PM Douglas says existing Constituencies “are incredibly lopsided”
Basseterre, St. Kitts (CUOPM) — With the next general elections constitutionally due early 2015, St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister the Right Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas says democracy depends on elections and if the process is to be free and fair and free from fear, the electoral boundaries must be changed in accordance with the constitution.
Speaking during his weekly radio programme “Ask the Prime Minister” on Tuesday, the St. Kitts and Nevis leader said the Government must ensure that elections are indeed fair, and in order to ensure that after the elections, all elected officials will have responsibilities that are as fairly distributed as possible, all 11 constituencies must have the number of inhabitants as close to equal as possible.
“We’ve been doing this not only because fairness demands it, but because the Constitution does as well. And we have done our work, as the Constitution demands, with the full involvement of the Opposition, every step of the way,” Dr. Douglas told listeners.
He said that the Constituencies as they exist today are incredibly lopsided and that those who are seeking elected office have vastly unequal constituencies in which to canvass.
“And then, after they have been actually elected, they end up with vastly unequal constituencies that they must serve. This is not good for either candidates before the elections, or for representatives – once the elections are over. And it isn’t very good for the Federation, as a whole, either,” said the Prime Minister, who has responsibility for elections.
He pointed to real situations where Nevis 10 has just over 2,000 voters, but Nevis 9 has over 5,000.
“How can this be good for the candidates, the representatives, or the people of Nevis? St. Kitts 5 has about 2,500 voters. But St. Kitts 8 has more than 6,000. Does anyone really think that this is alright? Clearly, this needs to be fixed,” said Dr. Douglas, who is of the view that the Constitution demands it and international and regional elections observers have urged it.
He recalled an earlier attempt before the 2010 elections to fix the problem but the opposition took the matter to court to stop it from happening.
Prime Minister Douglas noted that the latest attempt, long before the Constitutionally-mandated 2015 elections began in 2012.
“We began working in earnest to do whatever would be required to fix the Federation’s boundaries. And we did this, as I’ve said, in cooperation with the Opposition – as required by the Constitution. As a matter of fact, in order to ensure that this process would go smoothly, for the good of the entire Federation, we began working with the Opposition on this, not this year, not last year, but well in advance the Constitutionally mandated 2015 deadline for elections,” Dr. Douglas told listeners, pointing out that there was full cooperation during the exercise between the five-person commission appointed in accordance with the 1983 Constitution.
“There was never any disagreement during the process. There were no boycott by the Opposition. There were no complaints about the process. Opposition and Government representatives on the Commission alike agreed that these boundaries had to be changed, and that they had to be changed now. Indeed, four of the five members of the Boundaries Commission, as everyone knows, signed the Report,” said Prime Minister Douglas.
He pointed out that 80% support on any measure is an outstanding measure of its legitimacy anywhere in the world and that a four-out-of-five on any measure, anywhere is not only a compelling majority, but an overwhelming majority, especially in the case of the Boundaries Commission Report, which the Premier of Nevis himself, the Hon. Vance Amory, as one a highly senior Opposition representative on the Commission, signed.
But Dr. Douglas pointed out that with all the hard work and with four of the five, including a member appointed by the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Mark Brantley, the Report is still being challenged in the Court to stop the Governor general from giving assent to the boundary changes, which have been approved by a majority of lawmakers in the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly.
“The Opposition has since decided to throw a monkey-wrench into the process. They have decided that despite the requirements of the Constitution, despite the urgings of international observers, despite the four-out-of-five signoff for the report, despite the need of Kittitians and Nevisians to have equal representation, it might be good for them to uses boundary changes as a divisive political issue. And so, that is what they have decided to do,” said Prime Minister Douglas.
The five members are: Hon. Dr. Earl Asim Martin and Hon. Marcella Liburd, appointed by His Excellency the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas; the Hon. Vance Amory and Sen. the Hon. Vincent Byron Jr., appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Mark Brantley and the Chairman, Mr. Peter Jenkins, appointed by the Governor General following consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. All the members, except Mr. Byron signed the Report, which was passed in the National Assembly.
The high court has set a date next month to hear the matter.