By Caribbean News Global contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts – St Kitts and Nevis’ prime minister, Dr Timothy Harris suffered a humiliating defeat in the St Kitts and Nevis National Assembly Friday, November 29. The champions of democracy prevail when the Bill entitled “The Constitution of St Christopher and Nevis (Tenure of Office of the Prime Minister) (Amendment) Bill, 2019, also classified as “the Denzil Douglas Bill,” similar to the “Fitzroy Bryant Clause” inserted in the 1983 Constitution by the People’s Action Movement (PAM) administration of Dr Kennedy Simmonds, failed to get the required two-thirds of the 11 elected members of parliament.
All seven government members of parliament voted for the measure. The four opposition members were not in their seats when the vote was taken. Eight votes were required for the Bill to pass.
“Honourable members, it would have required a minimum of eight elected members to have supported this Bill. Because seven would have voted (‘I’) and seven of you are less than two-thirds, like one member (Attorney General Byron) indicated earlier – it needs at least one part of a member to make it two-thirds, so it would have required at least one elected member from the opposition benches to have supported this Bill for it to pass,” said Speaker Michael Perkins following two days of debate.
If passed, the Bill would have limit a prime minister to two terms but made no mentioned of also limiting the tenure for a person holding the office of premier of Nevis, although the present holder is a Cabinet minister in the Federal government and sits on the Federal benches.
The opposition NextGen, St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) had already made its position clear that the legislation would need a special two-thirds majority of all elected legislators to pass and “given the balance of power in the current parliament, the bill has no prospect of being passed without support from the opposition.”
“This Bill, given its high constitutional significance and it being an attempt to make the very first amendment to our 1983 Constitution, would receive the support of the SKNLP if it is subjected to a referendum,” the opposition party said months ago.
“It is more appropriate to limit the tenure of the prime minister on the basis of the number of years served, say eight years, rather than on the basis of the number of terms served. The St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party is fully committed upon taking office after the next general election to subjecting the 1983 Constitution to a comprehensive review via referendum to, inter alia, limit the tenure of the prime minister,” said SKNLP.
Nationals of St Kitts and Nevis expressed their views following the humiliating defeat and needless embarrassment caused by prime minister, Dr Harris.
Curlyn Whyte said: “The opposition St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party and the Nevis Reformation (NRP) representatives not to vote on the Bill are “the ‘champions on behalf of the people’ – all the government members of parliament (MPs) appeared to be under Dr Harris spell as they launched what was an orchestrated attack on Dr Douglas and Konris (Maynard). The government MPs seemed to be setting up themselves for a Dr Harris dictatorship. The true champions of democracy and ‘Country Above Self’ were on the opposition benches.”
Attorney Jihan Williams while admitting she has no strong feelings on term limits for prime ministers and had not commented much on the topic is of the view that the issue “appeared to be a personality fueled constitutional amendment like what some describe as the ‘Bryant clause.’
“What was the urgency to bring that alone? There are more pressing constitutional and electoral amendments that would bring practical value to our electoral system such as having a determinable election date (e.g. 1st Friday before or after the 5th anniversary of the last election) with the option to have it earlier if the majority calls for it,” Williams posted on social media.
She also expressed the view that “Federal and local elections should be held at the same time to stop the constant campaign cycle” and suggested a requirement banning a Federal representative from running in local elections to prevent one person from having two “seats” needs to be considered as well.
“At the core of everything must be the will of the people and crafting a system that forces the most favoured political party to choose a Cabinet that is competent, focused and effective from the head to the tail,” said Williams, adding, “please ask the people what their will is before changing the constitution.”
Orngel Battice contends that while she is not for term limits ” I think a decision like this should not be left to parliament. Something like this should be decided by the people.”
“It is ridiculously petty and a short-sighted move. It is only historic in the astronomical level of sheer spite [behind it]. This act is just the current regime’s latest anti-Douglas attack, to try and limit his ability to rule the land. Their attacks on this lone gentleman have been so multiple that it is near pathetic what they continue to do,” Dr Morton said.
“We don’t need term-limits. We need an independent judiciary, electoral board, and security forces. If these organizations were managed by independent committees, we would have more confidence in the government,” said Johnathan Maynard.
Everton “Obi” Powell said Dr Harris presentation on the Term Limit Bill “proved that it was all about (leader of the opposition) Dr Douglas. He (Dr Harris) said absolutely nothing significant about the bill that could educate the students that attended parliament, or the population listening and viewing,” he said.
General elections in St Kitts and Nevis is expected in the first quarter of 2020.