Minister and his Government will cease to have the right to govern. The Constitution expressly not only provides that on such vote the Prime Minister is to either resign or else parliament is dissolved, but it also express(es) an urgency that should follow such a vote of no confidence.”
“It would therefore make nonsense of these provisions if a majority of members of the elected representatives may have lost confidence in the Government, and being ready and willing to vote on such a motion have requested that such a motion be placed on the Order Paper, but no steps are being taken to have such a motion debated and voted on within a reasonable time as a matter of priority. There is accordingly to be derived from the text, structure and context of the St. Kitts and Nevis Constitution, an implied substantive and procedural right in section 52 (6) that each and every member of the National Assembly is entitled to request that a motion of no confidence be placed before the Assembly, and that such a motion must be accorded priority over other business by being scheduled, debated and voted on within a reasonable time given the programme of the Assembly.”
With that pronouncement by the High Court judge, Shawn Richards was inspired to boldly state at the press conference, “Yesterday (Wednesday) was another victory for democracy and for the people of St. Kitts and Nevis.”
He added that “Today the people of this country are one step closer to electing a unity government that will focus exclusively on their progress and their prosperity; a government that will focus on a jobs and an economy turnaround plan; bringing down electricity rates; bringing down the Value Added Tax; cutting health care costs; providing free pre-school education for our children; ending corruption and cronyism and; improving the image of our country abroad.”
The coalition of opposition parties that supports Dr. Harris to be the next prime minister is comprised of the People’s Action Movement, the Concerned Citizens Movement and the People’s Labour Party. Other members of this coalition, which is called Team Unity, were also present at the press conference, including Dr. Timothy Harris.