St. Kitts election

The Labour party has been in power in St. Kitts & Nevis for 3 consecutive terms over the past 15 years. During Labour's reign, the islands first subsidized an ailing sugar industry, then retired it, improved as a tourist destination, and have seen much development in recent years. This would have been great, if it wasn't for an ominous and enormous dark side: the foreign debt has ballooned from several million USD when Labour began their first term, to now over US $1 billion. With a population of perhaps 50,000, this works out to $20,000 US per every adult or child - exceeding the islands' annual GDP.

Talk of corruption is endemic, and the amounts that have reportedly been spent on public projects, such as houses for laid off sugar workers, seem to be more than these projects should cost. Since St. Kitts has no external supervision and no Freedom of Information Act, it is hard to estimate how much of the more than $1 billion has been siphoned off to private accounts, but the word in the newspapers and on the street is that the people in power are living beyond their salaries, and own surprising amounts of expensive real estate, locally and abroad.

This year began with an election for the next 5-year governing term. The competition is for 11 seats of the National Assembly. 3 of those seats go to representatives from Nevis, while 8 seats go to representatives from St. Kitts.

The two islands are a federation, and the parties in St. Kitts are separate from those in Nevis. Since St. Kitts controls 8 seats, the main competition is in St. Kitts. The contenders here belong virtually exclusively to either Labour, led by PM Denzil Douglas, or to its antagonist PAM, led by Lindsay Grant. The election, which was held this Sunday, again gave Labour a decisive victory: it won 6 seats to PAM's 2.

But there's a twist.

The local democracy here has a peculiar rule that a candidate can only fail to run for office twice. Once you have been a candidate twice, and failed both times, you may no longer run for office. It so happens that the leader of PAM, Lindsay Grant, lost the previous time around. If he lost again, he would no longer be able to run for office; PAM would be decapitated.

So Labour set out to make this happen. They expected correctly that voters in Denzil Douglas's district would vote overwhelmingly for him. They therefore encouraged a large number of those voters to register in Mr. Grant's district instead, to turn the balance against him. These extra voters did not necessarily live in Mr. Grant's district, but it so happens that voter registration doesn't require anyone to prove where they live. So apparently, hundreds of people from Mr. Douglas's district went to the other district to vote against Mr. Grant. As a result, Mr. Grant lost the election by a total of 29 votes out of 2,661 in his district. If this is left to stand, he is no longer eligible for office.

The peculiar thing is that this is not considered blatantly illegal. My understanding is that Labour freely admits to having done this, and contends that this is quite alright according to the law.

You can imagine that the PAM supporters disagree, and that there is major tension about the issue. Mr. Grant will need to challenge this outcome in court, but the swearing in of the new representatives is this week.

The further unfolding of this story should be exciting. Not too exciting, hopefully.


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