Those times when silence is never golden
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
–– Lord Acton, British historian, politician and writer.
The battle for the seat of power in the twin-island Federation of St Kitts/Nevis between the St Kitts/Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) and Team Unity, an amalgam of three opposition parties, has thrown up nothing short of intrigue at every turn. So much so, that the dramatic culmination of yesterday’s general election was not prior out of the realm of possibility –– though unprecedented in Caribbean politics.
That Supervisor of Elections Wingrove George would declare he would not deliver the preliminary results from the initial count of the ballots after the conduct of the poll, deemed generally incident-free and fair by officials, was way beyond what any right-thinking member of a society should be prepared to accept.
We aver it was even more out of place coming after the failure of the House Speaker to allow debate on the opposition no-confidence motion filed since December, 2012, which has remained a sore point.
Add to that the recent controversial moves by then Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas to have the electoral boundaries altered, which was initially approved by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, but quashed by the London-based Privy Council, the nation’s final court, mere days before the general election.
The action of the supervisor of elections was rightly assessed by St Vincent’s Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves: that “it would have led to unnecessary political certainty”.
Added the Caribbean leader: “It is not acceptable for the office of the supervisor of elections to abdicate its legal and customary obligations or responsibilities.”
Mr George would later explain that his “delay” in announcing the results was to ensure he delivered results that would not have to corrected.
“So even though it might be long, it is not unlawful; it is not illegal; and they would not go wrong in taking their time to do what they have to do.
“Like I said this morning, there were certain processes to go through. We had challenges, we had reviews; and it would have been very unprofessional of me, as supervisor of elections, to go and make announcements while the whole process will be revisited. Because if anything was to take a different turn, I would have had to be updating and retracting statements.”
His explanation was delivered without specific results. Certainly, the people of St Kitts/Nevis who rightfully exercised their franchise deserved better. Mr George’s decision to announce the results almost 24 hours after the count lays a strong case for investigation into the conduct of his office.
Furthermore, it was hard to ignore the sense of disappointment of long-serving Prime Minister Douglas and his loud silence for most of those critical hours after the election –– no less than SKNLP deputy chairman Nigel Carty’s efforts to assure the population the party was equally anxious for the supervisor of elections to declare the results, and allow the country to move on.
It was rightfully the job of the still duly elected prime minister to speak to the people.
The political accomplishments of Dr Douglas, who led the nation for four successive five-year terms are well documented; but untidy matters like this, which have dotted his track record in recent months, have the potential of tarnishing his legacy. He may now need all the luck he can get with our political commentators and historians.
The situation in Basseterre was not a proud moment for our Caribbean, which has been upheld as a model for democracy, based on its history of free and fair elections and promptly announced results.
The voices of heads of the Caribbean Community, including the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, being heard today on this outcome would have been much preferred to the speechlessness with which we served from the very first day of Parliament’s failure to debate that no-confidence motion.
The situation did however highlight an issue raised by political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham, who suggested the case of St Kitts/Nevis held a lesson for Caribbean leaders.
Said he: “. . . They need to serve, do their time, and move on.”
Our region has politely ignored the matter of term limits for Caribbean leaders. Now is the time to reopen the conversation on how long is too long.
But, back to the long awaited results. Team Unity will form the next government of St Kitts/Nevis. We welcome the new administration and urge Dr Timothy Harris, who is expected to be the new prime minister, to quickly settle down to the task of reuniting the people of the federation and restoring that deep faith in our regional democracy.