Despite early indications of an Opposition win, most of yesterday had dragged on with no word from Supervisor of Elections, Wingrove George (up to then unreachable by media) leading to much anxiety in that country and in the region.
Amid the uncertainty the Opposition issued a public call to the population of 45,000 for calm.
While Dr Douglas retained his seat, his SKN Labour Party and Nevis Reformation Party alliance won only four seats, behind the three party opposition coalition, Team Unity, under Dr Timothy Harris, which won seven seats, in the unicameral 15 seat National Assembly (which also has three appointees and one ex officio member).
In a victory speech at about 5.50 pm, Dr Harris, grieving for the earlier death of his adopted mother, said, “I want to be a Prime Minister for the people, on call and on duty, in the service of my people.”
Minutes earlier at about 5.45 pm, Dr Douglas had made a concession speech.
Both leaders made remarks relevant to the lateness of the declaration of election results.
Dr Harris said, “The tardiness of reporting created a shadow over all events. People want certainty in their lives, including the business community. We are now getting some stability and transitioning.”
Dr Douglas said SKN leaders are not chosen by force or whim but by the will of the people. “Don’t forget how blessed that makes us,” he urged countrymen. “Ours is a mature and thriving democracy.” Saying official results are still awaited, he conceded, “I wish the newly elected Government well, and God’s guidance.”
However these speeches only came after a broadcast on SKN’s Radio WINN FM by Dr Gonsalves urging the Supervisor of Elections to do the right thing.
Regional heads put pressure
Liaising with other leaders of Caricom and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Dr Gonsalves expressed his concerns which he hoped would be picked up by other regional leaders as a joint statement to put pressure on the process.
Dr Gonsalves also urged, “It is important for the words peace, patience and calm to resonate through the region and through the country (SKN).” While paying tribute to the “unprecedented amount of good work” done by Dr Douglas in his four terms of office, locally and regionally, and especially in the area of health, Dr Gonsalves nonetheless said he also knows Dr Harris and other Team Unity members whom he now wanted to congratulate. He said there was a growing realisation throughout SKN that Team Unity had won. Dr Gonsalves said the office of Supervisor of Elections is critical in the election process and that he is required to take no instructions from anyone in performing his duties.
His speech was cut off midway when WINN tuned in to State-run ZIZ FM radio to interview Elections Supervisor, George. ZIZ continued to play its diet of gospel music until at 4.47 pm they got George for an interview by telephone. George apologized for the late results but said he had to go through certain processes so as not to have any challenges and reviews to the results as they are set to be sent to the Head of State, the Governor General. He refuted the notion of any delaying tactics, saying, “There is nothing to delay about the fact, but to make sure the information reported is really the fact. To do it hastily could see you not reporting the fact.” George then named the winner for each seat.
The ZIZ journalist/interviewer said this amounted to seven seats for Team Unity and four for the SKN Labour Party. George said he must await a report from his returning officers whom he said are all very tired and then he himself must write a report of the results for the Governor General. He said that whichever of the elected Members felt he was able to command the support of a majority of other MPs could then approach the Governor General with a delegation to seek to form a new government.
Up to press time it was uncertain when a new government would be sworn in.
But for most of yesterday, the slow pace of events caused great anxiety in SKN, TT and the region. Dr Harris urged calm.
“I say to the people of St Kitts-Nevis to remain calm, there is a change that has taken place already and it is just a matter of time. We are going though the formality, we will have a new government with the will of the people,” he said. “I appeal for calm, I appeal for common sense to prevail, clearly somebody has been giving bad advice and somebody wants to further weaken the democratic process,” he said, adding that what is happening now has no basis in law.
Former prime minister Dr Kennedy Simmonds, described it all as “unprecedented”.
“What we are seeing here...is totally unprecedented,” he said adding, “we are once again being made the laughing stock all over the Caribbean and the world.”
TT leaders on election results
In TT initially, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Jack Warner had offered early congratulations to the SKN Team Unity, unaware that no result had officially been declared.
PM Persad-Bissessar however had drafted a media statement of concern, that she later echoed to reporters at a Carnival function in her Penal constituency.
Voicing respect for SKN’s lawful institutions, her statement said, “But at the same time we feel that the failure of the Supervisor of Elections to declare the results in a timely manner might create the impression that there is interference in the democratic process, which we in the Caribbean Community cherish.”
She added, “I am also concerned that the region’s reputation for democracy and for free and fair elections will be under threat as long as this issue in St Kitts and Nevis remains unresolved.” The PM said the law does not generally allow the suspension of any part of the electoral process until the returning officers return the writs.
“It is the return of the writs that allows the public and the Governor General to know definitively what is the will of the people,” she wrote.
“As a region we have to be very careful of the messages that we send and that which is emanating from St Kitts and Nevis is not the kind of message we want to send to our people and to the world. We await the results of the vote and would welcome whoever is the winner.”
She elaborated at Penal.
“We are very concerned with what is happening in St Kitts, we uphold the rule of law and democracy and the institutions of democracy and here it is where the Supervisor of Elections has basically abdicated his responsibilities so we ask and call upon the people of St Kitts to be calm and let peace prevail,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“Whoever wins, wins but the democratic rule of law must prevail,” she continued.
“I have spoken with the Prime Minister of Grenada this morning (yesterday), the Prime Minister of St Vincent, I have spoken with members of the St Kitts Opposition. I have not been able to reach the Prime Minister of St Kitts but all are expressing serious concern as to what is the electoral process,” she said. “As you know we uphold the rule of law and that electoral process, I am very, very concerned about it.”
“Regionally what is happening in St Kitts does not augur well for the entire region, not in terms of our people doing the same but in the international sphere it is how do you appear to be as part of the Caricom region, that is my concern in that regard. So far we have spoken to some heads, the CARICOM heads will not meet until February, later this month but right now, many heads are expressing their concern.”
Dr Rowley in a statement congratulated Team Unity on its “handsome and very significant victory”.
“This victory is significant in that it represents the resolve of the people who endured to the end as battles were fought to keep democracy alive even when Parliament and the courts, at times, seemed not to be able to protect the people from the naked abuse of power by incumbents who would do anything to hold on to power,even at the expense of democracy itself,” he remarked. “The experiences of the people of St Kitts hold many lessons for the people of Trinidad and Tobago as we all as CARICOM people commit to ensuring that at the end of the day the will of the people must always prevail.”
Warner said, “St Kitts and Nevis has provided a shining example to the region and the world of what can be achieved through dedication to democracy, consensus, a commitment to provide clean and honest government and an inclusive political process.”