Repairing St Kitts’ image
Denzil Douglas' gracious, though belated, concession may have shored up his bona fides as a democrat, committed to competitive politics and adherence to the decision of voters. "... Our governments," he said, "are chosen not by force, not by decree, not by the whim of any force, but by the will of the people".
Dr Douglas will appreciate that, despite those remarks, his own reputation, and that of the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP), which he will now lead from the opposition benches after two decades in government, will be in need of a fuller repair from any role they may have played in bringing their country's democracy close to disrepute and, possibly, civil conflict.
In this regard, Dr Douglas and his party should lead the efforts for a full and independent review, preferably led by experts from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), surrounding the delayed announcement of the outcome of Monday's general election, starting with the removal of the country's supervisor of elections, Wingrove George, whose performance, from this distance, seemed anything but competent. Independent observers have implied as much.
The tragedy is that the potential for controversy in Monday's election, and the need for independent election officials to guard against it, was obvious well ahead of time. Two of the top leaders of Team Unity, the opposition coalition that confronted the SKNLP, including the new prime minister, Timothy Harris, were former members of Labour and alumni of Dr Douglas' government, who fell out over economic policy. Further, only days before the election, the Privy Council ruled that voting was to be on the basis of the old rather than the newly promulgated constituency boundaries, using the voters' registers that were in place up to November. Campaigning was bitter.
In the circumstances, it is inexplicable why, with only 11 constituencies and 36,000 electors for the unicameral legislature, it took nearly 24 hours after the vote, and the outcry of several regional leaders, including CARICOM's chairman, the Bahamian prime minister, Perry Christie, for the result to be announced - and even then, without specific ballot figures. Mr George's statement about attempts at certitude in the face of potential challenges, to us, rings hollow. It belies St Kitts and Nevis' experience in running elections and an appreciation of the right of challenge in the courts.
Douglas Should have inteRvened early
It would have burnished his moral authority and prestige, and spared the reputation of the country, if Dr Douglas had intervened early with a concession speech of the quality of the one he delivered Tuesday evening. However, CARICOM's stance, via its election monitors and the statements by its chairman and other leaders, not only added pressure on the authorities in Basseterre, but would have further marked the community as a region of democracy to which members must subscribe.
We now look forward to a smooth transition of power in St Kitts and a pursuance of sensible policies by the new administration that maintain the strong reforms of the previous administration, under a programme with the International Monetary Fund that halved the country's debt-to-GDP ratio from nearly 200 per cent and turned a fiscal deficit of nearly eight per cent of GDP to a surplus of over 12 per cent. It is to be seen if Prime Minister Harris will overturn the land-for-debt initiative and roll-back of the value-added tax that helped deliver these results.