Saint Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain in 1983 but remains a member of the Commonwealth. Denzil Douglas of the ruling Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) has been prime minister since 1995. In the 2002 elections, the SKNLP won all eight Saint Kitts seats in the National Assembly, shutting out the opposition People’s Action Movement (PAM). In early elections held in 2004, the SKNLP captured seven Saint Kitts seats, and the PAM took one seat. The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), a pro-independence party, retained two of Nevis’s three parliamentary seats, while the third was captured by the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP).
The most recent parliamentary elections took place in January 2010 despite multiple challenges from the PAM over an SKNLP attempt to redraw district lines shortly before the election and allegations that the SKNP padded votes and registered voters outside their legal districts. These were also the first elections to take place under a new electoral law that had created a voter identification system requiring all existing voters to reregister. International monitors found the elections to be generally free and fair, but noted that several important issues, including campaign finance, media access, and civil society participation, had not been addressed in the reformed electoral law and thus required improvements. Douglas won a fourth term as prime minister as the SKNLP won six seats while the PAM gained an additional Saint Kitts seat for a total of two. The CCM and NRP retained two and one Nevis seats, respectively.
Since the 2010 election, the Douglas administration has been focused on economic development, the reduction of public debt, and crime prevention. In 2011, Saint Kitts successfully met International Monetary Fund targets for debt reduction.
In July 2011 elections for the Nevis Island Assembly, the NRP captured three seats, and the CCM took two seats. The CCM challenged the results in the second constituency, where it lost the seat by 14 votes and alleged the unlawful disenfranchisement of over 200 voters who they said were purged from the rolls two days before the election. Despite considering the overall election free and fair, observers from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) documented irregularities and voiced concern over the expunging of voters from registration lists. A court hearing in the British Virgin Island courts was set for January 2012.
POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES:
Saint Kitts and Nevis is an electoral democracy. The federal government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the unicameral National Assembly. A governor-general represents Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as ceremonial head of state. Elected National Assembly members—eight from Saint Kitts and three from Nevis—serve five-year terms. Senators are appointed to the body, and their number may not exceed two-thirds of the elected members, with one chosen by the leader of the parliamentary opposition for every two chosen by the prime minister.
Saint Kitts’s main political parties are the SKNLP and the PAM. On Nevis, the two main parties are the CCM and the NRP. The Nevis Island Assembly is composed of five elected and three appointed members, and the local government pays for all of its own services except for those involving police and foreign relations. Saint Kitts has no similar body.
The constitution grants Nevis the option to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators in Nevis’s assembly and two-thirds of Nevisian referendum voters approve. Though a 1998 referendum on independence failed, Nevisians continue to feel neglected by the central government.
Saint Kitts and Nevis has generally implemented its anticorruption laws effectively, though government officials are not required to disclose financial assets.
Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. The sole local television station is owned by the government, but managed by a Trinidadian company. There are some restrictions on opposition access to the medium. In September 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor alleged that he was denied access to the local television station when he tried to make a statement about a cabinet reshuffle that lost him control of the police and defense forces. The country has 15 radio stations, which are operated by state and private broadcasters; there is one weekly newspaper, and one daily, both of which are privately-owned. Internet access is not restricted.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected, and academic freedom is generally honored.
The right to form civic organizations is generally respected, as is freedom of assembly. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice. The main labor union, the Saint Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated with the ruling SKNLP. An estimated 10 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is largely independent, and legal provisions for a fair and speedy trial are generally observed. The highest court is the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on Saint Lucia, but under certain circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice. Additionally, an appeal may be made to the Privy Council in Britain.
The islands’ traditionally strong rule of law continues to be tested by the prevalence of drug-related crime and corruption. The intimidation of witnesses and jurors also remains a problem. In 2011, the murder rate in Saint Kitts rose 55 percent over its 2010 level, prompting the Denzil Douglas administration to reshuffle its cabinet and create a special stop-and-search police unit known as the Delta Squad. The administration reported that crime had dropped by 48 percent from August to September, and an additional 23 percent from September to October. The national prison is overcrowded, housing over 270 prisoners in a space intended for 150.
While domestic violence was criminalized in 2000, violence against women remains a problem, and there are no laws against sexual harassment or spousal rape. Legislation passed in 2008 increased the age of consent for sexual activity from 16 to 18. Only one woman serves in the National Assembly.