Caribbean News

Opposition legislators stay away, bill to set fixed term for prime ministers defeated

The move by the St. Kitts-Nevis government to limit the terms of a prime minister failed late Friday night after opposition legislators stayed away when the vote was called in Parliament.

Prime Minister, Dr Timothy Harris, had piloted the Constitution of St Christopher and Nevis (Tenure of Office of Prime Minister) (Amendment) Bill, 2019) and it needed the support of the opposition in order to get the required special majority needed to amend the Constitution.

But when the vote was taken late on Friday night, only the seven government legislators were present to vote and Speaker Michael Perkins said that the  bill had failed to meet the constitutional requirement.

“Honourable Members, it would have required a minimum of eight Elected Members to have supported this Bill. Because seven would have voted (‘I’) and seven of you are less than two-thirds … it needs at least one part of a Member to make it two-thirds, so it would have required at least one Elected Member from the Opposition benches to have supported this Bill for it to pass,” said Perkins.

The government had proposed the insertion of two new subsections, with Section 52 (2) A noting that “notwithstanding subsection 52 (2), a Representative shall not hold office as Prime Minister for more than two terms, whether or not served consecutively” and 52 (2) (B), a “term’ refers to the period provided for in section 31 of the Constitution, which deals with the tenure of office of representatives and senators.

“If the Constitution of Saint Christopher and Nevis (Tenure of Office of Prime Minister) (Amendment) Bill, 2019 were to be passed in the National Assembly, it would represent a significant watershed in the evolution of St. Kitts-Nevis politics, as well as a call to do politics differently.”

But the main opposition St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) had criticised the legislation, saying it would not provide the necessary support for the special majority needed, noting also that given the balance of power in the current Parliament, the Bill has no prospect of being passed without support from the Opposition.

“This Bill, given its high constitutional significance and it being an attempt to make the very first amendment to our 1983 Constitution, would receive the support of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party as is only if it is subjected to a referendum,” the opposition party said.

But as he made his presentation, Nevis Premier, Mark Brantley, said the country will know conclusively where the Opposition stands on the matter of good governance.

He said many significant policy decisions have been made without the need to go back to the people as “the wise men and women who framed the Constitution understood that some matters warranted a referendum and others did not.

“What we have here are people who continue to pay lip service to good governance but when the opportunity comes to stand up and be counted, they shy away,” the premier added.

The coalition Team Unity administration identified amendments to the term limits for the holder of the Office of Prime Minister as a fundamental aspect of the good governance agenda which it continues to promote.

“We, who happen at this point in our history to be members of this Honourable House, have been presented with an opportunity here to do the right thing. It doesn’t matter which side has sought to bring this legislation, the question we must each ask ourselves is that is it the right thing to do?

“And if the answer to that question is yes, then it matters little who brought the legislation to the Parliament because all of us should be invested in creating a better democracy for St. Kitts and Nevis,” Premier Brantley said.

The St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party said it “is fully committed upon taking office after the next general election to subjecting the 1983 Constitution to a comprehensive review via referendum to, inter alia, limit the tenure of the Prime Minister”.


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