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Strategy One… Avoid a Meeting of Parliament?

The prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis is therefore not alone in the annals of political history, where leaders have tried all means possible, to remain in office. Nor is such a motion new to the Caribbean. Just recently similar motions were tabled in Antigua and Trinidad. Both governments remained.

It is now well-known that a Resolution of No Confidence was expected to be introduced in the National Assembly of St. Kitts & Nevis, today 11th December, 2012. However the government has opted not to convene the meeting of the House, thereby denying the parliamentarians the opportunity to show their support, for, or against, the prime minister, primarily.

The move to have elected parliamentarians debate and then decide on the fate of the government was essentially motivated by a loss of trust and confidence in Dr. Douglas’ ability to govern the state in a manner void of the fiscal mismanagement that has created a 3 Billion dollar debt and landed the country, for the first time, in an International Monetary Fund austerity program. Some of the measures of the program have led to increases in government taxes, fees, and other levies. It has also seen hundreds of workers losing their jobs; both from the public and private sectors; but in every case, the cause presented has trailed back to the poor state of the St. Kitts and Nevis economy.

Opposition members are also accusing the prime minister of destroying the public sector, displaying unruly parliamentary behaviour and unruly extra parliamentary behaviour and even threatening to sell a fellow national, according to the papers filed to bring the motion to parliament.

Despite the best efforts of the opposition parties however, the prime minister has been employing every means necessary to avoid having the motion reach the floors of the parliament for debate and vote. It appears as that he has good reason, or is fearful to do so. He is very convinced that the four elected members of the opposition, Mark Brantley and Vance Amory from the CCM and Shawn Richards and Eugene Hamilton, from PAM, will be supported by government MPs Sam Condor and Dr. Timothy Harris, in voting to end almost two decades of his rule as prime minister. Sources have indicated that his fears are well placed.

Since the address on Monday night by the prime minister, has interviewed a number of people, some who once served in government and others who said they once supported the government and those who claimed to be backers of the opposition.

If anyone is surprised that tactics will be used to delay parliament, said one man who describes himself as a former Labour supporter, they ought not to be; because the prime has repeatedly stated, especially in his recent addresses, that he intends to do “everything” in his power, to avoid defeat by the pending motion.

According to the former supporter, Douglas has already shown that his first move is to avoid meetings of the Assembly; thereby delaying the introduction of any motion against him and his Administration. On Friday 7th December, the reason for no parliament was blamed on the sickness of the Speaker; today Tuesday 11th December, the reason advanced is the inability of two Cabinet members to attend Cabinet meetings to share their views on the 2013 budget.

The section of the prime minister’s address last night that caught the attention of an ardent PAM supporter is found in the following paragraph, “I wish to stress that all Cabinet members, save two, were present at today’s pre-Budget Cabinet meeting. And all who attended have made clear their complete support for the Government’s 2013 Budget. Please be advised that once all Cabinet members are able to meet as one body, without any absence, in order to clarify each Member’s position on our Government’s 2013 Budget, a new date will be announced for my Government’s Budget Presentation, without delay.”

In other words, commented our source, there will be no budget debate unless those two Cabinet members, (of whom the prime minister spoke), meet with him and fellow Cabinet colleagues, to discuss the budget and state if they are willing to support it or not. Does this mean that if Condor and Harris, (the two Cabinet members spoken of), never meet as requested, there would not be a new date for the budget meeting in parliament? At least this was the query of the source who admitted to be a supporter of the opposition.

This perhaps is a fair assessment, because of the wording in the prime minister’s address, which was very specific: “…once all Cabinet members are able to meet as one body, without any absence, in order to clarify each Member’s position on our Government’s 2013 Budget, a new date will be announced for my Government’s Budget Presentation, without delay.” 

The long reign of Dr. Douglas started in 1995 and it has therefore been just over 17 years since the Labour leader has been dominating the politics of the country; winning four consecutive elections; albeit not without charges by the opposition of voter fraud, intimidation and abuse of the electoral system.

However, as our source reminded, the previous Labour Administrations of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, also had a long run, but the end of their supremacy also came when the then Premier, Sir Lee L Moore, took the decision, after a 1979 by-election, to close the House of Assembly and not convene any meetings for almost one year.

Premier Robert Bradshaw had died in May 1978, leaving his Central Basseterre seat vacant. Bradshaw was replaced as premier by C A Paul Southwell, but he too died suddenly in 1979, thereby creating the opportunity for Lee Moore to enter as the new premier. PAM agreed to have Michael Powell switch as the candidate for that constituency, (to East Basseterre), to allow his leader, Dr. Kennedy Simmonds, (now Sir Kennedy), to run against the Labour candidate Anthony Ribeiro. The by-election was held in January, 1979. After the first declaration, Ribeiro was announced as the winner by 13 votes, though there were 92 rejected or spoilt ballots that PAM contended should have been mostly given to their candidate. They took the matter to court.

The court decided, after a recount of the votes, that the election was won by Dr. Simmonds, by 22 votes. Ribeiro appealed but the higher court upheld that Simmonds was the winner and the first PAM candidate to be elected to the House “in St. Kitts”. Simmonds however never made it to parliament. He was never sworn in. PAM accused the Labour Government of deliberately avoiding a meeting of the House of Assembly, simply to prevent Simmonds from officially taking his seat, and no doubt becoming Opposition Leader.

To this day many are of the view that this decision caused, or at least helped, the demise of the Labour Administration. Instead of a meeting to swear in Simmonds, Lee Moore opted to call General Elections, some 10 months early, in February, 1980, resulting in PAM winning 3 seats, Labour 4 and NRP in Nevis, 2. Both NRP and PAM formed a coalition government with their combined five seats, against Labour’s four.

Some are now wondering if 32 years after, (2012), if there are parallels to be drawn in what happened in 1980 and the current stalemate with the government’s actions to postpone the meetings of the National Assembly. This time though, PAM is fancying its chances to form a coalition, it necessary, with CCM. Labour and NRP are currently in a coalition of some sort, with NRP’s Patrice Nisbett serving in the Douglas Cabinet, as Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs & Justice.

According to one PAM activist, this is simply the first strategy by the prime minister, to avoid a meeting of the Assembly and to delay any motion of no confidence vote against him.

As far as Dr. Douglas is concerned though, the people voted in 2010 for a Labour Administration, and he has a duty to protect that. He said he also believes that the motion against him is designed to harm the economy and he has a duty to prevent that from happening.


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