by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – In the continuing discussion of the impasse in the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) in electing a Leader of the opposition, people are still weighing in on the debate of going with party decisions or not.
A former politician pointed out what could have been a troubling precedent publicly set had the Leader of NRP, Dr. Janice Daniel-Hodge, agreed to the demands made of her by colleague Cleone Stapleton-Simmonds.
“I am of the view that as the political leader of the NRP, Dr. Janice Daniel-Hodge did the right thing, however difficult, in not acceding to the demands made of her by her colleague. Had she given into insubordination, then who knows what demands might be made of her in the future? Five years from now, for instance, if NRP were to win the next election and form the government. Elected candidates might just start to demand their preferred portfolios and maybe, just maybe, a candidate might want to hold the party to ransom if he or she is not installed as Premier.” – Roy Fleming, a former political candidate for the People Action Movement, on the February 17 broadcast of issues.
Fleming continued, “Can we all imagine if, after every election, elected candidates of the winning party behave in a manner similar to that of the Hon. Stapleton-Simmonds; there would be political mayhem, chaos, confusion. Therefore, as it relates to how political parties function and say that the status quo must remain in place to ensure political stability after each election.”
Regional Political Analyst and pollster Peter Wickham agreed with Flemming that Dr Daniel-Hodge should refrain from allowing for the demands of Stapleton-Simmonds to be met during a conversation about the issue on WINN’s Island Tea on February 20.
“To not attend to adhere to that level of party discipline… Honestly, Dr Hodge would be opening a can of worms where she would be encouraging all kinds of things to happen, so I agree with him.”
Stapleton-Simmonds said, in a national address, that she will use all legal avenues available to her as she fights against what she called being “bullied” to go along with officially supporting Dr. Janice Daniel Hodge as the Leader of the Opposition.
Disciplinary action is still pending from the rank and file in the NRP concerning Stapleton-Simmonds and the impasse.
On the other hand, Wickham explained that the problem is constitutional, arguing that the law of the land is still subject to the interpretation of man.
“The interpretation of these matters, constitutionally, is subject to the views and opinions of people and in instances where it is not tested in the court – essentially you have analysts, you have lawyers, you have [people] offering and expressing opinions on what they believe the interpretation should be. I believe it is a misunderstanding of [how] our constitutions in the Caribbean and including St. Kitts and Nevis, works… I do not believe that the Governor-General needs any letter. I think the Governor-General has ample opportunity. The question of eligibility in relation to that person, I think that’s quite clear that there are [people] who are not loyal to government, there are [people] who are elected members, and clearly, they are eligible to become Opposition Leader, because it’s more than one person and they are not part of the government; clearly they are eligible to be Opposition Leader if they are members of parliament.”
Wickham also raised an issue within the constitutions of the Caribbean where the law of these lands does not make mention or recognise the existence of Political Parties.
“We have to interpret our constitution within the context of the de facto reality that runs against the grain of the de jure reality, which essentially says that political parties don’t exist. When the reality is that we know all of them exist. We had a situation in Barbados where government gave money based on financial regulations to political parties – It doesn’t happen in St. Kitts and Nevis – but government gave money to political parties to assist with their own management through the Administration of Parliament Act. And they were [people] who were saying that that was technically unconstitutional because there was no reference to a political party in the constitution of Barbados, or indeed any other constitution of the Caribbean. So, again, this is part of our interpretation…”
Wickham continued, “I’m comfortable with the reality of political parties. I’m also comfortable with the reasoning that a governor-general can take note of circumstances that exist within the territory and that the governor-general knows political parties exist if the issue was part of one at one stage. I think that it is part of that gives her the ability to reach in and make decisions consistent with what it appears to her to be likely and logical under the circumstances because… But the letter of the law doesn’t refer to political parties.”
According to Wickham, one of the greatest weaknesses of Caribbean constitutions and the Westminster system they are based on is that there is the assumption that interpreters understand things that need to be clearly stated.
However, on the impasses within the NRP, there is a stark possibility that the Nevis Island Assembly will carry on for the next five years without a Leader of the Opposition because of this impasse.
The Nevis Island Assembly started the debate on the 2023 fiscal budget, which began on February 20 with the Premier’s budget address, where he laid out a EC$261 million budget, and there was no “Leader” of the Opposition.