I SHARE the following thoughts on the two-year election which was eventually held on Monday 16 February 2015.
Political tribalism is still as bad as it ever was in St. Kitts and Nevis, as evidenced by the vicious nature of the election campaign and by the ruthless machinations of the electoral process. The atrocious and disgusting misbehaviour of the Supervisor of Elections (who should never hold any public office again) and of those who conspired with him or allowed him to frustrate the announcement of results and the swearing in of the new government, is further evidence of the potentially destructive effect of the tribalism. The tribalism has continued in the behaviour of some diehards on both sides since the election. We must put an end to that blight and to the win at all costs mentality.
There is hope that, with the increasing number of parties and the greater tendency towards alliances, which is healthy for a democracy, the tribalism will decrease and be replaced by issue based politics. Hopefully, the truly enlightened among our young people have observed and appreciate the need for a change of culture.
While our system gives the winner all the spoils, the winner must remember that the country belongs to all not just its supporters. It ignores that fact at its peril.
There is a glaring need for laws to govern the transition from one government to another since some of those who control the process have no regard for conventional conduct. Government officials in other countries make the transition smoothly by showing a little respect for the country and by acting with maturity.
We are desperately in need of a full review of the constitution. The constitution was in too many respects ill conceived for the benefit of the ruling political parties at the time. It has taken a long time but all parties now seem to be agreed that serious constitutional review is required. The review should be initiated post haste. The new government will not be allowed to sleep on this.
We have seen first hand that the rule of law can be overcome by the rule of man if the people are not vigilant. There are many steps which can be taken to deter that in the future. One should be taken immediately and that is a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on the Prime Minister. The new government has pledged to take that action and it has the parliamentary majority to do so. That should be the first order of its business. It should be followed by new systems of transparency and accountability in governance including Integrity in Public Life legislation. The last government passed an Integrity in Public Life Act but never brought it into force. There are serious weaknesses in that legislation which needs to be re-opened and carefully reviewed.
The kind of money that was spent on the last election campaign is obscene. The country will never know all who gave the tens of millions nor what the donors were promised in return. We badly need campaign finance legislation so that we may know those things in future. Political parties should be required to have separate bank accounts in local banks for the purpose and to pass all campaign donations through those accounts. Those accounts should be open to scrutiny. Elections should not be bought and sold like diplomatic passports.
That spending was intended to and has worsened the dependency syndrome or entitlements mentality on which Dr. Douglas thrived. That mentality has become endemic. Our country cannot afford it and must wean itself off that mentality.
The electoral system is rotten to the core and needs a complete overhaul. Included in that overhaul should be a review of the system of overseas voters. The period of residence to qualify citizens of Commonwealth countries to vote should be increased from one year to five.
The appointment of key officials in the electoral system based on party loyalty is dangerous. The system should be totally detached from the Prime Minister and placed, as provided by the constitution, under the control of the Electoral Commission with a separate budget and infrastructure and transparent processes. This can be done by legislation.
Our system is heavily dependent on an independent and impartial Governor General who stands above the party politics. We must find ways of achieving that.
What a fine line there can be between order and chaos when social tensions are high.
The CARICOM Prime Ministers were missing in action for the 26 months up to the morning of 17th February 2015 when (better late than never) they found their conscience and their voice. Many think that the four Prime Ministers who told Dr. Douglas to simmer down and to behave himself had a positive influence in prompting his gracious concession address. And in their reaction they stirred up the Caribbean people who realize that they too are all affected by what happens in politics here and by the bad name that St. Kitts and Nevis has earned. As was said in an article in the Trinidad Express last weekend the Caribbean people will continue to keep a close eye on what happens here. We owe the region a duty to show that we are capable of political maturity and have no desire to become a banana republic.
Despite all these weaknesses, enough of our people favour and respect democracy for us to build on and improve the tenuous system we have established.
I cannot but note the extent to which so many people seem to take as gospel what they read on social media and how dangerous that can be. Social media is abused to create confusion and to disseminate spin, distortion and propaganda. When combined with the idleness offered by the holidays after the election and the tension caused by the deliberate frustration of the process, social media facilitated speculation and gossip with the potential for unrest.
Crime raised its ugly head on election day with a murder in Conaree, unconnected with the election, we are told, but close enough to a polling station to remind us that St. Kitts and Nevis is still among the murder capitals of the world.
Free speech is alive and well but the abuse of the government media as a propaganda arm of the ruling party should end. This was worse than ever despite the clear ruling of the Courts that the opposition is entitled to reasonable access to government owned media. That law must be given full effect by the new government.
The conduct of government officials on the night of the election and in the days leading up to the swearing in of the new government has further tarnished the good name of our country already reeling as it is from the passports scandal. The good name of the country as an orderly and responsible democracy can and must be quickly restored.
Our judiciary discharged its constitutional duty as an independent branch of government. That system should be even further strengthened by the establishment of a specialized constitutional and administrative law division. Our country should be prepared to contribute financially to that.
While I am on the subject of the courts, I cannot but observe that Dr. Douglas does not take kindly to the Privy Council decision in the boundaries appeal because he says the Law Lords are not in touch with the wishes of the St. Kitts people. The Privy Council are not pollsters. They are a court of law, with worldwide respect, who interpret the constitution and the law without fear or favour and without being beholden to anyone. Elections determine the wishes of the people. If Dr. Douglas didn’t like the Privy Council he had an opportunity for fourteen years to move from the Privy Council to the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final court but never did so. He seems to have a problem with all the final courts.
Finally and sadly, it will obviously take some time for the current government side to learn the lessons of the election. The cry for revenge must give way to responsible behaviour as befits the name of the winning alliance. One unfortunate example is a threat made by a government supporter to an employee of WinFm to report the employee to the Board for letting Dr. Douglas speak on the station. As a founder of WinnFm I say publicly that WinnFm was established to promote free speech and will never be cowed by misguided people, however powerful, of any political colour. The station is open to all who are prepared to speak within the law. It was available to the Opposition before February 16th and will be available to the new Opposition.
By Charles Wilkin Q.C.