Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
January 16, 2008 (CUOPM)
Every person who is confirming registration at the electoral offices in St Kitts and in Nevis will have to produce authentic documentation as proof of his or her identity.
So says St. Kitts and Nevis‘ Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas.
“We are therefore doing what is absolutely responsible. We are ensuring that every person confirming his registration produces authentic documentation as proof of his identity, and we are taking your photograph,” Dr. Douglas said at a news conference on Tuesday.
He said the new legislation and regulations still to be enacted will close “those big loop holes,” and electoral office officials are working in tandem with the Social Security Board, the Immigration Department, Passport Office, the Registrar of Births and Deaths, and the Inland Revenue Department to back-check the validity and authenticity of every document given in support of the confirmation process.”
Prime Minister Douglas, who has responsibility for electoral matters said legislation will also drastically increased the penalty for electoral offenses.
He recalled that what is being done now with the electoral system is as a result of extensive consultations which have been done with the citizens and residents of this country and even citizens resident abroad.
“I also want to remind citizens that the electoral system we are changing from is one that had been put in place by the former PAM administration, and that system introduced into our political system in 1984 the concept of the “overseas” voter,” recalled Prime Minister Douglas, who further pointed out that prior to 1984, one of the qualifications for voting in a National Assembly election was that a person in addition to attaining the requisite age, must have resided in the territory for at least 12 months preceding his registration to vote.
“In addition, every person voted in the constituency where he or she resided. To support such a system, there was an enumeration exercise conducted every 5 years to ascertain all the necessary facts relating to an individual’s qualification to vote. However, when the PAM conceived the notion of allowing citizens resident overseas to fly in the night before an election and vote in our elections here in St. Kitts and Nevis, it was largely a matter of practical consideration why the enumeration process was abandoned,” said Dr. Douglas.
He noted: “Essentially, you cannot use an enumeration process to derive the qualification of voters, particularly to ascertain where a person resided if there was no way of enumerating the overseas voter. An important strategy employed at that time was to allow overseas nationals to register practically in any constituency.”
Prime Minister Douglas said his governing St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Government “made a conscious decision as we reform the electoral system not to disenfranchise our overseas nationals who had become entitled to vote and accustomed to voting in our elections since 1984.”
“Once that decision was made, it was recognized that we too could not go back to an enumeration process because this would create a single system with two sets of citizens being treated differently. But if not enumeration, why not a full re-registration where every registered voter is required to give full fresh details pertinent to their registration?,” asked Dr. Douglas.
He said that the answer is simply one to do with practicality. “You would have heard or perhaps calculated for yourselves that over the next several months until September 30th, we will need to confirm the registration of an average of 180 persons every single day. The truth is, it is monumentally difficult to devise a mechanism that is able on a daily basis to verify the residential information given by all persons re-registering as being true and accurate. Without such a mechanism, the system would end up much more corrupt than it has been.”
Prime Minister Douglas said what was being done is absolutely responsible and government is committed to ensuring that both the run-up to elections, as well as the actual elections themselves, take place in accordance with the law, in a spirit of openness and in a spirit of calm.
He said he was aware that there are some who are attempting to create feelings of unease, feelings of tension, feelings of partisan mistrust throughout the nation.
“The assumption, I make, is that this will translate into feelings of general dissatisfaction throughout the land. What I would urge all people, of all political persuasions in St. Kitts & Nevis to focus on, however, is the fact that it is they who have that sacred right to vote for the person of their choice. This right, exercised by each and every eligible voter represents the essential power of the people to choose the government they want. This must be each individual’s focus. This must be each individual’s bedrock security. We must all remember that efforts to heighten political tensions may serve the interests of some individuals, but they will not serve the interest of St. Kitts & Nevis. Efforts to create an electoral crisis may serve the interests of some individuals, but they will not serve the interests of St. Kitts & Nevis. Efforts to stir up negative emotions may serve the interests of certain individuals, but they will not serve the interests of St. Kitts & Nevis,” said the Prime Minister.
He said his government has demonstrated, over and over again, its commitment to openness and collaboration where electoral reform is concerned.
“This did not end with the passage of the law. Indeed, it will continue throughout the entire process that takes us to elections. If the people of St. Kitts & Nevis have concerns, they must raise them. This is important in a democracy. If the people of St. Kitts & Nevis see areas for possible improvement, they must let their voices be heard, for this is the essence of democracy ““ and my government will adapt”¦”¦and will adjust, as necessary, so as to ensure that the process at hand has the degree of efficiency, and the degree of operational smoothness that both you – and I – demand, and deserve,” said the St. Kitts and Nevis leader.