On September 2, 2019, at the start of the Parliamentary sitting in which the National Assembly Elections [Amendment] Bill (NAEAB) was, among others, up for debate, the government of St. Kitts and Nevis was forced to withdraw the Bill indefinitely due to pressure from opposing forces. The Bill was intended to prevent nationals of India, the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore and other Commonwealth countries who may be resident here from being able to participate in parliamentary elections. Under current law, nationals of the aforementioned countries, once resident in St. Kitts and Nevis for at least a year, are entitled to register to vote in the elections. It had been a local custom that ensured that every tax paying resident was recognised for their contributions.
Unfortunately with elections looming, the country for the first time in its history has seen a growing anti-Indian movement within the government, which the Prime Minister himself, Dr. Timothy Harris, has been leading. Under the former administration, a robust climate of investment was created, and many Indians used the opportunity to open business enterprises in the Port Zante touristic zone and elsewhere in the country. Although the NAEAB would disenfranchise residents originating from other Commonwealth countries, it was specifically intended to disenfranchise Indian businessmen and their families, some of which that were forced to move to the islands after the devastation of St Maarten/St. Martin in the recent hurricanes. It should be noted that the Indian community is one of the highest tax-paying communities on the island and had been recognised by the previous Government as showing incredible entrepreneurship in their development of the country’s Tourism sector.
Despite having a majority in Parliament, the Dr. Harris-led administration was forced to withdraw the NAEAB due to extremely strong opposition. Members of the resident Commonwealth community pushed back and lobbied Members of Parliament on both sides. Nationals of St. Kitts and Nevis resident locally as well as abroad, waged an unstoppable campaign to stop the disenfranchisement and had come out in strong numbers to support their Indian counterparts. They viewed the current government’s actions in attempting to disenfranchise thousands of voters who contribute economically, socially and otherwise to the sustenance and well-being of the country, as being purely myopic.
Furthermore, many felt that with India’s growing influence in the world and the strong support Indian Prime Minister Modi has for the region, acts like this would only divide the Caribbean region further. I strongly believe that with India participating in the upcoming CARICOM meeting, our nation should use this time to bring our communities together and not create unjustified partition.
I strongly believe that with India participating in the upcoming CARICOM meeting, our nation should use this time to bring our communities together and not create unjustified partition.