On Friday, April 17, 2020, PM Timothy Harris of St. Kitts and Nevis went to Parliament to extend the Emergency Laws for an additional six months. Yet, the official data, if it can be believed, shows that only 15 persons within the Federation of a population of about 55,000 people tested positive. And additionally, according to the PM “there have been no hospitalisations and no deaths”.
To protect the public health, we must defend the people’s rights. People will have a very tough time safeguarding their own health when their liberties are taken away under the guise of guaranteeing their public health. One benefit of protecting the public health is that residents and citizens can enjoy their social and economic wellbeing. However, the government should not shamelessly reap a political benefit while placing a burden on the people and the opposition or else it loses its legitimacy and moral authority to govern.
Since the Federation is on the brink of a national election, the objective must be to find the right balance between public safety and the people’s will to choose their government. This delicate balance is part of the holistic health of the country.
It is important to establish widespread testing, social distancing and treatment to tackle the infection rate of COVID-19. Timothy Harris is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a cover to disguise a more sinister, selfish and undemocratic power grab as he uses weekly broadcasts to push his own political agenda on the government owned and operated national radio and television stations, paid for by the tax payers of the country, but denies the Opposition Next Gen SKNLP access to the same media facilities.
The unnecessary lengthy extension of Emergency Laws is not only causing untold pain on the business sector, but on individuals, families and communities who are the very lifeblood and backbone of the health and wealth of the country.
These excessively harsh measures under a State of Emergency which suspends the citizens fundamental rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech, implemented to the disadvantage of the Parliamentary Opposition under the pretence of slowing down the virus, are designed to compromise, destroy and take away the fundamentals of democracy.
Over the last five years, Harris has been steadily eroding democracy. Harris has excluded the Opposition from using national radio and television, stifled debate in the National Assembly, politicised the Police Force, illegally suspended and corrupted the operations of the National Electoral Office and exhibited callous nepotism and cronyism in public appointments and awarding of government contracts. Harris’ close family members occupy high positions in the civil service, government banking institutions, the judiciary and the prison.
Under total lockdowns of 24 hr curfews, the Emergency Laws permit the government’s candidates as essential service providers to go canvassing during the final leg of an intense general election campaign. Yet, these same laws restrict and curtail members of the Parliamentary Opposition from doing the same.
It isn’t surprising that other governments in the Caribbean like Barbados, Dominica, and Antigua and Barbuda have collaborated with Opposition parties to help manage this pandemic. Conversely, Harris has blatantly refused to work with the Opposition to help protect the very public health, which he claims is his main focus. Clearly, Harris’s actions speak louder than his empty words. He continues to deny the Parliamentary Opposition access to the national media. He uses state owned media to bash the opposition, promote the politics of division, and spread callous propaganda in an attempt to gain political advantage.
Given the simmering frustration that the people are displaying, if Harris does not stop destroying the people’s democratic health and the rule of law, he is likely to incite a constitutional calamity, and with it, social chaos.
The people must be watchful, vigilant and alert. Short of this, Harris will introduce martial law. As he continues to say that “under a State of Emergency general elections are on the back burner …….and not at all on my mind”, it is believed that he will suspend the Constitution and desperately hold on to power. The results will erase all civil liberties and usher in the rule of an evil dictator.
The government has the ability to invoke Emergency Laws but there are limits. The government does not have the right to abuse its power. In fact, the new social norms of a democratic society require that we find a way to live with the coronavirus in the same way as we have had to live with cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases that have no cure but demand behavioural changes.
The six months extension of the Emergency Laws beyond the constitutional date of the national election is arbitrary and unjustified. It does not promote good public health or democratic practices and principles. According to the Federation’s Constitution, the national parliament must be automatically dissolved by May 14, 2020. Within 90 days, August 12, 2020, the national election must be held. Will the country be plunged into a constitutional danger and dictatorship using the virus as an excuse or will the will of the people prevail in a free, fair and free from fear election?
Harris must find safe ways for voters to vote. In this critical election year, Harris must give opposition candidates the same access to constituents as he affords the government’s candidates.
“Although this novel coronavirus is unpredictable, I am optimistic that the contagion threat will be reduced, if not eliminated within the next few weeks. At worse, we may have to find creative methods for our people to exercise their franchise. At best, the wind of change is likely to see increases in voter turnout when the bell rings. No matter what Harris does, he will lose the election and feel the harsh rejection of voters for his bad leadership and corrupt behaviours,” says Dr. Denzil Douglas, Leader of the NextGENSKN Labour Party.