COLUMN – The demise of Douglas

EVERSLEY FilesIn politics, as in every other sphere of human life, there is a time and season for everything. There is a time to win and a time to lose. A time to celebrate joyfully and a time to mourn in sorrow. A time to savour the comfort of government and a time to struggle in the wilderness of opposition. A time for knowing when to stick around and a time for knowing when to exit.

By ignoring this fundamental truth, so eloquently articulated by the writer of Ecclesiastes, Caribbean politicians, especially in leadership positions, are often the unwitting authors of their own humiliating demise. Power can sometimes give a misguided sense of indispensability, infallibility and invincibility.

As a result, a politician’s reading of reality can become so distorted that what he or she sees is not what the population is seeing.

Following last Monday’s controversial general election in St Kitts and Nevis, it is a time of joyful celebration for the new prime minister Dr Timothy Harris and his victorious Team Unity coalition. On the other hand, it is a time of great sorrow for former prime minister Dr Denzil Douglas and his vanquished St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP). Victorious in four consecutive general elections since 1995, the SKNLP had constituted the country’s government for the last 20 years.

The writing, however, had been on the wall for the SKNLP for some time. Over the years, its percentage of the national vote had declined steadily. The only big question, really, was what would have been the scale of its eventual defeat. For Douglas, the defeat represented a personal humiliation at the hands of Harris, a former protégé who, before he left the SKNLP amid differences with Douglas roughly two years ago, was clearly being groomed for future leadership.

It was an outcome Douglas could have easily avoided, had he chosen to bow out gracefully three years ago. Having carved a legacy for himself as an outstanding architect of the country’s modernization during an unprecedented four terms as prime minister, what else really did he have to prove?

Sad to say, here is another case of a Caribbean leader who misread the mood on the ground, only to be unceremoniously booted out of office because he failed to recognize his time was up.

If history teaches us a lesson in this regard, it is that it is always best for politicians to exit when the going is good and their ratings are still high. This way, voters for a long time will retain favourable memories of their tenure in office. For some strange reason, Caribbean politicians repeatedly make the mistake of failing
to recognize that voters are fickle human beings who can transform them, in the twinkling of an eye,
from adored hero to despised villain.

Has Douglas suffered this unfortunate fate? By not going earlier, he has definitely hurt his legacy as the adjectives used to describe him on social media in recent weeks attest. His legacy as an outstanding architect of modernization and the fact that he has left St Kitts and Nevis in better shape economically than most other Caribbean countries, are now overshadowed by the seemingly desperate autocratic and anti-democratic actions taken by his government particularly in the last two years.

In a show of contempt for the finest democratic traditions, there was, for example, the deliberate blocking of parliamentary debate on an opposition no-confidence motion. When such motions are brought against a government, they are usually heard and disposed of speedily. There was also the last-minute attempt, before the dissolution of Parliament, to pass into law constituency boundary changes that were clearly designed to give the SKNLP an advantage and frustrate the desire on the ground for change. A ruling by the London-based Privy Council, days before the election, blocked the move.

Ironically, Douglas began his tenure in 1995 as a staunch defender of democratic rights and freedoms which had come under threat during the turbulent final years of the People’s Action Movement (PAM) administration of former prime minister Dr Kennedy Simmonds. As opposition leader, Douglas had no access back then to national radio, and I remember, as director of news and current affairs at CANA, allowing him from time to time to express his views on CANA Radio. Alas, power has a strange way of causing history to be repeated.

The SKNLP fought this election in weaker shape than previously as a result of a split which saw the exodus of Harris and Sam Condor, Douglas’ former deputy prime minister. Under Douglas’ leadership, Harris, a 51-year-old economist, steadily rose up the ladder to the high-profile positions of party chairman, minister of finance, and minister of foreign affairs. These appointments clearly represented a vote of confidence
in Harris’ ability.

The split came after Douglas was reportedly told that the time had come for him to step aside in favour of Harris. Douglas took offence and, as the saying goes, all hell broke loose. Harris and Condor subsequently formed the People’s Labour Party (PLP). The Team Unity coalition comprises the PLP, the former PAM opposition, and the Nevis-based Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM).

At a personal level, therefore, Monday’s election was also an Armageddon battle between Douglas and Harris for political supremacy.

Had Douglas gone to the polls two years ago when the opposition was still fragmented, the chances of a SKNLP victory would have been better. By not doing so, he gave the opposition time to consolidate. Besides,
two years ago, a mindset of defeat had already taken hold within the SKNLP leadership.

This mindset was obvious at a meeting held one Sunday afternoon in September, 2013, in the Prime Minister’s Office. Victory always begins with a winning mindset. Psychologically, therefore, the SKNLP was defeated long ago. Monday’s election simply made it official.

What does the future hold for St Kitts and Nevis under Harris? Once the coalition holds together, there is good reason for optimism. Harris is an able politician. By emphasizing national unity, he has a really golden opportunity to heal the unnecessary divisions that make St Kitts and Nevis perhaps the most politically polarized country in the English-speaking Caribbean. National unity is the only viable basis for greater prosperity.

As for the SKNLP, a challenging rebuilding process lies ahead. In the party’s best interest, Douglas should take a back seat and allow a new leadership to emerge which can stamp its mark at the national level and start to reposition the party for an eventual comeback. Douglas’ season has definitively come to an end.

(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist. Email:

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