By Caribbean News Global contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts – Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Dr Timothy Harris does not have the support of most citizens and neither should he seek to disenfranchise nationals whose names are on the current register of voters.
“Dr Harris does not have the mandate on whether or not to preserve the right of our overseas nationals to vote,” Opposition leader Dr Douglas said during a press conference last week. “In fact, since the Team Unity construct did not win the popular vote, they did not receive any mandate to introduce any change to the current approach. Dr Harris never consulted with the people of St Kitts and Nevis to obtain their views and ideas. He has his own agenda and he is trying to impose his idea on the people of St Kitts and Nevis,” Dr Douglas said.
Outlining the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) position on the issue Dr Douglas said that “on this critical constitutional issue this is a matter that should be left for the people of St Kitts and Nevis to decide (via a referendum).
“For us, our overseas nationals are not just voters; they are an essential part of the citizenry and body politic of St Kitts and Nevis. Our diaspora will play an integral role in the implementation of our NextGen SKN vision. Given the small size of our population resident here in St Kitts and Nevis, the success of our NextGen SKN agenda for progress will rely on how successful we are in the active engagement of our diaspora for both community and national development.
“We need our diaspora. We need their resources, their talent, their contacts, their ideas, their creativity, and their technology to contribute to making our vision a success and to make our communities and our nation forward. In the new NextGen economy, they are a critical market including as networkers, investors, co-creators and promoters,” Dr Douglas said.
He told reporters and the nation that nationals of St Kitts and Nevis who live overseas “are far more than just a vote.”
“They are essential to the very viability of our nation to survive and thrive in the present competitive global environment. This is why we are saying that any decision aimed at rationalizing the ability of our overseas nationals to participate in the political process and vote here in St Kitts and Nevis should be left to a referendum,” Dr Douglas said.
In sharp contrast to the prime minister’s ridicule of the very notion of a referendum, Dr Douglas considers referendums to be the highest form of democratic representation that gives a true reflection of the will of the people.
“No one can argue with that. A parliamentary decree is not more democratic than a referendum – this could never be. It is important for us to consult with the people not just about whether citizens are resident abroad, should continue to vote, but about the best method that would allow us as a nation to benefit from their engagement,” Dr Douglas explained.
“Introducing a residency requirement is not the only solution to solving the critical issue of the imbalance of the size of our resident population versus the size of our diaspora. For instance, one of the innovative ideas that we have been considering in our party is the possibility of making a constituency of the diaspora and having each party field a candidate who will become their representative in parliament.
“Such a person would become the minister for diaspora affairs among other things that will properly institutionalise diaspora engagement as part of our social, political and economic policymaking, as we take our great country into the future. Under the former labour administration, we had already begun to move in that direction when we established the regional integration and diaspora unit back in 2011 and created the post of director of diaspora affairs as a diplomatic post,” Dr Douglas stated.
Dr Douglas made it clear that a new NEXTGEN SKN labour administration will make such a proposal one of the options to be considered by citizens that would be decided upon by a referendum.
“A referendum that provides various options for the people will resolve this issue once and for all and at the end of the day whatever new form our politics takes would have been decided by the people.”
“This is the way it should be if we say that we are committed to the principles of democracy and fairness and if we are serious about engaging our diaspora,” he said.
“I want our overseas nationals to know that the NextGen SKN labour party has a plan that will preserve your right to engage in the politics of this country and vote, and we will resist any attempt by prime minister Harris to foist any unilateral changes upon the people of this country when you have not a mandate so to do,” Douglas said.